Cultural Clashes and Self-Discovery in 'Fish Cheeks'

Categories: Two kinds by amy tan


In the narrative "Fish Cheeks" authored by Amy Tan, the crux of the story revolves around the poignant experience of a young girl grappling with feelings of anxiety and embarrassment during a Christmas Eve dinner attended by her crush, Robert, and his American family. The narrative deftly delves into the internal conflict that ensues when the protagonist is faced with the clash between her Chinese heritage and the customs of her American counterparts.

Upon discovering that her parents had extended an invitation to the minister's family, which included her crush Robert, for Christmas Eve dinner, the protagonist's initial response was fraught with anxiety.

This unease stems from the stark disparities between the Chinese customs observed by her family and the conventional American practices followed by Robert's family. The second paragraph eloquently captures the emotional turmoil with the poignant revelation, "When I found out that my parents had invited the minister's family over for Christmas Eve dinner, I cried."

As the evening unfolded, the young girl found herself contending with a sense of shame regarding her family's distinct customs and traditions.

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Despite her mother's meticulous preparation of a traditional Chinese Christmas feast, the protagonist perceived these culinary offerings as "strange" due to their deviation from the customary American fare. This perception, coupled with her awareness of her family's unfamiliar manners, resulted in a palpable undercurrent of embarrassment throughout the dinner, rendering her "stunned into silence for the rest of the night".

In the aftermath of the dinner, as Robert's family bid their farewells, Amy's mother seized the opportunity to impart a crucial lesson to her daughter.

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Sensing Amy's struggle with acceptance and pride in her Chinese heritage, the mother presented her with a special gift. This tangible expression of understanding served as a poignant reminder that embracing one's cultural identity need not succumb to the pressures of conforming to societal expectations. The mother's affirmations reinforced the idea that the protagonist should take pride in her unique heritage, thus illuminating a path towards self-acceptance.

The narrative extends beyond the immediate aftermath of the dinner, inviting readers to reflect on its broader implications in the context of societal expectations. Amy Tan, through the protagonist's lens, communicates a universal message about the challenges inherent in the pursuit of fitting in and the societal pressures to conform. The narrative underscores the significance of being different, highlighting the prevailing difficulties in contemporary society where conforming often appears as the expedient path to acceptance. As the protagonist navigates the complexities of adolescence, Tan subtly prompts readers to introspect on their own struggles with identity in the face of societal expectations.


In summation, "Fish Cheeks" encapsulates the protagonist's transformative journey towards self-acceptance amidst cultural diversity. The meticulously crafted narrative, steeped in the details of a Christmas Eve dinner, serves as a microcosm for the broader societal challenges associated with embracing one's identity. As Amy Tan aptly demonstrates, the pressures of conformity may seem insurmountable, yet the richness of cultural heritage outweighs the transient allure of assimilation. The protagonist's realization, articulated years later, resonates as a timeless lesson – that the essence of one's being lies in celebrating the uniqueness of cultural identity, transcending the ephemeral desire to fit into societal molds. In this exploration of cultural dissonance and self-discovery, Amy Tan imparts a profound message on the enduring value of staying true to one's roots, irrespective of societal pressures.

Updated: Feb 16, 2024
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Cultural Clashes and Self-Discovery in 'Fish Cheeks'. (2016, May 23). Retrieved from

Cultural Clashes and Self-Discovery in 'Fish Cheeks' essay
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