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Amy Tan "Fish Cheeks"

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What impression does Amy Tan present of herself in “Fish Cheeks”? How?

In “Fish Cheeks”, Amy Tan gives an impression of being insecure and overly dramatic. She is especially insecure about being Chinese, and this is evident in several points during the text. She has a crush on a white boy, Robert, who she describes first and foremost as “not Chinese, but as white as Mary in the manger”. Comparing him to Mary, a holy figure, almost suggests an idealization of Robert because of his race. Amy also wishes for an American-looking nose, furthering the impression that she believes Americans superior to the Chinese, which is a sign of her insecurity. Her insecurity even leads her to consider her own culture weird. When she sees her mother cooks, she considers her mother to have “outdone herself in creating a strange menu”, and further describes the food as unusual and even a little creepy. The amount of raw food is “appalling”, the fish is “slimy” and has “bulging eyes” that were “pleading”. The tofu looks “like stacked wedges of rubbery white sponges”, the fungus is coming “back to life”, and the squid “resembled bicycle tires”. All of these descriptions are rather striking and abnormal, which it shouldn’t be, considering it turns out these are all Amy’s favorite foods, so they should be familiar to her. This passage where the food is described reveals the extent to which Amy Tan is ashamed of her own culture, because she sees the food she should be used to as unusual, using American culture as a standard to base this judgement off of. Another example of her insecurity in her culture is her embarrassment at anything her family does that is Chinese during Christmas dinner, which Robert and his family are invited to. When her relatives reach for food across the table, which is very Chinese, she says dinner “threw [her] deeper into despair”. This shows that even though her relatives did nothing wrong, she is ashamed of their behavior simply because it is Chinese. This is repeated when her father reveals that fish cheeks are her favorite. This revelation is only embarrassing because fish cheeks are a Chinese delicacy. Amy Tan proves multiple times she hates being Chinese, and she lets it define her by constantly mentioning it during this passage. But Amy also demonstrates a quality to be melodramatic. She even cries when she found out Robert and his American family would have to witness what she calls a “shabby Chinese Christmas”. She describes her shame as “despair” and wanting “to disappear”. She also is “stunned into silence” when her father explains that by Chinese standards its fine to burp after a meal. Amy Tan describes things in an exaggerated way and reacts in extreme ways as well. This gives me the impression that she is a bit of a dramatic person. But I’m not trying to say that Amy is a bad person, despite the bad impression she gives of being insecure and dramatic. She reflects that a few years after that Christmas, she appreciates her mom telling her not to be ashamed of being Chinese, and she realizes that her mother had never tried to embarrass her with the strange food she cooked, but had made her favorite foods. I get a bad impression of Amy when she’s younger, during the dinner, but in the end she’s learned from her mistake and I can’t fault her for that.

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