Author Contributions To Local And Global Culture
Author Contributions to Local and Global Culture
Writers contribute in the society through their fiction and literary works. However, in this global era, writers discuss multiple themes in their works that contribute to the literary canon both locally and at the global level. These works represent narrative voices of the authors that belong to diverse cultures and discourage the practice of unicentric or colonial, one-point narrative techniques and strategies.
Amy Tan is an American writer and Chinese by descent; she was born to Chinese immigrant parents in America. Her mother remarried, Tan’s father John after coming out of an abusive marriage, Tan was her second child out of three. After some years, her father and brother passed away due to a brain tumor and her mother relocated the remaining family to California and then Europe. Tan graduated from Switzerland and returned to America where she went to college and got a double major degree in English and Linguistics from San Jose State University. She took admission in the University of California for getting a doctoral degree but she soon dropped out to become a freelance business writer (McCarthy, 2010).
Several years had passed, she became successful in her career but due to too much workload, she decided to quit freelancing and opted for therapy to combat the previous work stress. She once stated “It was death to me spiritually. It was writing that had no meaning to me” (McCarthy, pg.10). However, the therapy sessions did not go as planned because her therapist used to sleep during her sessions. She then joined the community of Square Valley Writers to fulfill her childhood dream of becoming a fiction writer and express her imaginative capabilities. There she met Molly Giles, the author and started writing short stories that became her first book. Tan's personal life was not a good one because she had had a history of mental instability as her grandmother committed suicide and her mother threatened suicide whereas she struggled with depression for a longer period. She now takes antidepressants and seeks therapy but she still struggles from this condition. Moreover, when she was in college, her roommate was found dead and she had to identify the body, this incident left its traces on her memory for a decade.
She is a diasporic author and has experienced America as a Chinese American diaspora. She once recalls in an interview that when she was in school, she was very conscious of her different physical features from the rest of her class fellows. She used to pinch her nose with a clothespin to make it appear more Caucasian. Similarly, her childhood was full of instances and experiences where she had to act like an American in the school and a Chinese in the home. Her bilingual, multicultural and multiethnic experiences served as a motivation for her to write fiction and express her views and cultural anxiety through writing as a medium of expression. Similarly, Tan and her female characters shared one thing in common that they were ambivalent about their Chinese ethnicity and culture in America. When she visited China in 1987, she for the first time felt and admitted her Chinese roots and she states that experience as "As soon as my feet touched China, I became Chinese” (McCarthy, pg. 10).
Her fiction works include The Joy Luck Club which was published in 1989 followed by The Kitchen God’s Wife in 1991 which became a bestseller. Her third novel, The Hundred Secret Senses explores the themes of nature and her autobiographical novel The Bonesetter’s Daughter got published in 2001 and contains memorials from her life and a tribute to her mother after her death. Her fifth novel Saving Fish from Drowning told the story of friends in a journey, this novel is different from her other works because this book focuses on shared community experience more exclusively. One of her works, The Joy Luck Club tops among her works as it is the first one that has been adapted for a play first and then for a movie afterward in 1993. Her other work, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, has been on air in the form of an Opera and a TV channel has recently adapted her children's fiction book, Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat for an animated TV show. She has written a non-fiction work titled as The Opposite of Fate: A Book of Musings and it came out in 2003. This book describes her struggles with Lyme disease, she developed the symptoms in 1999 and it has casted an impact on her later life for several years.
Her works revolve around the themes of third culture kids, immigrants and the diasporic experience as a Chinese American in America. Her characters feel a sense of unhomeliness and alienation in a non-native country and are constantly seeking ways to assimilate into their new culture. The parent generation when take them to China to familiarize them with their culture and roots, this creates a sense of ambivalence because they cannot be both western and Chinese at the same time. For instance, in The Joy Luck Club, the mothers can be seen teaching and instructing their daughters about the Chinese culture and values to establish a sense of Chinese identity in them:
And then it occurs to me. They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they have brought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. They see that joy and luck do not mean the same to their daughters, that to these closed American-born minds "joy luck" is not a word, it does not exist. They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation (Tan, pg.no 50).
