Mona in the Promised Land By Gish Jen Essay
Mona in the Promised Land By Gish Jen
Cultural clashes are one of the defining marks of the early centuries wherein racial, ethnic and cultural difference are the most debated issues. Long before the entrance of globalization in the global scene, different nation-states did not really have the chance of making close relationships with their neighboring states especially when their cultures are the exact opposite of theirs.
And for this reason, they tried to isolate themselves from other countries (or at most have communication or somewhat have indirect relationship toward other states that have almost similar culture and tradition) so as to preserve their cultural heritage. Fagan) But upon the outbreak of WW1 and WW2, culture, race and ethnicity became one of the pivotal prices that changed the world structure and order. On the other hand, the occurrence of the said world wars and the introduction of the concept of globalization were not the primordial root of such cultural clashes. Even during the time of the establishment of the first civilizations in almost all regions of the world, conflicts that were defined or motivated by cultural struggles were already preponderant. Hence, there is this historical origin of the said problem.
Culture, Race and Ethnicity Culture is considered as a way of life. It implies that whatever man does or acts or believes it is its culture. Traditions and customs are subsets of culture. Even before an individual was born, there was already a defined culture to which he was already belonged. This culture was given to him by either his parents or his environment (or even both). Having this fact, a person cannot really say that he has chosen a particular culture for himself. But what is really true is that he was anticipated to adapt his parents and/or his environment’s culture.
And only as he progresses or as he grows up that he exposes himself to other culture and tries to make some modifications on his possessed culture. Thus, one can be influenced by other foreign cultures. And that he can assimilate those cultures as he pleases. But the original cultural that he owns cannot really be thrown away. It sticks to one person as long as he lives. (Bolaffi) Race defines how man’s biological, sociological and cultural features are structured. Be it an American, an Asian or a European.
But among the races that which suffers a lot are the races of the Blacks (the Africans). During the struggle of the Black-Americans regarding the slavery issue, they were perceived as the race that which is the most inferior (for they believed then that the standard for superiority can be measured through the color of the skin). As a result of such conception, the Blacks were badly maltreated and their dignity was really degraded. Historically, the Blacks received the most numbered and prominent manifestations of racial discrimination. (Bolaffi)
Ethnicity comes into the picture as subset of culture (as stated earlier in this paper). It goes with the idea that every individual is either belonged to a single group which has the same affiliation and identity as that individual or has a two or more ethnic origins. That which is very evident in the concept of ethnicity is the belief that there is this one single historical origin that is common to all those members of a particular ethnic group. And as branch of culture, it entails traditions and customs as well as practices and beliefs that are exclusive to each ethnic group. (Bolaffi)
Now imagine when one tries to penetrate a particular culture that is defined by a singular and specific race and ethnicity. Surely, clash of cultural differences and ideologies will arise. But such adaption to different cultures and varied customs and traditions is not really impossible. As mentioned earlier, one can define his culture by either adapting his parents’ culture or by adapting his environment’s culture. However, the latter poses much struggle and criticisms not only for individuals but also for nation-states (especially those that suffered from colonialism).
On the Novel: Mona in the Promised Land The novel was all about a girl named Mona (a half Chinese and half American) who was become so enthralled with the Jewish society that she declared that she would convert herself into Jew. Such was the conflict of the story. She was Chinese-American and yet she wanted to belong herself in the Jewish tradition and belief. That is the very thing that signaled her own conflict with her father. (Jen) Mona situated herself into a large circle of people. She was with Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Blacks and Jews. She learned and discovered many things about the different cultures that her companions and circle of friends have.
At any rate she appreciated those cultures. Being a Chinese-American she knows well that her ethnic origins were somewhat in conflict. Nonetheless it did not undermine her will to live the life that she wanted. The stories that were revealed to her by the Black people inspired her to be proud of her race. Unfortunately when he became so much in tuned of the Jewish religion/tradition, her life became so much criticized not only by other people who used to sit with her and have talks but also of her own family – especially his father.
Although their family – her mother and mother and herself – was more distinguished as Chinese, her father wanted her to act and project herself as a full-pledged American. Americanization became her father’s everyday reminder for her. As a result, the structure of their family, their beliefs and practices and their characters were Americanized. And that was her parents’ want. However, even if she was born in American she refused to pretend and act like a true-blooded American whom she was really not. She tried to discover her own culture.
But his did not mean that she would have to throw away her original culture and solely embrace a foreign culture. This only suggested that she would establish her own preferred culture or belong herself to her chosen culture and would not try hard to be someone else just to fit in with other standards (like that of the American attitude). The climax of the story was when Mona finally declared to her parents that she would convert herself into the Jewish religion. Her father was totally against such conversion. Her family especially her father believed that the being a Jew would only make her life miserable and inferior to others.
Her father believed that the American culture was the most superior culture even with that of their Chinese culture. He mentioned the entire things that the American culture brought into this world like those of the more and recent technological advancements. Yet, Mona did not bend with that argumentation. The novel revealed the undeniable role of religion in shaping the culture of a particular individual. As what was described in it, Mona found the Jewish religion as more like of her own principles and beliefs.
She absorbed the Jewish doctrines and practices the way she wanted. It did not become hard for her to understand and appreciate the Jewish tradition since she was at first exposed to different cultures. But the very thing that made her decide to make herself belong in that Jewish religion is that she was in the Jewish community such that their influence was really irresistible. Not only that. It was very hard for her to stick to her original culture when all that she had was its exact opposite. The bottom line was that she pursued such conversion and lived the Jewish way.
