The Namesake and Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club

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Since both Lahiri and Tan were raised during the era when the immigrants from India and China were influenced by the liberalization of immigration policy, they no longer focus on the themes previously reserved for the diasporic writing. Instead of describing immigrants’ struggle to survive, they focus on the relationships between the first and the second generation of immigrants. Despite the fact that immigrant characters which those two authors portray do not have to struggle to survive, they are not depicted in the same way. Since being fluent speakers of English, Lahiri’s characters are depicted as capable of blending into American mainstream society. It is not, however, to say that Indian immigrants always act as the cosmopolites. But while they retain some ethnic practices, their American-born children do not understand their immigrant parents as culturally different. Since they were influenced by the enculturation of their parents and also attended the Indian schools at weekends, the second generation immigrants are successfully integrated both into American and into Indian diasporic culture. They consequently do not experience a conflict between Indian and the American cultures. Lahiri therefore does not rely on orientalizing strategies which would reveal and stress the otherness of the Indian immigrants. When she depicts some ethnic markers, she does not caricature the immigrants but rather acts as an ethnographer. The symbol of sari or of ethnic food is used to show its integration into everyday routines, not to display the oddness of Indian immigrants.
While Jhumpa Lahiri dismantles the notion of the two generations as culturally different and recasts them as multiculturals, Amy Tan utilizes a different writing strategy. Not being taught the Chinese culture within the frame of formal education but rather through their mothers’ stories, American-born daughters perceive the culture of their parents through the ethnic stereotypes. In order to show that between immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters exists more than only a generational gap, Tan utilizes orientalizing strategies. It is the interplay of various types of orientalism which draws the picture of the immigrant mothers as culturally differing from their daughters. As the Chinese mothers are described with the reference to their superstitousness and mystical powers, they are portrayed as dissimilar from their American-born daughters. By telling the stories replete with the evocations of ghosts and the opression of women in China, they are narrated with the opposition to American culture which draws on rationality and equality. The storytelling as a form of education of their ethnic background is then ridiculed by the daughters as the “Chinese nonsense”.  By evocations of the peculiar Chinese personalities characterized by their humility, Tan also depicts an emotional distance between them and their daughters. Aside from the personality traits, the Chinese mothers are differentiated by their use of the Pidgin English. It is therefore not only derision which characterizes the attitude of the American-born daughters towards their mothers. Despite living almost half of their lives in the U.S., the immigrant mothers utter hardly any sentence without making a mistake. They are consequently perceived by their daughters as being of lower status. Besides their characters and language, there remains yet one more feature of the immigrant mothers which serves as a strategy to differentiate them from their daughters. Food and the ethnic dress are, in some cases, mentioned as ridiculous. It is therefore through exaggeration or satire that Tan builds a wall between immigrant mothers and their daughters. Were it not for the orientalizing strategies, The Joy Luck Club could be a novel narrating the generational gap between parents and their children. Orientalizing strategies, however, enable American-born daughters to distance themselves from their mothers and perceive their relationship as the East-West opposition.

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