Literary Response to Nora Okja Keller’s “Ghost Stories”

Through Ghost Stories, Nora Okja Keller recalls her experiences with ghosts and her struggle to truly believe they exist, even after having experiences that would suggest they are real. The rest of Keller’s family believe strongly in ghosts, claiming the ghosts that visit are actually family members who watch over them and provide a sense of comfort to them. Keller comes to the conclusion that these “ghosts” also provide strength and comfort to her – not in a physical sense, but as memories and as the history of her family to which she can connect.

Keller expresses a sense of peace and comfort with her family “ghosts,” even though she does not believe in their physical presence. She recognizes the sense of security the ghosts provided for her mother during her separation from her homes, noting that “it must have comforted her to invoke the invisible family that was always watching out, always the same and always there for her no matter how far she traveled from home” (Keller 12). Though Keller believes the ghosts were not physically present to support her mother, she recognizes the peace of mind her mother felt by believing the ghosts were indeed there. The one experience Keller had as a child in which she expressed potential belief in the ghosts also provided a sense of security to her sister and herself: “My sister and I felt better, safe and comforted… because, even so far from our home in Hawai’i, our ghosts knew how to find us and came to visit” (Keller 10). Keller also recognizes the mental strength the ghosts provide to herself – the stories of her family influenced who she is, and she remarks “I know the spirits are there by the words that appear on my screen,” a bold statement that seems to contradict her earlier stance, unless the ghosts are understood to simply be memories (Keller 14).

Understanding where we come from allows us to feel a connection to who we are, and similarly, we live on through those who survive us. Keller’s desire to connect with the ghosts of her family evokes a sense of empathy, because it is understandable that she would be wary about believing in what she cannot see, but it is sad that the rest of her family seems connected while she is not. Her uncertainty, even after experiences with what her family claims were ghosts, and the distress it causes her is apparent by the way she refers to herself as “the daughter who cannot fully believe any ghost story” and “the one who had trouble understanding” (Keller 13). Her lack of faith in some way separates her from her family, because it separates her from her history and culture and the strength they can offer; however, Keller’s perception of the ghosts as memories ultimately provides her with the strength and connection for which she is searching. She also expresses her desire for her daughter to one day also feel that kind of connection, noting “when I write, I envision the woman my daughter will one day become and know that I am whispering stories to that ghost of her future self” (Keller 14).