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What differences are there between the writings of Western and Chinese-American...

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naomiwen | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) eNoter

Posted January 10, 2009 at 10:58 AM via web

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What differences are there between the writings of Western and Chinese-American authors?

My teacher just taught two authors, Amy Tan and Ha Jin who are Chinese-America this semester.She want me compare them with other western author.Can you share your views!Thank u  : )

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted January 15, 2009 at 8:57 AM (Answer #2)

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Certainly, it is difficult, if not impossible, to separate the artist completely from his/her art.  That is, painters, musicians, authors all pull from their own souls when they produce their arts.  It is virtually impossible for them to have a point of view that does not include some of their culture.  In American literature, for example, colonial writers such as Nathaniel Hawthorne were heavily influenced in thought by their Puritan heritage.  Hawthorne wrestles with guilt from his Puritan ancestors--particularly an uncle--who were part of the infamous Salem Witchcraft Trials.  His great work, "The Scarlet Letter" has as its theme the repercussions of this strict Puritan code. In the works of the 1940s and early 1950s when the theories of Sigmund Freud were a prevalent part of American culture, many a character in an American novel had a Freudian "complex."

Likewise, an author such as Amy Tan, whose parents and ancestors came from China, incorporates much of her culture into her novels.  In fact, it is a bit difficult for the American reader to understand the motifs of Buddism and Confuscianism.

So, if you are knowledgeable of these philosophies, you could draw comparisons and contrasts with the cultural motifs that run through the works of selected authors. One's cultural/religious/philosophical background affects one's point of view, does it not? Afterall, in "The Joy Luck Club" Amy Tan writes of the conflicts between the Americanized and the older Chinese in a family, conflicts due to cultural differences. 

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engtchr5 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted January 15, 2009 at 8:57 AM (Answer #3)

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Among other differences, the inanimate objects used by each to develop a plot can vary widely. Consider Pearl Buck, who qualifies both as an American and "Chinese" author -- the objects she chooses to include in her work, particularly The Good Earth, are very "Oriental" in nature: tea, bamboo, linens, and other details tell us that this novel isn't influenced by "western" thought, as such.

Beyond the minutae, however, themes that prevail in Chinese and American lit have striking similarities: Universal emotions like love, envy, greed, and outright hatred pepper both American and Oriental literature. A look at the poetry of Li-Young Lee can show the reader how human feelings prevail in both Oriental and American literature.

In the case of Amy Tan, we are given settings and events that convey Oriental ideas -- theological and otherwise. An adequate contrast might be Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird; the customs, traditions, religious scenes, and mores are those of the Southern United States as seen in the 1930s. Both authors are influenced by their backgrounds and upbringing.  

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