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Representation of Amy Tan's Personal Experiences As a Chinese-American in Her Stories and Novels

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Amy Tan has skilfully interwoven her Chinese heritage and personal experiences as a first-generation Chinese-American in a multitude of her literary works . The charm of oriental culture displayed successfully showcases its virtue of emotion and the dynamic relationship Tan exhibits between her and her heritage, family, and of the mainstream culture she was pressured to conform to. As a child of an immigrant, Amy stands on the intersection precisely where Chinese and Western cultures cross, allowing her to have a unique opportunity to interpret and enlarge the course of history and cultural development that she paints in her written art. Not only does this allow readers to see the contradiction and confrontation of two cultures, but also cultural exchanges and melding of the cultures, of clashes and confusion through a misunderstanding between characters. Amy Tan's style mimics her own life: unique, eloquent and bittersweet. The twists and turns of her characters can be compared to a symphony, where all the different instruments eventually come together to create one united, symphonic sound, time and again imprinting the sound in the readers hearts and making them carry the Eastern and Western cultural ties that represent her own life and her story. Amy Tan successfully juxtaposes pure Chinese cultures with that of American modern attitudes and, through hybridism, views them with tolerance and without prejudice in the novel The Bonesetter's Daughter. Her skill of verisimilitude places these cultures into context of the human experience that is both tragic and redemptive, reflective of her own experiences, and by analyzing it through a psychoanalytic perspective, shows the interlacing of Amy Tan, her culture, and society through struggles and adversity.

Amy Tan successfully incorporates various aspects such as Chinese values and customs in her works to create the most realistic essence of Oriental culture that she is famous for, most especially in The Bonesetter's Daughter. . She creatively intertwines pieces of both oriental culture and the mixing and clashing between east and west; she vividly displays the pathway that these cultures have caused her to take on through imposing them on the characters in her novel: the process of dealing with two cultures, the impact this had, the eventual understanding of it, and finally accepting it. This can be seen throughout the story of The Bonesetter's Daughter . It is this scenario that allows readers to delve into Amy Tan’s ideas and essentially her message quickly, giving them the access and cultural context that embodies the entire novel and paints a rich oriental color prevalent in her own life. Through her special eyes holding her personal memories and both her American and Oriental culture, Tan is able to bypass describing social life and the imagery of the novel in a broad sense and instead can imitate a magnifying glass effect, giving the readers the ability to see every nook and cranny in her characters and story . She uses the story “Yin” and “Yang” in a subtle manner in the novel to represent the need for balance, something she struggled with herself in her life. By teasing the reader, she suspends mystery in the plot and her characters and urges the reader to unlock each one, for each one holds an important piece of her memories and thoughts beyond the text on the page. This oriental mysticism of the Chinese culture can be seen weaving between every character in the story.

Amy Tan uses her personal experiences as a Chinese-American to display themes of loneliness and isolation that allows her readers step into her shoes and to create an intimate connection with her through the characters in her story. Born in Oakland, CA, in 1952, Amy Tan was the daughter of two Chinese immigrants (Tan Biography). Due to her family’s inability to settle down in one place for an extended period of time and the fact that she was Chinese prevented her from developing intimate connections and resulted in Tan feeling like she was different, and thus, an outsider. Her practicing of her culture amidst people who viewed it as abnormal caused Tan to be embarrassed repeatedly throughout her childhood, not realizing that this feeling of isolation was common and normal until she was an adult. This inability to communicate with her own family and others drove her to write stories, ultimately giving her a way to express the thoughts that she held inside of herself, wound up, for so long (Achievement). Despite her tenacity of shying away from her roots, she did admit that family is in fact the most important after she loses both her dad and brother to illnesses and her mother’s memory to Alzheimer's. Amy Tan learned the importance of family, as well, by connecting with relatives in China despite the language and cultural barrier present between them(Tan Biography). In The Bonesetter's Daughter, the character Ruth emobies Amy Tan’s persona, a rebellious daughter who constantly bickers with her mother and feels alienated and embarrassed to be with her throughout her teenage years, but who eventually learns to appreciate her mother and value the quality of life that she possesses.

In Tan's novels, her Chinese and Western culture and the ultimate attempt at balancing the two is the foundation in which her stories lie upon: the trivial matters such as the manner in which one sits at a table, of the way one speaks and behaves, as well as the rough yet cherished moments of life. These details are perfectly described due to Tan’s expert use of verisimilitude and are showcased in each and every one of her characters. A key component of Amy Tan that exists in the plane where this struggle is housed is that of her relationship with her Chinese immigrant mother. Chinese maternal love is a focus in many of her works and for good reason. Maternal love is described as the unstoppable driving force that carries stories and customs from generation to generation, keeping the family’s values alive and protected from time. Being one of her last ties to her Chinese culture, Amy Tan’s mother signifies the bridge between Tan’s Chinese and American customs, therefore for Tan to incorporate an overarching theme of the importance of mother and daughter relationships throughout The Bonesetter’s Daughter comes to no surprise. Tan succeeds in portraying her mother through the character Luling Young in a filtered manner so that her American readers can understand and relate to her. Luling Young, like Tan’s mother, is seen as a vessel, carrying with her the ideals of her home country in a foreign place so that her daughter can have access to the present as well as the past. In this sense, Tan puts an artistic spin to her history in her work.

