Amy Tan Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

What is the purpose of the story "Fish Cheeks" by Amy Tan?

The very short story "Fish Cheeks" has several purposes. These include the presentation of cultural differences between Chinese and American families, as well as showing how misunderstandings between parents and their children lessen over time, as the children grow up and understand their parents better.

Expert Answers info

Colin Cavendish-Jones, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Professor, Lawyer

bookM.A. from Oxford University

bookPh.D. from St. Andrews University

calendarEducator since 2019

write2,273 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Amy Tan’s “Fish Cheeks” is very short, even by the standards of short stories, but still manages to address several themes. One of the most obvious purposes of the story is to present the contrast between Chinese and American culture and the endless embarrassment this can cause for the child of an immigrant family. Teenagers frequently find their families mortifying at the best of times, but when the family follows a completely different set of cultural traditions, their eccentricities can seem particularly excruciating. The narrator is eloquent in describing her embarrassment at every faux pas her family members make, as well as several sources of misunderstanding which may be all in her mind, such as the unfamiliar food they serve.

Another purpose of the story is to show how the divide between parents and children lessens with time. This is a common theme in Tan’s writing, and is addressed in the last paragraph, when the narrator realizes that her mother understood what she was...

(The entire section contains 3 answers and 623 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

Hollis Sanders eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2019

write1,002 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

akerr42- eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2018

write8 answers

starTop subject is Literature

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

ltank | Student

The purpose of Amy Tan’s “Fish Cheeks” is to illustrate the conflicts that arise for 14-year-old Amy, as she navigates the process of cultural identification. Amy’s parents embrace the traditions and customs of their native China, while Amy longs to be like, and viewed as, a typical American teen.

Tan’s short narrative uses the description of one Christmas dinner to detail the scope and importance of these conflicts. Amy's burdensome task of straddling two disparate cultures is effectively brought to life through the various “horrors” Amy experiences throughout the meal. Her teenage crush, the minister’s son, Robert, and his family witness “the strange menu” Amy’s mom has created, as well as her relatives’ table manners as they, “licked the ends of their chopsticks and reached across the table, dipping them into the dozen or so plates of food.” Finally, Amy is mortified into silence when her father “belched loudly,” a Chines custom signifying satisfaction at the end of a meal.

After the meal, when Amy and her mother are by themselves, her mother tells Amy that her “only shame is to have shame.” Amy’s cultural heritage, in part, defines her identity, regardless of her desire to assimilate completely into American culture.