Their relations with their mothers can only be reestablished when they go back to the country of their origin, China and reject any practice of assimilating in the Western culture. This passage shows the ultimate win of existentialism over assimilation but in this process, the daughters lose the sense of being a Chinese American hybrid. On the other hand, the natives perceive them as displaced people who have just come to live in their country and they do not perceive this as the inclusion of new cultural spaces (Aitken, 2008).
In her other novel, The Hundred Secret Senses, she has discussed the theme of cross-cultural interaction and cultural identity in a non-native space. In the novel, through two different storylines, she has drawn a parallel between the characters of Olivia and Kwan, Olivia is a Chinese diasporic and she rejects the Chinese values and is fascinated by the American culture. On the contrary, Kwan practices her mythical Chinese believes and is very close to her culture. these characters also represent Asian and Western culture. in an instance in the novel, the author puts these differences as
“Every word, every gesture is now loaded with ambiguity, nothing can be taken at face value. We don't use any of the baby talk, code words, or short hand gestures that had been our language of intimacy, the proof that we belonged to each other” ( Tan, pg.no 20).
Her stories end on a purpose and give solutions to overcome these difficulties by accepting their different cultural identities and living with them in their non-native land. Similarly, her works also revolve around the role memory plays in the lives of diasporic characters. The traumatic incidents and movements that took place in China against communism still haunt the Chinese migrants and the exiled. The runaways or fugitives also suffer through past trauma and the loss of their land and culture, these fears then take over their new life in a non-native country. Her works The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Bonesetter’s Daughter revolve around these traumatic memory experiences and she has adopted the technique of Narrative therapy in these books.
Tan has received criticism for her literary works and she has been criticized for negatively portraying the Chinese voice at a global level. Many critics says that her works contain a sense of appropriation when it comes to Chinese culture because of her ethnic roots in China. They also criticize her for building her male characters as sexist and authoritative (Lee, 2014).
In her works, Tan has incorporated references to Chinese culture and history and through this, she has put forward a Chinese narrative in English to represent her ethnicity and native culture. in her attempt to building diverse characters in both the different parts of the world, she has also familiarized the Chinese natives with the concept of diaspora and hybrid tapestries. She has extensively worked on the mother-daughter relationships in her plotlines to focus on the culture shock and cultural anxieties between the Parent immigrants and the second or third generation of immigrants. America is a multicultural land and its literature also deals with discussing different cultural narratives such as African American narratives of South Asian literature in English. Similarly, Tan's fiction represents Chinese voice and ideas in America and it also gives a voice to the struggles that Chinese immigrants and diasporas have to go through in a newly found culture (Ayan & Meryum, 2009).
Moreover, from a global perspective, literature is more inclusive of diverse cultures and their ethnographical position. Her works can also be seen as a representation of China in the global literary canon where Orientalism or Techno Orientalism is endangering the authentic portrayal of diverse cultures. Tan has used the themes of identity, culture, and memory to share the Chinese cultural experience in front of a global audience. At a global level, through the retelling of history and memory, authors preserve their culture, their native voice and discourage the one-point narrative technique. Through the techniques of parallelism, Tan has shown her native culture and she has also taken the authority of the narrative as a part of both the Chinese and the American cultural spheres.
Aitken, Adam. "Third culture kids and mad migrant mothers, or how to outgrow Amy Tan." Journal of Australian Studies 32.4 (2008): 445-454.
Ayan, Meryem. "Cultural Identity Tapestry in Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses." Petroleum-Gas University of Ploiesti Bulletin, Philology Series 61.1 (2009).
Lee, Ken-fang. "Cultural Translation and the Exorcist: A Reading of Kingston's and Tan's" Ghost Stories"." Melus (2004): 105-127.
Lotfi, Naeimeh Tabatabaei. "A Unique Approach of Memory Narrative Therapy in Diasporic Contexts: An Analysis of The Bonesetter's Daughter and The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy Tan." Theory & Practice in Language Studies 4.9 (2014).
McCarthy, Joanne. "Biography of Amy Tan." The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan (2010): 9.
Tan, Amy. Le Joy Luck Club. Éditions Charleston, 2016.
Tan, Amy. The Hundred Secret Senses. Random House Digital, Inc., 1996.
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