The Autobiographical Narrative in Fish Cheeks by Amy Tan
In the autobiographical narrative “Fish Cheeks,” Amy Tan contrasts her perspective at a Christmas dinner with the other individuals at the same Christmas dinner to highlight her cultural shame. The embarrassment Tan feels of her culture is a main perspective depicted throughout this narrative. Everyone at the dinner has a greatly different perspective: The minister’s family has a American point of view and follows American customs.Tan’s family and relatives view the Christmas dinner through the eyes of a Chinese person, a holiday event celebrated with Chinese customs and topped off with a feast of Chinese food. Lastly, Tan views the Christmas dinner as a Chinese born American. Born and raised in America, Tan has a slightly Americanized perspective of what a Christmas dinner should be like, but still understands Chinese culture. Her American view of a Christmas dinner is reinforced, however, when she finds out her American love interest, Robert, will be at the dinner. She feels that she must conform to American culture in order to be accepted by him, thus, Tan’s shame of her Chinese culture is amplified by the presence of Robert. This can be seen clearly as Tan often revolves around the thoughts of him in her narrative. She asks questions such as “What would Robert think of our shabby Chinese Christmas?” and “What would he think of our noisy Chinese relatives who lacked proper American manners?” Robert’s name is never attached to a positive word; even his greeting is described as a measly “grunt.” This subconsciously adds to the notion that he does not enjoy Chinese culture. Furthermore, Tan’s use of the words “Chinese” and “American” highlights the contrast between the two vastly different cultures. Often mentioning Robert’s thoughts, Tan successfully emphasizes her fear of disappointing him with her strange, exotic culture compared to the American norm. For example, as the steamed fish was being served, “Robert grimaced,” followed by Tan saying “I wanted to disappear.” This is a direct example of how Robert’s opinion of Tan influenced her cultural shame. Due to Robert’s presence, Tan feels nothing but pure embarrassment of her culture.
Tan’s attempts to conform to American culture can also be seen throughout the narrative. She uses unappealing words such as “raw” and “slimy” to describe the “strange menu” her mother cooked up for the Christmas dinner. Tan compares tofu to”stacked wedges of rubbery white sponges” and squid to “bicycle tires,” even when Tan reveals that these were her favorites near the end of the story. The unpleasant description of these foods portrays Tan’s attempt to reject her native Chinese culture for Robert’s sake. Later on, the two cultures come together with a clash at the dinner table, and it “threw [Tan] deeper into despair.” The contrast between the cultures emphasized Tan’s want to follow American tradition. Tan then contrasts the cultures even more by differentiating the eating styles of the two groups. Tan’s “relatives licked the ends of their chopsticks and reached across the table,” while “Robert and his family waited patiently for platters to be passed to them.” Perhaps the most significant event, the one the narrative is named after, is the offering of the fish cheek from Tan’s father to Tan. In the process of the offering, her father reveals to everyone that this is her most-liked food, saying, “Amy, your favorite.” Unbeknownst to her father, Tan is horrified when he exposes that her favorite food is something extremely atypical in American culture. In this moment, Tan feels she has failed to conform to American culture and will not be accepted by the American guests at the dinner. This feeling is only amplified by the presence of her crush, Robert, as she thinks she will be forever branded as a strange, Chinese, fish cheek-eating girl by him. After the meal, Tan’s “father leaned back and belched loudly,” something considered rude in American culture. Tan’s father then explains that it is acceptable in Chinese culture to the “astonished guests.” Since Tan wants to conform to American culture to gain the acceptance of Robert, she is ashamed to show him the vast difference of her culture, and is “stunned into silence for the rest of the night.” When the minister’s family leaves, Tan’s mother acknowledges her daughter’s endeavor to conform and be noticed by her crush, saying, “You want to be the same as American girls on the outside.” She then gives an important lesson to Tan. “But inside you must always be Chinese. You must be proud you are different. Your only shame is to have shame.”
