The Autobiographical Narrative In Fish Cheeks By Amy Tan

I was embarrassed when my family invited the minister and his family over for dinner because I had a huge crush on the minister’s son.

Amy Tan, a self-published narrative called “Fish Cheeks”, compares her view at Christmas with other people to show her cultural shame. This story focuses on Tan’s cultural shame. Everybody at the dinner sees the event from a different perspective. Tan’s family views the holiday through the eyes and customs of an American family. Tan sees the Christmas dinner from the perspective of a Chinese-born American. Tan is American-born and raised. While she has an Americanized vision of Christmas dinner, she understands Chinese culture. When she discovers that Robert, her American boyfriend, will be attending the Christmas dinner, it reinforces her American perspective. Tan is ashamed of her Chinese culture because she feels she has to conform to American culture. Tan’s narrative often revolves around his thoughts. She asks “What would Robert make of our poor Chinese Christmas?” and “What will he think about noisy Chinese relatives who lack American manners?” Tan’s use to say “Chinese” or “American” highlights the vast differences between these two cultures. Tan is able to emphasize her fear that she will disappoint Robert by referring to Robert’s thoughts. Tan expressed her shame by saying that Robert looked at Tan as he steamed the fish. Tan is embarrassed by Robert’s presence.

The narrative also shows Tan’s attempts at conforming to American culture. To describe the “strange” Christmas menu her mother prepared, she uses words like “raw” or “slimy.” Tan likens tofu to “stacked wedges, of rubbery-white sponges,” and squids to “bicycle wheels,” even though Tan tells Tan that these were her personal favorites at the end. Tan’s attempts to abandon her native Chinese culture in order to please Robert are reflected in the unpleasant descriptions of these foods. Later, the clash between the two cultures leads to Tan sinking deeper into despair. The contrast between the cultures highlighted Tan’s desire to adhere American tradition. Tan contrasts both cultures by diffusing the eating styles between them. Tan’s relatives licked their chopsticks across the table, while Robert and his families waited patiently as platters were passed. Tan’s father offered the fish cheek from Tan to Tan. Tan’s father makes the offer of his fish cheek to Tan. Tan is shocked to learn that Tan’s favorite food is very American. Tan realizes that she isn’t American and will be rejected by American dinner guests. Robert, Tan’s crush, is able to amplify her feelings. He will forever label her as a strange, Chinese-eating fish-mouth-eating girl. Tan’s dad leaned back to eat, and was heard yelling loudly. This is considered rude American cultural custom. Tan’s “father” explained to them that it was acceptable in Chinese culture. Tan is then “astonished” to hear her mother say this to Tan. Tan’s father then explains that it is acceptable in Chinese culture to the “astonished guests”. Tan’s mother then teaches her a valuable lesson. Your only shame is to be different. The only thing that makes you ashamed is having shame.” Tan effectively depicts the many different perspectives at Christmas dinner by using specific language and detailed writing. Robert is present, and Tan recounts her struggle with two opposing cultures. Robert’s perspective helps her to express her fear that she will disappoint him because of Chinese culture. Although Tan thought the dinner was a disaster, when she looks back she sees that she learned an important lesson from her mother. She comes to terms with her mother’s lessons and gains new perspective.


  • ewanpatel

    I'm a 29-year-old educational bloger and teacher. I have been writing about education for about six years, and I have a B.A. in English from UC Santa Cruz. I also have a M.A. in English from San Francisco State University. I teach high school English in the Bay Area.