Maya Angelou’s Champion of the World and Amy Tan’s Fish Cheeks both deal with racial differences within America. Angelou’s piece presented what it was like for African-Americans during a significant event in the middle of the apartheid – the bout between Joe Louis, the World Champion, and his white contender. Through the use of two narrators, Angelou was able to shift the focus, which caused the reader to be more involved in the story. Making use of the radio commentator as the narrator, she gave the reader a sense of what the audience felt as the fight unfolded, blow by blow.
By shifting to her own voice as the narrator, she put these reactions into perspective, and tied them together with the realities that her people experienced. Through this, she was able to effectively construct a parallel comparison using the boxing match as a metaphor representing her people’s struggles and frustrations in the apartheid. Here, Louis was the symbol of hope for demoralized blacks across America. These people were not treated equally. In fact, they were considered to be only a little higher than apes (Angelou, p. 95).
Louis’ victory in the match would prove their oppressors wrong. This one man, whether he liked it or not, was fighting for all of them. Angelou’s portrayal of her people while listening to the match also reflected the conditions they were forced to live under. With dialogue such as, “That white man don’t mind hugging that niggah now” (p. 94), she was able to relay the somewhat taboo idea of physical contact between whites and blacks. It was also noticeable how Angelou stressed certain ideas by taking her time to flesh them out.
When Louis’s opponent started getting the upper hand, she went on to narrate how her people would go back to slavery and be beyond help (p. 95). By stressing Louis’ predicament in the ring, she caused an uneasy tension, which was vital because Louis’ loss would also translate to the symbolic loss of hope for her people. Tan’s piece, on the other hand, narrated her experiences as a young Chinese-American having to deal with her infatuation with an American boy amidst the eccentricities of her family’s Chinese traditions.
From the very first paragraph, readers were introduced to the fourteen year-old Amy, who happened to be already dissatisfied with her heritage when she stated that she prayed for a slim new American nose (Tan, p. 99). She then went on to degrade her own culture as she described Chinese Christmas as shabby, belittled her relatives with no American manners, and depicted Chinese food as disappointing (p. 99). Tan made use of absurd exaggerations to further alienate her own culture as if it wasn’t her own.
She started by nitpicking every detail of her family’s spread using strong descriptive words such as appalling, slimy, and the like to create a feeling of disgust. A good example of this would be her description of squid, which had knife markings that resembled bicycle tires (p. 100). Without the use of such strong words, her desired dramatic effect would be lost. Tan was able to build up her story through her narration. She presented one exaggerated part of her evening after another, increasing her character’s dissatisfaction and inner struggle. Tan’s use of words in lines such as, “Dinner threw me deeper into despair” (p.
100), was able to relay her desperate state of mind quite clearly. Through her descriptions of the unfolding events, she made it seem that she was the only normal person in her family based on her white standards. Everything that her family did seemed to embarrass her, even though it was an innate part of her culture. The climax of her night was when her father suddenly belched loudly in front of their guests and explained that it was a Chinese custom to show satisfaction. What added insult to injury was when the minister, himself, decided to let out a burp as well (p.
100). Both stories presented how interracial groups in America deal with the pressures around them. Angelou and Tan both strived for some kind racial equality, and yet they both used two very distinct approaches. While Angelou’s story pushed for the idea of equality by uplifting the image of the African-American people through a boxing match, Tan pushed for equality by aspiring for white American standards and alienating the traditions of her Chinese descent. What was most interesting in this dichotomy was actually how these stories ending were presented.
In Tan’s story, she was concerned with the fact that her family’s culture clashed with the image she wanted to put up for herself, somebody who was white. When everything she hoped for was seemingly shattered by her family’s culture, the entire story played out to tell one of her most embarrassing moments. When she finally realized that her family was only trying to please her by giving her something she loved, she came to the epiphany that the only person who was alienating her for being Chinese was herself (Tan, p. 100). This was different in the case of Angelou’s story.
Her race was more concerned in proving themselves worthy to be equal because during that period, they were oppressed. Angelou’s crafty use of parallelism turned Louis’s triumph into a moment of pure jubilation for her race, and yet, it was short-lived. In the last paragraph, when the celebrations were done, Angelou brought the reader back to the stark realization that even though they were victorious in the fight, they were still slaves oppressed by their current society. She even cited the example of the black man and his family, and how they weren’t safe to roam the country at night (Angelou, p.
96). The alienation from being a part of a mixed race was still present, and the conflict was more external than internal. Although Americans with mixed heritage face lighter challenges today compared to those in the time of the apartheid, as seen in the differences of these stories, one common thing was made clear: race will always play an important part in how people view themselves and the world around them. References Angelou, Maya. (year). Champion of the world. Book Title, 93-96. Tan, Amy. (1987). Fish cheeks. Book Title, 99-100.
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