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Honors Thesis Archive

Author Valerie Fidder
Title "The Great Unsaids": The Importance of Mother-Daughter Communication in Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter and The Kitchen God's Wife
Department English
Advisor Kim Dillon Shively
Year 2004
Honors University Honors
Full Text View Thesis (158 KB)
Abstract This paper is about Amy Tan's The Bonesetter's Daughter and The Kitchen God's Wife, two stories of Chinese immigrant women (LuLing and Winnie, respectively) and their American-born daughters (Ruth and Pearl). The usual criticism surrounding Amy Tan's work focuses on the "authenticity" of her representation of the Asian-American experience. I reject the narrowness of these readings, in favor of one that focuses on what the texts themselves seek to accomplish. These two works illustrate the disconnect between mothers and daughters across cultural lines. The mothers have kept their stories hidden from their daughters, creating a communication gap of language barriers and cultural ignorance. Though largely linguistic, this gap also stems from ignorance of cultural norms and communication codes. This gap denies the daughters access to a Chinese cultural context. Without such a context, the daughters cannot construct a viable ethnic identity. They are stuck in the hyphen of "Chinese-American," constantly attempting to fit in to mainstream American society because they know of no other way to be. They have very little real sense of their Chinese heritage or what it means. Tan writes of the way that the communication gap and its resultant problems can be overcome when the mothers share their stories, through the Chinese oral tradition of talk-story. By listening to the mother-stories, the daughters can begin to incorporate their mothers' communication codes and understand their cultural context. An analysis of the framed structure of these books highlights the mother's tales and reveals the extent to which they affect the daughters. With this understanding, they can build ethnic identities, and reclaim their own "Chineseness."

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