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Being pressured to maintain this very connection while pursuing one’s own goals and interests is another thread that is seen in Amy Tan’s life, Chinese culture, and in The Bonesetter’s Daughter. In The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Tan successfully brings her historical background and context and instills them in a fictional work of art. Living in San Francisco, California, the character Rose lives an unsatisfied life, trying to balance her own interests and lifestyle while simultaneously being held down with the responsibility of taking care of her mother suffering from Alzheimer's. Their unique experience and their own opinion of how a mother should be caused a rift between Rose and LuLing even more substantial than the one already existing, which was due to their lack of communication, something inevitable between a loved one and an Alzheimer's patient. Tan is seen, once again, using subtle underlying messages to convey emotional stresses between mothers and daughters in the novel, mirroring how she felt in her own relationship with her mother. The emotion described mimics water: susceptible to its surroundings and constantly in a state of flux, but, eventually softening the rigid dirt full of tension and allowing for a substance that is malleable, allowing for the shaping of something new. The dynamic relationship moves the readers and pulls them in due to the aforementioned mystery and mysticism of oriental culture that Amy Tan incorporates in her works. Three generations of experience, including her own, give Tan the ability to feel the bumps and curves of her life through her characters, along with the recurring motif of Yin and Yang.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter prologue can be seen as a metaphorical beginning, referring to the feelings of alienation and loneliness that Chinese-Americans are enveloped with when living in America due to their belief that they are unable to maintain their cultural ties and traditions in the country they’re situated in, similar to how Tan felt throughout her life. The internal conflict of LuLing is presented, where she can’t seem to recall her family name back in China, presumably due to the Alzheimers which is discussed later in the novel, which troubles her immensely. LuLing is also seen to shy away from inanimate objects that symbolize her time in China such as a bone that was given to her by her mother as well as a jacket and dress that were gifts from loved one.She says: “I hid those things for so long I almost forgot I had them…Almost all that mattered in my life has disappeared, and the worst is losing Precious Auntie’s name” (Tan, 2001: 7). By ignoring/carelessly treating objects that allow LuLing to keep a part of China with her serves to sever the connection she has between the past in China and the present in America. Though doing so unintentionally, this action only facilitates LuLung’s memory to degenerate even further, pushing the past further back in her mind so much so that she forgets her own mother’s family name, which causes an ache in her heart, similar to how Tan felt with her own culture.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter’s prologue can be seen as a metaphorical beginning, referring to the feelings of alienation and loneliness that Chinese-Americans are enveloped with when living in America due to their belief that they are unable to maintain their cultural ties and traditions in the country they’re situated in, similar to how Tan felt throughout her life. The internal conflict of LuLing is presented, where she can’t seem to recall her family name back in China, presumably due to the Alzheimers which is discussed later in the novel, which troubles her immensely. LuLing is also seen to shy away from inanimate objects that symbolize her time in China such as a bone that was given to her by her mother as well as a jacket and dress that were gifts from loved one.She says: “I hid those things for so long I almost forgot I had them…Almost all that mattered in my life has disappeared, and the worst is losing Precious Auntie’s name” (Tan, 2001: 7). By ignoring/carelessly treating objects that allow LuLing to keep a part of China with her serves to sever the connection she has between the past in China and the present in America. Though doing so unintentionally, this action only facilitates LuLung’s memory to degenerate even further, pushing the past further back in her mind so much so that she forgets her own mother’s family name, which causes an ache in her heart, similar to how Tan felt with her own culture.

This theme of struggle among Chinese-Americans and immigrants is seen in other literary works of Amy Tan’s, such as The Joy Luck Club and In The Hundred Secret Senses. Human nature causes people to favor what is considered “normal” and drive people towards groups that exhibit the same tendencies as them. This causes a challenge among immigrants or people in a foreign country for they are pressured to conform to the norm while also trying to balance fitting in their values that their ancestors held. With this, almost every single character in The Joy Luck Club can be seen as trying to overcome this very issue, of trying to find a balance in which they can feel satisfied with themselves. Ying-Ying leans on her daughter and relies on her to teacher her English so that she can effectively communicate in America (Tan, 1990). The character Lindo is one that reaches the desired balance of conforming to American standards and accepts the process of assimilation for she knows that she will hold her Chinese values with her wherever she goes. In The Hundred Secret Senses, the character Kwan is seen struggling with melding both American values with her Chinese values and gets lost in an attempt to figure out her cultural identity (Tan, 1995).

Amy Tan, in The Bonesetter's Daughter, writes with incredible depth and emotion that can be attributed to her incorporation of oriental charm and usage of personal experiences. Her melding of both reality and fiction serves to create a unique outlook in her novels that give readers a reading into both themselves and Amy Tan’s own life. She moves into the mainstream of cultural centres and creates the coordination. With the emotions and relations between ordinary people, her novel moves into the mainstream of cultural centres. Furthermore, her use of “own personal experiences, relationships, and literary themes to create universal works that still have very original ideas and details. Her mother's and grandmother's lives influenced her own life so much that they are even speculated to be characters in more than one of her stories ” (Thompson) The symphonic sound that her novels resonate through the use of her own memories will forever be heard in readers lucky enough to experience Tan’s and her character’s lives along with them.

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Representation of Amy Tan’s Personal Experiences As a Chinese-American in Her Stories and Novels. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 5, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/representation-of-amy-tans-personal-experiences-as-a-chinese-american-in-her-stories-and-novels/
“Representation of Amy Tan’s Personal Experiences As a Chinese-American in Her Stories and Novels.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022, edubirdie.com/examples/representation-of-amy-tans-personal-experiences-as-a-chinese-american-in-her-stories-and-novels/
Representation of Amy Tan’s Personal Experiences As a Chinese-American in Her Stories and Novels. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/representation-of-amy-tans-personal-experiences-as-a-chinese-american-in-her-stories-and-novels/> [Accessed 5 Mar. 2024].
Representation of Amy Tan’s Personal Experiences As a Chinese-American in Her Stories and Novels [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 12 [cited 2024 Mar 5]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/representation-of-amy-tans-personal-experiences-as-a-chinese-american-in-her-stories-and-novels/
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