Rhetorical Strategies in Amy Tan's 'Fish Cheeks'

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Alexis Henry

Gifted author of Fish Cheeks, Amy Tan, assures young girls that being different is not only acceptable, but also advantageous. Rhetorical strategies-such as imagery, tone, diction, and appeals (logos, ethos, pathos)-were the brushes with which she painted a portrait of self-acceptance for teenage girls everywhere. Tan uses a sympathetic tone to relate to the awkward teenage reader that is experiencing the same thing and the nostalgic adult reader that has experienced.

Tan’s word choice [diction] exposes her insecurity in her heritage and desire to be an average American teenager, in her opening. The author described traditional American food in an appealing way, “…roasted turkey and sweet potatoes…” but omitted any detail about “…Chinese food.” She labeled American manners as “proper”, but dubbed her relatives and their Chinese customs as “noisy”. The significance of this strategy lies in its ability to make the text relatable. The entire narrative relies on the author’s shared experience with the audience, being ashamed of their incongruity and their pursuit of normality.

In the third paragraph, Tan enlists the aid of imagery to provide the reader with a more accurate depiction of the scenery on that night. Vividly detailing the assortment of food; Tan was not describing how she saw the food but how she feared Robert would. As revealed later in the text, Tan is quite fond of her culture’s taboo cuisine. So, the description of the food using negatively connoted words like slimy, bulging, fleshy, rubbery, and fungus were used to transmit her concern about how she and her family would be perceived. This use of imagery and diction exemplifies Tan’s transmission of emotion-first worry and anxiety, then relief and acceptance- to her audience throughout the text.

The appeals to ethos and pathos were vital for Tan to be able to relate to the audience. She had to first establish her credibility as someone who had experienced being a part of

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