The Joy Luck Club

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joyHigh-context Cultures and Low-context Cultures
The Joy Luck Club explores the clash between Chinese culture and American culture. One way of understanding the difference is to look at communication in these cultures. Chinese culture can be classified as a high-context culture and American culture as a low-context culture. First I will define these terms, then explain the significance of these two categories, and finally apply them to The Joy Luck Club. * Culture is the way of living which a group of people has developed and transmitsfrom one generation to the next. It includes concepts, skills, habits of thinking and acting, arts, institutions, ways of relating to the world, and agreement on what is significant and necessary to know. Race, ethnicity, class, and gender are cultural creations; they derive their meanings from the culture. * Context is the whole situation, background, or environment connected to an event, a situation, or an individual. * A high-context culture is a culture in which the individual has internalized meaning and information, so that little is explicitly stated in written or spoken messages. In conversation, the listener knows what is meant; because the speaker and listener share the same knowledge and assumptions, the listener can piece together the speaker's meaning. China is a high-context culture. * A low-context culture is one in which information and meanings are explicitly stated in the message or communication. Individuals in a low-context culture expect explanations when statements or situations are unclear, as they often are. Information and meaning are not internalized by the individual but are derived from context, e.g., from the situation or an event. The United States is a low-context culture. High-context Cultures

In a high-context culture, the individual acquires cultural information and meaning from obedience to authority, through observation and by imitation. To acquire knowledge in this way and to internalize it, children must be carefully trained. High-context cultures are highly stable and slow to change, for they are rooted in the past; one example is the Chinese practice of ancestor worship. They are also unified and cohesive cultures. In such cultures, the individual must know what is meant at the covert or unexpressed level; the individual is supposed to know and to react appropriately. Others are expected to understand without explanation or specific details. Explanations are insulting, as if the speaker regards the listener as not knowledgeable or socialized enough to understand. To members of a low-context culture, speakers in a high-context culture seem to talk around a subject and never to get to the point. The bonds among people are very strong in a high-context culture. People in authority are personally and literally responsible for the actions of subordinates, whether in government, in business, or in the family. (In the U.S., on the other hand, the general practice is to find a "fall guy" or scapegoat who takes the blame for those with more power and status.) In a high-context culture, the forms (conventional ways of behaving) are important; the individual who does not observe the forms is perceived negatively; the negative judgments for an individual's bad behavior may extend to the entire family. In embarrassing or awkward situations, people act as though nothing happened. Individuality, minor disagreements, and personality clashes are ignored, so that no action has to be taken. Taking action tends to be taken seriously, because once started an action must generally be completed. Individuals can't stop an action because they change their minds, because they develop another interest, because unforeseen consequences arise, or because something better comes along. Consequently there is greater caution or even reluctance to initiate an undertaking or to give a promise. Chinese parents may overlook a child's behavior, because they expect that the...
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