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In both stories, the writers have used a series of parallel symbols and conflicts, which have resulted in the stories resembling each other, although the plots are quite distinct. The predominant theme is the cultural conflict between parents and their children; it is especially brought out in both stories by the two major domineering mother figures. Jing Pei’s mother and the grandmother in ‘Who’s Irish’ are both characters that are endangered in the Chinese culture to which they have remained loyal even after emigrating, although in different ways.
The story ‘Who’s Irish’ by Jen Gish is based on the events in the life of an elderly Chinese immigrant lady, and the struggle she undergoes as she tries to acclimatize herself to a radically different culture. Although she has lived in the US for some time, she is critical of her son-in-law, John (Irish), and his seemingly lax family values. She struggles with disappointment that her daughter has abandoned the Chinese tradition and chosen to become Americanized such that she does not even spank her daughter.
These disagreements make it hard for them to live in the same home. Eventually, the grandmother moves out. In Amy Tam’s ‘Two Kinds,’ the plot revolves around Jing-Mei and her mother who immigrated to the US from China after the death of their family. His mother wanted to ensure that Jing-Pei gets the best possible, and to this end, she tries her utmost to turn her into a child prodigy by trying her out on numerous talents and skills.
Jing-Mei is very resentful of her mother’s interference with her. This results in her resisting these efforts and even sabotaging them at the time. Although the plots and structures of ‘Two Kinds’ and ‘Who’s Irish’ are different, they both address a common theme.
Mother vs. daughters and America vs. Chinese Culture
Jing Pei’s mother is desperate for her daughter to become an exceptional student, and she applies a great deal of pressure on her to achieve this end. The Chinese ideals of handwork and commitment that the mother appears to enshrine do not appeal to the Americanized girl who would rather live her life comfortably without trying to change her; ultimately this leads the two in a collision course.
Natalie’s mother, on the other hand, is determined to instill the Chinese cultural value in her family more so her daughter, whom she thinks is being spoilt by the “Irish” dad and westernized mother. To Natalie’s mother, through whom the story is told, Sophie, her grandchild is an impertinent child who would benefit from a spanking, and she tries to prove this be physically punishing her when she hides in a foxhole.
Her attempts to restore traditional Chinese culture to people who had already adapted to the very different American life are no more successful than Jing Pie’s mother. As a result, she ends up ruining her relationship with her family that aggressively resists the change she is trying to force on them.
Personal Liberty and Autonomy
The idea of freedom and autonomy to make one’s own decisions can be used to illustrate the conflict in both stories, as the “Chinese” parents seem to imagine they can dictate to their children and order them to do whatever they wish. In China, this may have been possible, especially because one had the social structure which requires absolute and unequivocal obedience to parents to back them up. However, in the USA, the authority of parents is severely delimited over either their children or parents.
In ‘Two Kinds,’ despite Jing’s mum’s best efforts, she keeps resisting the changes being forced on her. This is because her experience in school and with her friends has taught her to value her freedom, she finds it easy to disobey her mother, although in a subtle way. In the same way, grandmother authority had waned considerably from when they were in China because her children for one were quite westernized and valued the freedom of expression and self-determination and her demands are listened to but never quite addressed.
Point of View Narration
The different points of view may appear to be a major point of divergence, thematically speaking; they provide a binary perception into the confusion and sentiment on each character.
In Tam’s story, the point of view is that of a young girl who neither very wise nor experienced in the Chines culture; ergo she was often confused and even furious at some of the suggestion her mother was making to turn her into a star. In ‘Who’s Irish,’ the point of view that of the grandmother who has a poor grasp of the English language, in the same way, Jing is feeling bullied and overwhelmed by the Chinese ideals her mother is trying to instill into her.
In conclusion, both narrative voices are used to describe the two people who are most affected by the changes cultural change, with one desperately trying to acclimatize as the other works to force others to adapt to the traditional Chinese way instead. It is clear that although the plots and story are relatively divergent, the writers used different storylines to express the overlying issue of cultural identity.