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Reviewing The Novel No Name Woman English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1102 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Kingston and Tan, both of stereotypical immigrant background, use their memories of deceased mother to build credibility in their respective articles. In Tan’s Mother Tongue, major themes of language and identity throughout the essay revolves around how the mother’s past lives in china affect their daughter’s lives in this country; just as the daughter’s childhood experiences effect their identities and adult lives. Likewise, Kingston uses a similar approach by introducing the mother character early on in the essay, with the narrator’s mother telling her a story which she must never repeat about the aunt she never knew. However, unlike Tan’s descriptive approach on mother-daughter’s daily lives, Kingston focuses on the clear parallel between her aunt’s tragedy and her own deprivations as the daughter of immigrants: the repression of sexuality, individuality, and generational shame. Despite their differences, the power of the spoken and written word is the common theme which gave birth to its relative themes in both respective articles. Being a talk-story meant to be kept silence, No Name Woman is written instead of spoken; Mother Tongue revolves around the narrator and her mother’s spoken English, and again, is written instead of spoken.

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Stylistically, No Name Woman’s distinctive accomplishment lies within the cross boundaries between genres, dictions, styles, between fact and fiction. The narrator makes radical leaps in time and space, spanning over 100 years of Chinese-American history, combining Chinese myth, family history, and American individualism and rebelliousness. On the other hand, being a significant part of Tan’s childhood, the limitation in language of Tan’s mother has more or less influence over her writing style. She criticises her past attempt to create “wittily crafted sentence” that could prove her “mastery over the English language”, “”That was my mental quandary in its nascent state.” A terrible line, which I can barely pronounce.” This explains the lack of imaginative detail, metaphor and personal musings in Mother Tongue, in which was exerted strongly in Kingston’s work. However, it is the simplicity of Tan’s language that “evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth” – without the ‘extravagance’ of time leaping, non-linear talk-stories to reveal the same emotions, ideas or a simple truth both authors wish to impact on the readers themselves.

It is clear that both Tan and Kingston are reaching out to other Chinese-Americans who share their feelings of displacement and frustration. “So easy to read.”, a verdict given by Tan’s mother upon completion on readings of Tan’s work, highlights the purpose of Tan’s essay in increasing the awareness of language in family, home, peer, and work communities: allowing English literatures not only accessible to mainstream Americans, but also the minorities of limited English comprehension. Being a product of the sixties, No Name Woman contains traces of the civil right and women’s liberation movements of that time, where Kingston proposes: “Women in the old China did not choose. Some man had commanded her to lie with him and be his secret evil… she obeyed him.” However, it is her struggle to make sense of her mother’s story – according to her mother’s traditional Chinese code of beliefs, that she shares her questions and concerns directly to Chinese-Americans: “Chinese-Americans, when you try to understand what things in you are Chinese, how do you separate what is peculiar to childhood, to poverty, insanities, one family, your mother who marked your growing with stories, from what is Chinese? What is Chinese tradition and what is the movies?” Having to state that, as an immigrant story for a nation of immigrants, both Kingston and Tan’s work are nevertheless intended as well for a mainstream audience.

The lives Kingston and Tan have to battle through are interesting ones. The opening words of The Woman Warrior set the tone for much of the rest of the memoir, “You must not tell anyone,” my mother said, “what I am about to tell you…” In fact, after being silence all her life, Kingston becomes a rebellion of sorts by breaking the silence and asserts power over those who have held her back. Such form of rebellious nature is nevertheless expressed in Tan’s Mother Tongue as she breaks stereotypic cycle surrounding Asians, “Fortunately, I happen to be rebellious in nature and enjoy the challenge of disproving assumptions made about me.” However, such depiction of “unique” experience in literature, as present in both Kingston and Tan’s work, can arguably be deemed reprehensible for its threat to “distort” Chinese-American reality. As the subject is forbidden, Kingston knows nothings about her aunt beyond the broad details of the story. This presents us with a dichotomy of the ambiguous nature of “talk-story” – a blend of the real and fantasies. Similarly, Tan makes generalisation of the English spoken in other Asian-American families, not to mention her emphasise on math and science, in which Tan describes as “what happened to me”, not “what happened to every Asian-American”. The confusion and ambivalence they feel as the author, who were once the listeners, parallel ours. However, just as Kingston writes of No Name Woman: “Unless I see her life branching into mine, she gives me no ancestral help”, it enables readers to make allowances for Kingston and Tan’s reinterpretation of mother’s word from their own American perspective, thereby encouraging readers too to alter ideas from each article according to their own perspectives.

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I believe that each of us was Amy Tan, or Maxine Hong Kingston, in some point of our lives. Whether it is through silence, or through talking, reading both authors’ pieces is like having a prophetic, riddle-like dream: one cannot help but to be drawn into its stories by their distinctive writing style, concepts of cultural language and identity, and its reflection on the readers themselves. With this comes an important point: sometimes we must be far away from home, or to be separated from our roots somehow, in order to realize and appreciate what we really have.


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