"Special Economics" by Maureen McHugh. A contemporary short story worth reading?

An analysis of its qualities and characteristics

Essay, 2017
11 Pages, Grade: 1,3
Tim Wenninger (Author)


Table of Contents

1. The author: Maureen McHugh

2. Summary

3. First impression

4. Narrative

5. Agents and Characters
5.1. Jieling
5.2. Baiyue
5.3. Mr. Wei Rongyi

6. Time and Space

7. Voice

8. Final thoughts

1. The author: Maureen McHugh

The author of the short story is an American science fiction and fantasy writer. She was born in Ohio in 1959 and lived most of her life in the United States. Apart from living and working in the US, she has also spent a significant amount of time in China. Taking a look at her works, it can be seen that her life in China has definitely influenced her writings. This influence becomes evident in McHugh’s first novel China Mountain Thang (1992), in her short story “Special Economics” and in a number of her other works.

Maureen McHugh has not only proved her writing abilities in Special Economics, but already many years prior. In 1993, she won the Locus Award for the best First novel. Three years later, her short story “The Lincoln Train” was awarded with the Hugo and Locus Award for the best short story. It took her 16 more years before she could win her next award. This time she was awarded the Shirley Jackson Award for the best collection of short stories. Her collection of short stories includes the story “Special Economics”.

In the following paper, a short overview of the short story itself will be given and more interestingly we will look at the ways in which McHugh’s work in the field of interactive fiction has influenced the story and its effect on the reader.

2. Summary

The short story Special Economics takes place in modern China after a big epidemy which has killed one fourth of its population. The story line is built around a 19-year-old girl who has left her family and her home to move to one of China’s major cities. There she struggles to make ends meet. Since she does not have a proper job she tries to make some money by dancing and singing on a shabby market. Knowing that this is not a reliable way of income, she is constantly on the lookout for new jobs. Eventually, a job recruiter assigns her to a biotechnology company even though she has almost no qualifications. At first, she is quite happy to have found a job, to eat proper meals, and to sleep in the company’s accommodations. But then she meets a rather shy girl who also works for the company and discovers that the company has found a way to secretly enslave the workers so that they cannot leave the company anymore. The two girls come up with a plan to leave the company. They directly put the first step of their plan into action by secretly sneaking out of the company compound one evening. While out in the city they accidentally meet a rather sympathetic man. But as it turns out, the man’s motifs were not as pure as the girls might have expected. During an arising conflict, the girls must decide quickly whom to believe and how to act, knowing that their future will depend on it.

3. First impression

My first thoughts were concerned with the way in which the story was written and setup. The style of writing which Maureen McHugh used made it possible to easily read the story and follow its plot. McHugh includes several recognizable themes and patterns which at first evoke the impression of a familiar story. The following are just some examples of these themes and patterns: The poor and young girl moves from a rural area to the big city; the modern youth cannot identify themselves with the traditions and ideologies of the elderly; teenagers face the difficulty of balancing freedom and economic dependencies.

Apart from these familiar elements, however, McHugh included a number of unexpected twists and turns to the plot and its characters. These surprising changes created a suspense which leads to an eager desire to read on and discover more about the plot and its characters. It was for example suspicious and surprising that a young girl without any higher education could get a job at a biotechnology company.

After finishing reading the story, my attention was focused on its underlying message. What did the author try to express and convey by publishing this story? Firstly, I was thinking about the power of large companies and the dependency of its workers. In many cases employees simply accept unjust treatment by their company. This is largely due to the fact that an individual employee feels powerless in face of their companies influence. They therefore often develop the attitude that any kind of effort to improve their situation would be futile nonetheless. However, in this story Maureen McHugh included a proactive and self-confident protagonist who succeeded in standing up to the intolerable conduct of her company. This resistance might be interpreted as a sign of hope. The expectation that there is always a way in which an unjust situation can be changed and improved.

4. Narrative

Maureen McHugh uses an easy to follow narrative. This becomes evident when the major paragraphs of the stories are being examined. These paragraphs are structured similarly since each of them starts with a description of the scene (setting or time) and is then followed by a dialogue. Apart from the easy to follow narrative, the story also evokes the impression of an exciting and fast-paced story. On the one hand, this impression is created through the plot itself and on the other hand through the use of the third person limited narrator. The plot consists of many different actions that all take place in a short period of time. The use of a few time lapses additionally increases the pace of the story.

Since the story is being told through a third person perspective, the reader only receives information from the protagonist’s subjective point of view. In certain situations, during the story, this leads to a lack of information. The reader is compelled to use his or her own imagination to understand the characters’ actions, motifs and circumstances.

Considering the three aspects mentioned, it can be concluded that even though the story is fast-paced the reader does not get lost because of its introductory descriptions. Furthermore, McHugh managed to build up suspense and a feeling of rapidity through the plot itself and animates the reader to fill the gaps with his or her creativity and imagination. All this makes the story easy to understand, more exciting and captivating.


Excerpt out of 11 pages


"Special Economics" by Maureen McHugh. A contemporary short story worth reading?
An analysis of its qualities and characteristics
University of Osnabrück
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
462 KB
special, economics, maureen, mchugh
Quote paper
Tim Wenninger (Author), 2017, "Special Economics" by Maureen McHugh. A contemporary short story worth reading?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/412342


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