In almost every piece of literature there can be found references to the author’s or the narrator’s culture. Having an understanding of this culture can help one better understand a literary work. Reading a work that contains references to a culture can also spark interest and inspire the reader to learn more about the culture that is represented in the work. One such piece of literature is the poem "Ah Mah," written by Shirley Geok-lin Lim. This poem contains many references to Chinese culture that are very interesting and inspire curiosity. By researching the culture of China, one can better understand the references to it in "Ah Mah." Then, the poem has more meaning to the reader than if he did not posses any knowledge about Chinese culture.
"Ah Mah" is a poem about the author’s grandmother. The author, Lim, describes her grandmother in detail and explains how her grandfather "bought" her grandmother. Lim describes her grandmother as a very small and thin woman (10-11). She gives the impression that her grandmother had a hard life even though it appears that the family had enough money. The fact that the family is Chinese is also very apparent due to the many references to Chinese culture that are made as Lim describes aspects of her grandmother’s life.
The first aspect of the grandmother’s life that is a reference to her culture is the mention of silk. In the poem, Lim states that her grandmother "tottered / in black silk" (7-8). This reference may seem unimportant at first glance. However, if one has knowledge of the country of China, it becomes apparent that silk is important. Silk has been a major resource in China since ancient times. A route called the Silk Road was an important path followed by traders who traded goods with the Chinese for raw silk. Silk has been abundant in China for a long time and it was a more common fabric there before it was popular in other places. Silk fabric was still considered a sign of status in China, but it was more easily found there than in other parts of the world ("Chinese Culture").
Another reference to Silk in the poem that is more indirect is "Soochow flower song girl," which is referring to the grandmother (Lim 12). Soochow is a city in China that is also known as Suzhou or Wuxian city. It has a population of about 710,900 and is located near Tai Lake in East China. There are many different manufacturing plants there, but Soochow is most famous for being a silk center ("Suzhou").. The significance of the grandmother in the poem being from Soochow may also be that the city is famous for being beautiful and having many beautiful things in and around it, such as arched bridges and pretty gardens.
The relationship between the grandfather and grandmother in the poem is also an example of Chinese culture. The grandfather took the grandmother into his home after all of his sons were married (11-12). In traditional Chinese culture, the relationship between a father and his sons is considered to be the most important relationship in the family. Even the relationship between a husband and wife is thought of as subordinate to a father’s relationship with his sons (Hsu 59). This could explain why the grandfather waited until his sons were married to obtain a wife. The poem says nothing about the man having a previous wife, but one would assume that she is deceased or he has divorced her. One could expect divorce to be inappropriate to a very traditional culture such as that in China, but it is acceptable for a Chinese man to divorce and desert his wife if he unsatisfied with her (105). It is considered appropriate and even expected for Chinese men to remarry or to obtain a concubine after a death or divorce, but it is difficult for a man to get a young unmarried girl after he has already been married and had children. It is possible for an older man to obtain a young girl as a second or third wife, but this usually happens only when the man is rich (104). The...
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