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Amy Tan: Chinese in America

Paper type: Essay
Pages: 10 (2291 words)
Categories: China, Immigration, Writer
Downloads: 35
Views: 382

Although the daughters know some Chinese words and the mothers speak some English, communication often becomes a matter of translation, of words whose intended meaning and accepted meaning are in fact quite separate, leading to subtle misunderstandings.

The first mention of this difficulty with translation occurs when Jing-mei relates the story of her mother’s founding of the Joy Luck Club. After attempting to explain the significance of the club’s name, Jing-mei recognizes that the concept is not something that can be translated.

She points out that the daughters think their mothers are stupid because of their fractured English, while the mothers are impatient with their daughters who don’t understand the cultural nuances of their language and who do not intend to pass along their Chinese heritage to their own children. Throughout the book, characters bring up one Chinese concept after another, only to accept the frustrating fact that an understanding of Chinese culture is a prerequisite to understanding its meaning.

The Power of Storytelling

Because the barriers between the Chinese and the American cultures are exacerbated by imperfect translation of language, the mothers use storytelling to circumvent these barriers and communicate with their daughters. The stories they tell are often educational, warning against certain mistakes or giving advice based on past successes. For instance, Ying-ying’s decision to tell Lena about her past is motivated by her desire to warn Lena against the passivity and fatalism that Ying-ying suffered. Storytelling is also employed to communicate messages of love and pride, and to illumine one’s inner self for others.

Another use of storytelling concerns historical legacy. By telling their daughters about their family histories, the mothers ensure that their lives are remembered and understood by subsequent generations, so that the characters who acted in the story never die away completely. In telling their stories to their daughters, the mothers try to instill them with respect for their Chinese ancestors and their Chinese pasts. Suyuan hopes that by finding her long-lost daughters and telling them her story, she can assure them of her love, despite her apparent abandonment of them. When Jing-mei sets out to tell her half-sisters Suyuan’s story, she also has this goal in mind, as well as her own goal of letting the twins know who their mother was and what she was like.

Storytelling is also used as a way of controlling one’s own fate. In many ways, the original purpose of the Joy Luck Club was to create a place to exchange stories. Faced with pain and hardship, Suyuan decided to take control of the plot of her life.

The Joy Luck Club did not simply serve as a distraction; it also enabled transformation—of community, of love and support, of circumstance. Stories work to encourage a certain sense of independence. They are a way of forging one’s own identity and gaining autonomy. Waverly understands this: while Lindo believes that her daughter’s crooked nose means that she is ill-fated, Waverly dismisses this passive interpretation and changes her identity and her fate by reinventing the story that is told about a crooked nose.

The Problem of Immigrant Identity

At some point in the novel, each of the major characters expresses anxiety over her inability to reconcile her Chinese heritage with her American surroundings. Indeed, this reconciliation is the very aim of Jing-mei’s journey to China. While the daughters in the novel are genetically Chinese (except for Lena, who is half Chinese) and have been raised in mostly Chinese households, they also identify with and feel at home in modern American culture. Waverly, Rose, and Lena all have white boyfriends or husbands, and they regard many of their mothers’ customs and tastes as old-fashioned or even ridiculous.

Most of them have spent their childhoods trying to escape their Chinese identities: Lena would walk around the house with her eyes opened as far as possible so as to make them look European. Jing-mei denied during adolescence that she had any internal Chinese aspects, insisting that her Chinese identity was limited only to her external features. Lindo meditates that Waverly would have clapped her hands for joy during her teen years if her mother had told her that she did not look Chinese. As they mature, the daughters begin to sense that their identities are incomplete and become interested in their Chinese heritage. Waverly speaks wishfully about blending in too well in China and becomes angry when Lindo notes that she will be recognized instantly as a tourist. One of Jing-mei’s greatest fears about her trip to China is not that others will recognize her as American, but that she herself will fail to recognize any Chinese elements within herself.

Of the four mothers, Lindo expresses the most anxiety over her cultural identity. Having been spotted as a tourist during her recent trip to China, she wonders how America has changed her. She has always believed in her ability to shift between her true self and her public self, but she begins to wonder whether her “true” self is not, in fact, her American one. Even while a young girl in China, Lindo showed that she did not completely agree with Chinese custom. She agonized over how to extricate herself from a miserable marriage without dishonoring her parents’ promise to her husband’s family.

While her concern for her parents shows that Lindo did not wish to openly rebel against her tradition, Lindo made a secret promise to herself to remain true to her own desires. This promise shows the value she places on autonomy and personal happiness—two qualities that Lindo associates with American culture. •Jing-mei’s experience in China at the end of the book certainly seems to support the possibility of a richly mixed identity rather than an identity of warring opposites. She comes to see that China itself contains American aspects, just as the part of America she grew up in—San Francisco’s Chinatown—containe

Storytelling – Narrative Style, Symbolism, Figurative Language

She uses storytelling to in order for the different characters to understand each others struggles as well as the reader to understand the lives and emotions of both the mother and the daughters

The stories they tell are often educational, warning against certain mistakes or giving advice based on past successes. For instance, Ying-ying’s decision to tell Lena about her past is motivated by her desire to warn Lena against the passivity and fatalism that Ying-ying suffered. Storytelling is also employed to communicate messages of love and pride, and to illumine one’s inner self for others.

Another use of storytelling concerns historical legacy. By telling their daughters about their family histories, the mothers ensure that their lives are remembered and understood by subsequent generations, so that the characters who acted in the story never die away completely. In telling their stories to their daughters, the mothers try to instill them with respect for their Chinese ancestors and their Chinese pasts.

