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Fish Cheeks

By jwallz23 Apr 14, 2014 916 Words
 “Fish Cheeks”
In Amy Tan’s short story, “Fish Cheeks”, Amy changes drastically. You really see a change in herself. Not an outward change, it’s definitely more of an inward change. In the beginning of the story she tells you how she fell in love with the minister’s son when she was fourteen. She was Chinese, he was American, and she made it evident that it bothered her. She was scared of what her crush, Robert, would think of her when his family had plans to come to her house for Christmas Eve dinner. She was so ashamed and embarrassed about her family and her culture.

In the beginning, Amy is this highly embarrassed teenage girl. She said, “When I found out my parents had invited the minister’s family over for Christmas Eve dinner, I cried” (Tan 116). She is scared of what Robert would think of her and her family’s customs. Towards the beginning, questions ran through Amy’s head. She thought, “What would Robert think of our shabby Chinese Christmas? What would he think of our noisy Chinese relatives who lacked proper American manners? What terrible disappointment would he feel upon seeing not a roasted turkey and sweet potatoes but Chinese food?” (Tan 116). Tan was unsure of what he would think. She didn’t want Robert to think that her family and relatives were too out of the ordinary due to their food, loudness, and lack of manners. Amy didn’t have much faith in her family and the customs that come with them. She was ashamed in her culture and her mother disapproved. Her mother also somewhat understood, but didn’t show Amy that at that point in the story.

Amy was in love with Robert although she wouldn’t show him that. The strange menu her mother had put together that consisted of fleshy prawns, cod, tofu, and squid, hadn’t helped her case one bit. Tan wasn’t making her feelings obvious. Once all her relatives and Robert and his family had gotten there Amy did something that was somewhat shocking. She said, “Robert grunted hello, and I pretended he was not worthy of existence” (Tan 117). Why Amy would pretend why he was not worthy of existence if she said she was in love with him? This proved her point of how ashamed and disapproving of her family Amy was.

Dinner did not help change Amy’s mind at all, in fact, it made her even more ashamed. “Dinner threw me deeper into despair” (Tan 117). Dinner made her disapproval even stronger. While Robert and his family were waiting for plates to be passed around, her relatives licked their chopsticks and continued to reach across the table. They dipped their chopsticks into some of the dozen plates of food on the table. When her mother brought out the fish, Robert’s face quickly changed, which hurt Amy even more. “My relatives murmured with pleasure when my mother brought out the whole steamed fish. Robert grimaced. Then my father poked his chopsticks just below the fish eye and plucked out the soft meat. “Amy, your favorite,” he said, offering me the tender fish cheek. I wanted to disappear” (Tan 117). Shortly after, her father belched. This sent Amy over the edge. She didn’t’ want to be Chinese anymore, she wanted to be American. She wanted Robert to approve of her, and coming with that meant Amy couldn’t be Chinese.

At the end of the story, Amy realized what she was, Chinese at heart. Her mother gave Amy an early Christmas gift. It was a miniskirt in beige tweed, the American style. Her mother told Amy that she knew Amy wanted to be the same as any American girl on the outside, but that inside she must always remain Chinese. Amy’s mother said, “You must be proud you are different. Your only shame is to have shame” (Tan 117). Amy didn’t necessarily agree with her mother, but knew her mother understood how she was feeling during dinner. At the very end, Amy said, “It wasn’t until many years later- long after I had gotten over my crush on Robert- that I was able to fully appreciate her lesson and the true purpose behind our particular menu” (Tan 117).

It’s very clear that Amy Tan had changed throughout the story and that period of her life. She started out so insecure and worried too much about what other people, meaning her crush, would think of her. Although it took time, her mother’s lesson helped Amy progress as a person and see her true colors and what was important in life. She knew she could be anyone she wanted on the outside, but on the inside she would always be Chinese at heart.

Amy Tan’s first work was don’t in 1989, called The Joy Luck Club. She started to become a successful write in her mid-30’s. According to the Biography Reference Bank, she wrote other stories along with “Fish Cheeks” to “gain a better understanding of the generational and cultural tensions between herself and her mother” (Tan, Amy). From that article it was very evident that Tan had more issues with her mother from similar situations.


"EBSCOhost: Tan, Amy." EBSCO Publishing Service Selection Page. The H. W. Wilson Company, n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2013.

Kennedy, X. J., Dorothy M. Kennedy, and Jane E. Aaron. "Fish Cheeks." The Bedford Reader. 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2003. 116-117. Print.

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