Essay, Research Paper: Asian Literature


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It is true that all people are created different, and thus no two cultures will
ever be the same. Throughout Asian American literature there seems to be a
struggle between the Asian culture and American culture. More specifically,
there is a struggle between Asian women and their Asian American daughters, and
what it means to be feminine, and how a woman should act. The main struggle is
between how the American woman should act and how the Asian woman should act.
However, the behavior of the Asian woman seems to be dominant through out the
story because although the daughters and the mothers may not get along all of
the time, the mothers to receive a lot of respect from their daughters.
Therefore, the mothers opinion on how they should act, which is behaving like
the Asian woman, is most evident. This is the case in The Joy Luck Club, written
by Amy Tan and also in the short story "Waiting for Mr. Kim," written
by Carol Roh-Spaulding. These two stories have very different meanings, however
they are similar in the aspect that they are all Asian women with Asian American
daughters trying to get their daughters to keep and use their Asian heritage.
There are certain behaviors that Asian women are expected to have, and the
mothers feel that their daughters should use these behaviors. In The Joy Luck
Club, the novel traces the fate of the four mothers-Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu,
Lindo Jong, and Ying-ying St. Clair-and their four daughters-June Woo, Rose Hsu
Jordan, Waverly Jong, and Lena St. Clair. Through the experiences that these
characters go through, they become women. The mothers all fled China in the
1940's and they all retain much of their heritage. Their heritage focuses on
what is means to be a female, but more importantly what it means to be an Asian
female. In the short story "Waiting for Mr. Kim," the main female
character Gracie understands what it means to be an Asian female, but she does
question the meaning because of her sisters. Her sisters ran away from home
before their marriage could be arranged and eloped. This is totally against
Asian culture, and it causes Gracie to question her heritage and her Asian
femininity. In both of these stories there are certain characteristics of
females that are the same, they are inner strength, obedience, honor and
respect, the good of the whole is better than the good of the individual, and
finding things out for yourself. In the chapter "Scar" the
characteristic of honor and respect is first noticed. In this chapter An-mei
finds out how her mother basically deserted her, her mother did leave for a good
reason, which was to maintain the honor of her family, but either way her mother
left her. Her grandmother had to raise her, and she learned much about the Asian
woman from her. An-mei was showing some disrespect towards on of her aunts, and
her aunt told her that she was being disrespectful. Her grandmother then
interjected and said, "When you lose your face, is like
dropping your necklace down a well. The only way you can get it back is to fall
in after it." She was talking about A-mei's mother, and how she left
because she had disrespected the family and she was dishonorable to the family
name. The only way for her mother to regain respect and honor was to leave and
do it on her own, which is a characteristic of an Asian woman. Another feminine
characteristic that comes from that scene is being able to do things on your
own. However, this is an American influence. This characteristic comes from the
chapter "Rules of the Game." This is a peculiar chapter in the book
because it is a chapter where the woman is not seen as inferior to the man.
Waverly's brother, Vincent, received a chess set for Christmas. However, Waverly
is the one who took full use of the chess set. She was a natural, she would beat
her brothers in chess, which would normally be looked down upon in Asian
culture, but she was encouraged. She was even given lessons in chess, and she
was a national champion. Unlike An-mei's mother, Waverly was bringing honor to
the family name. When Waverly is encouraged to excel in chess she learns
something from her mother. Her mother said in her broken English, "This
American rules...Every time people come out from a foreign country, must know
rules. You not know, judge say, Too bad, go back. They not telling you why so
you can use their way to go forward. They say, Don't know why, you find out
yourself." This is an American custom, more than an Asian one. She is
explaining that in order to succeed as an Asian female in the United States,
then there are certain things that you will have to find out on your own. Also
in this chapter was the theme/characteristic of inner strength. Waverly says she
six when her mother taught her the "art of invisible strength."
Waverly was walking by the candy store when she was a young child, and she was
begging her mother to take her inside. Her mother refused to take her inside,
which angered Waverly. Then her mother went on to explain, "Wise guy, he
not go against wind. In Chinese we say, Come from South blow with wind-poom!-North
will follow. Strongest wind cannot be seen." This means that the strongest
way to win an argument is to keep to yourself, which Waverly used in her chess
matches. Waverly goes on to say, "A little knowledge withheld is a great
advantage one should store for future use." Another example of invisible
strength, inner strength, is the "The Moon Lady." Ying-ying's mother
was telling her how a woman should act when she said, "A boy can run and
chase dragonflies...But a girl should stand still." The girl would have a
better chance catching the dragonfly than the boy, she would catch the dragonfly
with inner strength, rather than muscle like the boy. The chapter, "The
Moon Lady," has another characteristic of what it is to be female, which is
the good of the whole is more important than the good of the individual. They
were all on their way to see the Moon Lady, and if you see the Moon Lady, you
receive one wish from her. Ying-ying asked what a "secret wish" was,
and the answer was that is was on that you cannot ask. Ying-ying was young as
this point, so she asked why. Amah's response to Ying-ying was, "This is
because...because if you ask is no longer a wish but a selfish
desire...Haven't I taught you-that it is wrong to think of our own needs? A girl
can never ask, only listen." Here she is telling that by making a wish for
herself she is being selfish and forgetting that she is not the important one,
but the good of the whole is the important one. Amah is also hinting at
obedience when she tells her daughter that she is not to ask questions, but just
listen to the men and go along with it. Arranged marriages are a very tough
thing to go through. Marrying someone because one has to has to be hard because
one is not marrying out of love. This is exactly the case in "Waiting for
Mr. Kim." Gracie two twin sisters have already run away from to and eloped
with two men. Their marriages were not arranged because they left before their
father could arrange them. Now, with her sisters gone, Gracie is the only
remaining daughter, and she is somewhat frowned upon because she was the
"third daughter." She did not really like the two men that her father
was thinking of arranging the marriage with, but it did not matter. It did not
matter because as her mother told her, "Girls don't choose." The girls
just sit there and look pretty while their fathers choose for them, they have to
comply with their father's decision. They are obedient, and at the same time
respectful of the decision that is made. Another characteristic that appears in
this story is that women made to think that they are second class compared to
men. When her Mr. Kang, Gracie's father, would walk, he would sometimes reach
back to hold Mrs. Kang's hand, but she would pull away. Not only would she pull
away, but she would "stay behind as she cleaned her purse or took forever
with her coat, just to have it the way she had learned it, her husband a few
places ahead, women behind." Her mother not only believes that this is how
women should act and it is a part of their femininity, but she is passing this
way of thinking onto her daughter. Her mother is relaying the message to her
daughter that no matter what you need to show your husband respect and let him
know that he is in charge. Both of these stories have displayed that there are
certain characteristics of females and they are inner strength, the good of the
whole is better than the good of the individual, find things out for oneself,
honor and respect, and obedience. All of these characteristics have displayed
not only what it means to be feminine, but also what it means to be female. It
is not so much an Asian female, but it is because that is how their mothers were
raised and that is how their mothers will raise them. There are really no
American females for the daughters, or mothers, to see and mimic. The only way
of life that the mothers know is the Asian way of life, therefore that is the
only way that can be passed down onto their daughters. Sometimes that is hard
for the daughters to understand because the daughters have grown up in American
culture, and they know what it is like to be an American woman. No matter how
one views this situation, these stories focus on what it means to an Asian
female, but more generally what the mothers know best on how to teach their
daughters on how to be female.
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