Suyuan hopes that by finding her long-lost daughters and telling them her story, she can assure them of her love, despite her apparent abandonment of them. When Jing-mei sets out to tell her half-sisters Suyuan’s story, she also has this goal in mind, as well as her own goal of letting the twins know who their mother was and what she was like.

Storytelling is also used as a way of controlling one’s own fate. In many ways, the original purpose of the Joy Luck Club was to create a place to exchange stories. Faced with pain and hardship, Suyuan decided to take control of the plot of her life.

The Joy Luck Club did not simply serve as a distraction; it also enabled transformation—of community, of love and support, of circumstance. Stories work to encourage a certain sense of independence. They are a way of forging one’s own identity and gaining autonomy. Waverly understands this: while Lindo believes that her daughter’s crooked nose means that she is ill-fated, Waverly dismisses this passive interpretation and changes her identity and her fate by reinventing the story that is told about a crooked nose.

All the stories in her books are interlocking personal narrative in different voices. The narrators appear as characters in each other’s stories as well as tell their own stories, Tan does not have to fully develop the narrator’s voice in each story. While American daughters like Jing-mei employ personal narrative as a way of telling stories, the ’’ Because this indirect means is the only way Jing-mei’s mother can interpret and express her experiences, she is shocked into silence when her daughter speaks directly about the daughters she abandoned in China years earlier.

Point of View

In “Two Kinds” the perspective moves back and forth between the adult and then child. In this way, Tan tells the story through the child’s innocent view and the adult’s experienced eyes. This allows reader to make judgments of their own, to add their own interpretations of the mother daughter struggle. Figurative Language •This literary device also invites readers to think about the way memory itself functions, how we use events in the past to help make sense of our present. Literary critic Ben Xu explains that ‘‘it is not just that we have ‘images,’ ‘pictures,’ and ‘views’ of ourselves in memory, but that we also have ‘stories’ and narratives to tell about the past which both shape and convey our sense of self. Our sense of what has happened to us is entailed not in actual happening but in meaningful happenings, and the meanings of our past experience . . . are constructs produced in much the same way that narrative is produced. ’’

In other words memory is a two-way street; it shapes the story as much as the story makes the memory. In Xu’s words, ‘‘memory is not just a narrative, even though it does have to take a narrative form; it is more importantly an experiential relation between the past and the present, projecting a future as well. ’’ Tan’s style is mainly composed of storytelling as a way for her characters to share their history and retell the significant events of their lives. The Chinese mothers find it exceptionally difficult to talk about their lives due to the language barrier; therefore Tan uses a strategy that is borrowed from Chinese folk tradition called talk story (Brent).

E. D. Huntley defines talk story as ‘‘a narrative strategy for those characters whose ties to Chinese tradition remain strong. ’’ It allows these characters to ‘‘draw on traditional oral forms to shape their stories and to disguise the urgency and seriousness with which they are attempting to transmit to their daughters the remnants of a culture that is fading even from their own lives. ’’ This means that the mothers, ‘‘who have been socialized into silence for most of their lives,’’ learn to ‘‘reconfigure the events of hese lives into acceptable public utterances: painful experiences are recast in the language of folk tale; cautionary reminders become gnomic phrases; real life takes on the contours of myth (Huntley). ” Story telling serves many different functions in the novel. Primarily, the mother’s use storytelling to communicate with their daughters about their past and better relate to their daughters. In Kitchen God’s Wife, Winnie and Pearl have a hard time understanding each other’s situation as they have had a disconnect since Pearl was a teenager.

However, after Winnie tells Pearl the stories of the hardships she had to face living with her abusive husband in China and how that has made her the hard person she is today, Pearl is able to connect better with her mother and understand where she is coming from. Another purpose of storytelling is so the mother’s can teach their daughters important life lessons that can help them be happy as many of the daughters are struggling with their marriages. Thus, she knows that the only way to save her daughter is to tell her story, the story of how her submission to fate and other people’s wills led to discontent and even agony.

In her novels, Amy Tan allows her characters to employ storytelling as a device for shaping their histories and making coherent sense of the significant events of their lives. For these characters, storytelling is a means of keeping the past alive and building a bridge between it and the present, of transmitting cultural codes and rituals, of subtly educating their daughters, and finally of somehow imprinting the essence of their selves on the next generation. Tan is especially gifted at weaving multiple stories with a variety of narrators into the intricate fabric of each book.

Tan herself has recognized her own ability to construct distinctive and memorable narratives, commenting that her storytelling gifts are responsible in large measure for the ongoing popularity-with readers and critics alike-of her work. She has said that her childhood exposure to Bible stories as well as “tons of fairy tales, both Grimm and Chinese” (Wang) has made stories a significant element in her writing, and she credits her parents with both instilling in her the impulse to tell stories and providing her with models for unforgettable. In an interview with Gretchen

Giles, Amy Tan reveals that she learned the craft of story construction from her father, a very busy Baptist minister who managed to spend quality time with his children by reading his sermons to them and then asking for their opinions on content and language.

Reference

  1. Citations Xu, Ben. ‘‘Memory and the Ethnic Self: Reading Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club,’’ in MELUS, Vol. 19, No. 1, pp. 3-16.
  2. Huntley, E. D. Amy Tan: A Critical Companion, Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1998.
  3. Brent, Liz. ‘‘Amy Tan Criticism Overview. ’’ Short Stories for Students. Ed. Vol. 1. Detroit: Gale, 1997. 19–20: 288.

Cite this essay

Amy Tan: Chinese in America. (2018, Nov 06). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/amy-tan-chinese-in-america-essay

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