What is the purpose of Amy Tan's "Fish Cheeks"?

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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.

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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 going through that Christmas Eve. At the same time, she suddenly understands that her mother’s choice of food was not, as she initially seemed to think, motivated by a desire to be as aggressively foreign as possible, but by the simple wish to give her daughter the food she most enjoyed.

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The purpose of the story "Fish Cheeks" by Amy Tan is precisely as Tan's mother points out at the end of the story: that "the only shame is to have shame," speaking in terms of one's heritage. Due to a childish crush on the son of the American guests as well as insecurity, Tan becomes more and more ashamed as an evening meal goes on, constantly agonizing over how strange Chinese food and customs must seem to an American guest.

Tan wants to leave the table and escape the situation when she is offered a fish cheek, which she sees as embarrassing. However, she fails to realize that all of the foods at the table are her favorites and how inconsequential the evening will be in the long run. The truly shameful behavior is not having a different custom but being ashamed of one's own custom.

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The purpose of Fish Cheeks by Amy Tan is to teach people not to be ashamed of their true heritage; it is who they are inside that makes them who they are.

This message is communicated in the short narrative about Amy, a fourteen-year-old Chinese girl who lives in America. She has a crush on the Minister's son Robert, and she is mortified when she discovers that his family is coming to her Chinese Christmas Eve dinner.

Unfortunately, Amy is a teenager ashamed of her Chinese family and its traditions: in this case, the Chinese food cooked on Christmas Eve. She desperately wants to fit in and shuns the food: "My father poked his chopsticks just below the fish eye and plucked out the soft meat. 'Amy, your favorite,' he said, offering me the tender fish cheek. I wanted to disappear."

She is also embarrassed by cultural traditions: "At the end of the meal, my father leaned back and belched loudly, thanking my mother for her fine cooking. 'It’s a polite Chinese custom to show you are satisfied,' explained my father to our astonished guests. Robert was looking at his plate with a reddened face. The minister managed to muster up a quiet burp. I was stunned into silence for the rest of the night."

While she is embarrassed by her heritage at the beginning of the narrative, she eventually realizes that her parents are trying to help her build her confidence in her identity and culture. Ultimately, she ends up feeling proud to be Chinese.

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