Analysis of the Poems, Assimilation and Returning

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Discuss how effective the two poems are in showing a sense of cultural understanding and/or assimilation.

Personally, I find Assimilation by Eugene Gloria is more effective than Returning in depicting cultural understanding as a state of recognising and appreciating the culture. In the former, the poet focuses on the presence of the “scattered rice beneath the red-painted bench”. Although those rice grains are left-overs from his previous meal, the poet still attachs some significance to them, even juxtaposing the rice with a contrasting image of “the red-painted bench”, so that the white rice grains are more noticeable. The rice represents the Asian heritage of the speaker, as seen in how he wanted to “hid (the rice) from his classmates as he was ashamed to be different”. The speaker recognises that the Americans will recognise his culture. Hence, when the rice grains blend into the “schoolyard’s dirt”, this represents the assimilation of the speaker into the White community in his school. However, the speaker understands that this assimilation is not perfect. He is not actually becoming equal to the Whites, he is only becoming tolerated by the community. While the “white kids are lined on red-painted benches”, the rice grains huddle layers below, beneath the bench, beneath the dirt. Acknowledging that the American culture has many social classes, and that he is a part of the lower class is difficult, as that is a painful truth, however he still accepts this, as his appreciation of this community which despises him overpowers the social stigma that comes with being Asian, therefore, it is proof that the speaker in Assimilation recognises the flaws of the American culture and truly understands and accepts it. You cannot understand something unless you accept and internalise the new knowledge. I think the same goes for cultural understanding; you have to accept the truth about your relationship with the culture. So, as the poet has portrayed the speaker as someone who longs to be a part of the American culture, and has accepted his social standing, the poem is effective in showing that the speaker possesses a sense of cultural understanding about the social classes in the American culture. Also, he understands that the American food culture is a unique blend of housebrands and home-cooked food, as seen by how he deliberately juxtaposes “Glad bags of chips” with “Mom’s special sandwich with crisp leaf of lettuce”. You can tell that not only does he understand the food culture, he appreciates it, as he lovingly emphasises the “leaf of lettuce”. The syntax reminds me of witches who prepare their unique brew and name each ingredient by its quantity, followed by its type as they throw it into their cauldron. Hence, the speaker recognises how special the American culture is, with its precious sandwiches and expensive snacks.

On the other hand, the speaker in Returning is extremely vague, perhaps even in denial, about her social standing in the house, and hence I infer that she lacks a sense of cultural understanding, as she refuses to assume a role in Indian society, not wanting to understand Indian customs and not recognising the true value of heritage, hence failing to understand the Indian culture. Hence, Returning is not so effective at showing a sense of cultural understanding. The speaker cannot even understand her husband, who she perceives as a living relic of this foreign culture. She rejects Indian customs, as seen by how she regards the traditional dress, the “sari that halves my stride”, as an impediment. The way she openly reveals that her servants think of her as “Ghost mistress” shows me that she agrees with them. She is indeed a “ghost”, she is not a part of their world, unlike her husband who is rooted in the culture of his ancestors’ house , whoose“feet absorb the dark polish of the stone floors”. She accepts that she is an outsider, so I gather that she does not adore the Indian culture so much that she...
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