Through specific language and details in writing, Tan effectively portrays the largely contrasting perspectives of the individuals at the Christmas dinner. She recounts her inner struggle of two conflicting cultures, magnified by the presence of Robert. She uses the perspective of Robert to further emphasize her fear of disappointing him due to Chinese culture. Although at the time Tan felt that the dinner was a catastrophe, looking back, she realizes she learned a very important life lesson from her mother’s perspective. In the end, she gains a new perspective by reflecting on this event, and only then is she finally “able to fully appreciate [her mother’s] lesson.”
American Family at a Christmas Eve Dinner in Amy Tan’s Fish Cheeks
Amy’s Fish Cheek
A young teenage girl goes through a rough Christmas Eve dinner with her Chinese family and an American family as their guests in “Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan. The main character, Amy, has fallen in love with the son in the American family. The point of view and the imagery in the short story work together to show the reader the embarrassment, want of change, and lesson that Amy went through that night.
Within the story of “Fish Cheeks” by Amy Tan, Amy is the main character and goes through a bit of a rough Christmas Eve dinner. She “falls in love with the minister’s son” and it turns out that her mother invites him and his family over for Christmas Eve dinner at their house (1). Amy wants to impress this young man and the reader is shown this when the point of view and imagery in the story work together.
The point of view gives the reader insights to what Amy is thinking. Throughout a majority of the story, Amy is embarrassed once she finds out of her mother’s plan and questions the way her family celebrates Christmas. She wonders what Robert “would think of her noisy Chinese relatives who lack proper American manners” (1).
The point of view in the story helps to show Amy’s embarrassment, but through the imagery that is portrayed. She sees the food her mother prepares for the Christmas meal and the thoughts that g through her head include: “the kitchen is littered with appalling mounds of raw food: A slimy rock cod with bulging eyes that plead not to be thrown into a pan of hot oil” (1). The way Amy describes all of the uncooked meat lying there on the counter tops of her mother’s kitchen tells the reader of her disgust and embarrassment.
The imagery in the story shows that Amy wants to impress Robert, so she tries to change herself. She sees the American culture as a way to fit in so Robert will notice her and maybe even start to like her. So she changes her clothes, her mother even “hands her a miniskirt in beige tweed” (1). She is ashamed of her family. The imagery that shows this is in the fifth paragraph of the story, “My relatives licked the ends of their chopsticks and reached across the table, dipping them into a dozen or so plates of food. Robert and his family waited patiently for the platters to be passed to them” (1).
Though the imagery consists of strong evidence that Amy wanted to change herself for Robert, her point of view also helps the reader understand Amy a bit more. Her mother confronts Amy about the change she wants to make in her life. She tells her, “You want to be the same as American girls on the outside…But inside you must always be Chinese. You must be proud you are different. Your only shame is to have shame” (1). Amy realizes that her mother knows how much embarrassment she went through during that dinner and that her mother was just trying to help. Her mother is telling Amy not to change when all she wants to do is exactly that.
Through the imagery in the story, the reader knows Amy’s mother realizes that Amy has a crush on Robert, so she tries to help by making all of Amy’s favorite foods and showing Robert who Amy really is. Amy does not see it that way though, she is just embarrassed. It is not till years later that Amy realizes “for Christmas Eve that year, her mother had chosen all of [her] favorite foods” (1).
That night at dinner, Amy did not realize that they were her favorite foods. Even when her father “poked his chopsticks just below the fish eye and plucked out the soft meat and said, ‘Amy, your favorite’” (1). This imagery of her father is a bit gruesome in the American culture, but is an honor in the Chinese culture.
The point of view that helps the reader to realize this honor is when Amy realizes at the end of the story that her mother and father had committed a great deed for Amy. They showed Robert who Amy really was. Amy of course “got over [her] crush with Robert” and was “able to fully appreciate her [mother’s] lesson and the true purpose behind their particular menu” (1) that night.
In the short story called Fish Cheeks by Amy Tan, Amy describes her feeling and encounter with an American family at a Christmas Eve dinner. The point of view and the imagery in the short story work together to show the reader the embarrassment, want of change, and lesson that Amy went through that night. Amy was an average teenager who wanted to change herself for a guy and was embarrassed when her family did not change with her, but was in the end grateful for her mother’s lesson that night.