The moral lesson of the story (if it can be classified as one) is that a particular thing does not really assure you of the happiness that it could offer only through its tag or label. But what really matters is that you really like that thing and that there is nothing that pushes you to pick such choice. In short, happiness comes if a person willfully chooses it. Historical, Sociological and Political Issues The Americanization Since the coming of the globalization period, Westernization, particularly Americanization was a big issue. What does it take to be Americanized?
And what is the trade-off of becoming an Americanized person? There is this big assumption that America is the world’s most superior race. Being the world’s sole superpower, people regard American culture to be the only culture that could give the people a better life (just like how Mona’s parents believed). Political stability, great economic standing and supreme influence among nations and states in the world, are the characteristics that best describe America. However, America is neither an ideal state nor a perfect sanctuary for all people. (O’Dell)
America is branded as the melting pot of the world (world’s culture). This is the place wherein people of different races and different culture can freely live and pursue their goals in life without being constrained. But that is only a loose description. America surely offers and provides the world with so many things for development and progress. However, isn’t it overgeneralization to say that American culture is the best culture among other cultures in the world? Let us say that American people do not really claim such. However, other cultures regard such thing as truth.
The result is that people in the world idolizes and patronizes American culture having this conception that if they would try to live the American life then their lives would really improved and they would live in prosperity. But such is only a misconception. A person can make himself improve and progress regardless of his cultural inclinations, and racial and ethnic origins. But then it still goes with the idea that the society does not limit its citizens to showcase their interests, talents and capabilities as well as their personal beliefs.
In relation with the novel, Mona was constrained by her father and told that converting herself into Jewish would make her life miserable. But then Mona believed that by his faith, her life would be at peace and would be secured. Choosing a religion is a right (with reference to the Universal Declaration of Rights). And having it as a right would mean that such would not badly affect the lives of individuals. And such would not be used as standard for looking at a person’s life. Perhaps most Americans cannot be termed as pure Americans.
By appealing to their original cultures, traditions and customs, Americans can be seen as a very general form of culture that which is also comprised of different cultures. The Chinese Principle Historically speaking, Chinese was known as the main land in Asia. Being revered and served by other nations. It has been said that the Chinese people regard themselves as the supreme race in the whole Asia such that everyone should pay respect and look at every Chinese with veneration. China termed those nations beyond its kingdom as barbarians. It implies that China is the central and the sole bearer of power and authority in Asia.
However such conception about China was erased when it was attacked and conquered by the Western nations. No matter how China received tragic experiences and great insults from the Western conquerors, China never regard herself as a conquered and defeated nation. It preserves such principle by inculcating in the minds of all the Chinese people the great and rich history of their Chinese culture. It inspires every Chinese to be more proud of their cultural heritage even if their physical features are really different from the Western features. Nonetheless, not all Chinese remain loyal with such principle.
Some Chinese people consider adapting the culture of the other nations so as to improve their way of living. In the novel, Mona’s father can be regarded as on of those Chinese people who would put aside his Chinese pride and dignity in order to assure him a life of prosperity in the cradle of the American culture. Well, it is not really bad to adapt to foreign culture as long as it would not mean a re-identification of oneself. It means that as long as a person accepts and recognizes his authentic origins while making some modifications in his cultural belief it does not entail a total denial of the original culture.
Mona did not really deny her Chinese heritage. She is even proud to be a Chinese. On the other hand, Mona did not see herself as a solid Chinese whose beliefs and practices are confined with the ancient and traditional Chinese religions. She rather saw herself as a person whom can only grow in the arms of the Jewish religion. For Mona, such conversion was no big deal. But for her parents it was really a form of infidelity to her cultural heritage (well, her father did not really appear as someone who advocated Chinese principles and ideologies but more of a person who wanted to make Mona a full turned-American person).
As for the story, the Chinese side of Mona and her parent was not really highlighted. It played a very little role that it could not be even considered as a principal source of cultural conflict that was evident in the novel. Mona in the Arms of the Jewish Tradition Mona rather chose Jewish culture and tradition than making herself absorbed and lived the American culture. For Mona, it was not if one was an American, a Chinese, a Black or a Jew, the most important thing was that you know what is right and you did not step on anyone’s foot.
Living in such principle she pursued her life the Jewish way. Judaism is the religion of the Jews. It is a monotheistic religion since it believes and advocates that there is only one God. And this God is the supreme legislator of laws. He is the Divine Creator whom created the world and its order. And that mankind committed sin against this Supreme Entity. The only way for them to be saved from those sins is to be united with God by living a good life – and that life is illustrated by the Jewish culture. (Sarna) There is really nothing wrong with Mona’s decision of converting herself into a Jew.
Her personal belief and her faith cannot really be managed by other people but only by herself. Her father was only in opposition with her decision primarily because he thought that if Mona would really move towards the Jewish way of life, she might be lost because of her initial Chinese and American culture. Having both Chinese and American culture is really a struggle for any person. It would be more complicated if one would include the Jewish culture, and that is exactly what the clash of the cultures suggests.
To end this paper, the historical, sociological and political issues that can be drawn from the novel are really directed toward diversity and conflict among cultures in the world. There is really no possible way that culture can be universalized or standardized. However, such cultural differences can be managed by simply paying respect to other cultures that have different structure and tradition from one’s own culture. Only then that people would really resolve such conflict regarding the clash of cultures.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 21 September 2016
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