Review: Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”

Review: Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”

By, Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu

Amy Tan’s, “Mother Tongue,” is a sentimental short story which chronicles the relationship between mother and daughter while looking through the lens of language.  Tan, describes herself as speaking two “Englishs” that relate to Chinese immigration and second generation American born English scholarship.  The author centers the dialog on scholarship in general and her rebellion to become a writer while so many Chinese focus on STEM subjects.  In the end, Tan’s mother’s hard work and attention to financial details, advances the second generation and as if a privilege, Tan is able to take a unique path into writing.  The theme of Amy Tan’s, “Mother Tongue,” is English and culture because she focuses on immigration, second-generation issues and English scholarship.

The author’s goal may be to highlight English scholarship. However, her goals may have a cultural aim and strategy.  In the end, are more Chinese guided towards English scholarship and the documentation of unique Chinese histories?  Can Chinese absence from writing be described as a lack of historical documentation? It may become compulsory that a slice of the population treasure and document the immigrant experience and China’s history through China’s special lens. The first point illustrates and establishes the author as a scholar of English. The article commences with her sophisticated ideas around English, “the way it can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth.” Amy Tan opens the essay, “Mother Tongue,” with a rhetorical question, “I am not a scholar of English or literature.”

Amy Tan goes on to describe the intricacies of English both within her family and within her academic life as all her “English’s”.  When describing the debut of her novel, “Joy Luck Club,” she said, “the intersection of memory and imagination.” Scholarship may be guided in this way via the door through which one walks and that may be a second generation door of immigration to America. Scholarship also presents itself as something cultivated and culturally refined where English as Second Language (ESL) English may highlight, “past perfect tenses or conditional phrases.” An immigrant may present fresh eyes on a subject or even on a language with more acute sensitivity to its variations or what she describes as thoughts about the “power of language and how it can evoke an emotion, a visual image or simple truth.” Part of Tan’s power may also be as a gifted historian and scholar, she may extract special selections that are autobiographical, memoir or cultural, which shine an intimate light on what this group’s experience may be.

The second point deals with what culture dictates in terms of language, relationships, customs, common practices, charm, and generational differences.  She recounts a story of her and her Mother in a memoir styled chronicling of their relationship, exploiting tender and comic moments.  Tan had to impersonate her mother as a child by telephone to stockbrokers.  She would say, “This is Mrs. Tan,” and her mother would say in a whisper next to her, ‘why he don’t send me check, already two weeks late. So mad he lie to me, losing me money.’ Then Tan in perfect English says, “Yes, I’m getting rather concerned.  You had agreed to send the check two weeks ago, but it hasn’t arrived.” Tan comically uses the above exchange to show off her two English’s. She details for the reader how language barriers play a role in immigrant life.  She shows how a loving daughter may come to assist her parent.  The author used the verb “wrought” in terms of vocabulary which may use language associated to irons and metals to describe older generations with difficulty assimilating.  What becomes paramount are the unique conditions that come to inform the trajectory of the author.  Cultural practice may lead to career choice when guided by shortages and necessities.

Tan may have been proving her worth to American readers, inspiring Chinese-Americans to alternative career choices and filling in gaps.  Her mother may have been financially savvy enabling her departure from the normal cultural standards.  Amy Tan’s mother was painted as financially savvy.  “She reads the Forbes report, listens to Wall Street Week, converses daily with her stockbroker, reads Shirley MacLaine’s books with ease-all kinds of things I can’t begin to understand.” Tan’s mother’s savvy was the magic elixir that produced a second generation scholar and rebel. The hard work of immigrant parents enables the future generations to choose, to differ, to experiment, to do what they really, really want to do- or start to get into new areas.  Tan’s choice to become an English scholar was culturally fresh. Many Chinese may be drawn to STEM fields or engineering in a manufacturing focused country. In the end, other sectors may have had shortages, inclusive of English. Language barriers may have also been an impediment.

Tan illustrated in “Mother Tongue,” how life threatening or moments of struggle have comic relief which she relates back to English and scholarship. The necessity for Tan’s family for her to improve on the families English may have transformed her into an English scholar. Necessity as the old saying goes can be the mother of invention.  The two ideas combined both finance and English may have joined forces to advance via her mother’s shrewd business practices and secondly out of necessity to satisfy a need her family and country of origin lacked.

Amy Tan’s, “Mother Tongue,” highlighted a need for Chinese immigrants to document and chronicle their lives.  Tan highlighted this comic and tender language barrier that may drive future generations into writing fields and English scholarship. The shrewdness of their parents in finance will open doors to fill in gaps that may later account for missing histories or the detailing of the immigrant experience. Tan leaves the reader with a feeling of general liberation, rebellion, distinction, trailblazer, and necessity.

Tan used the context of language and scholarship to illustrate the immigrant experience.  Tan’s use of comic relief shows how tragic experiences have a kind of duplicity, where in a moment two “Englishs” can be spoken.  Tan, a trailblazer, may usher in a new generation of Chinese writers.

Language and writing have a variety of doors and your background becomes the guiding force for your skills. Chinese immigrants to California may have prospered to the extent that their offspring are catapulted to stardom.