Fish Cheeks Story

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Cultural differences and social status should not be used as a way to separate people. In many instances, individuals especially from low social status perceive those from higher social status as being superior. In addition, some people tend to view other cultural practices as more decent than theirs. These perceptions are some of the root causes of low confidence and esteem issues manifested in people who suffer from inferiority complex. In her short story, “Fish Cheeks”, Army Tan has successfully managed to explain how differences in culture and family status have had a negative impact in some people. She applies the use of imagery, diction, and symbolism to ensure that she effectively drives her message to the audience.

Tan used imagery to create a vivid picture of what transpired during the Christmas Eve dinner. Her parents extend an invitation to Robert’s family to come over for the dinner without her knowledge. She is shocked as she wonders how the members of her family will carry themselves before a minister’s family. Tan points out that her family started embarrassing her right from the commencement of the dinner, “A plate of squid, their backs crisscrossed with knife markings so they resembled bicycle tires,” (Tan 95). She is particularly concerned about Robert who she thinks would see the plates as weird. The reader can imagine a squid on a dinner table where a minister is one of the dinners. She goes on to portray the variation in table manners between the two families bringing out her embarrassment she got from her relatives, “My relatives licked the ends of their chopsticks and reached across the table, dipping them into the dozen or so plates of food,” (Tan 95). Tan’s application of imagery helps to bring a vivid description of the scenery at the dinner.

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Tan utilizes diction to give a clear description of the uneasiness she experiences during the dinner. She tactfully uses words that reveals her discomfort throughout the dinner, “A slimy cod with bulging fish eyes that pleaded not to be thrown into a pan of hot oil,” (Tan 95). The word ‘bulging’ is enough to show the reader how big the eyes of the fish were. She continues to ask herself, “What would he think of our noisy Chinese relatives who lacked proper American manners?” (Tan 94). In this case, Tan uses the words ‘noisy’ and ‘proper’ to give a description of the distinction between two families and the state of discomfort she derives from that. Through diction, the reader can understand Tan’s feelings while at the dinner table.

Symbolism in the short story has helped to educate the reader that everyone should be proud of their culture. Tan uses various symbols to show various things that are central to the Chinese culture. It is apparent that the Chinese love fish and this explains why fish cheeks was served to the guests. Besides, the fish cheeks symbolize the love that Tan’s mother had for her, “She had chosen all my favorite foods,” (Tan 95). Moreover, “Miniskirt in beige tweed” (Tan 95) is a representation of her mother’s pride in Chinese culture. The miniskirt is a gift that Tan was given by her mother who insisted that she must she should wear like Chinese and not ape the American girls. Also, the belching by her father symbolizes the cultural norms that acceptable in one community and prohibited in another. The essence of symbolism in Tan’s narrative is to show that people should take pride in their culture. Imagery, diction and symbolism have been instrumental in bringing out the true meaning of the narrative to the attention of the reader.

Tan has effectively used the three literary devices to explain the origin of inferiority complex in some members of society. She starts the story with a feeling of embarrassment and discomfort but at the end, she acknowledges the importance of valuing one’s culture. The whole narrative educates that no culture is superior than the other. Moreover, through the love between Robert and Tan, the reader learns that social status should not create boundaries between humans.

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Fish Cheeks Story. (2021, September 30). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 18, 2024, from
“Fish Cheeks Story.” Edubirdie, 30 Sept. 2021,
Fish Cheeks Story. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 18 Apr. 2024].
Fish Cheeks Story [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 30 [cited 2024 Apr 18]. Available from:

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