Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Essay on "Bone" by Fae Myenne Ng

Essay on Bone by Fae Myenne Ng

Fae Myenne Ng is a prominent Chinese-American writer who surely sets a very special place in the contemporary literature dealing with immigration, interculturalism and diversity. Her novels and short stories are fascinating, her writing style is bright and vivid. Though, not only these characteristics make Fae Myenne Ng’s writing relevant and interesting today.

Presently, in the age of fast passed rotation of individuals from county to country, in the age when one usually hesitates when answering the question where one is from, in the age when unfortunately very often national identity ceases to exist when moving to the new country, Fae Myenne Ng’s stories tackle exactly the issues bothering many of those who have had to go through or who will have to face the contemporary peculiarities mentioned above.

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In her novel Bone Fae Myenne Ng talks about the problems faced by the Chinese family when moved to the United States of America. It is a rather typical Chinese family, with a typical story. The frustration of first generation of immigrants already born in the country is presented on the example of the two daughters that come of age already in a totally new western society – in California.  The novel may seem to lack chronology, due to the fact that some chapters are written in form of a diary. Though, it is easily and enjoyable read, touching the reader with its sensitivity and sympathy.

As it has been mentioned above the discussed family has a rather typical immigration story, however the life in America turns out to be rather different for them. The father of the family does not have a stable job that is why the burden of caring for the family and raising the daughters naturally falls on the mother. Father’s unstable jobs require him to be often away from home. This is the opportunity he uses to get away from the responsibility about the life and welling being of this family. He is a seaman, he prefers rather to spend time with his loud-mouthed friends than to be around the wife who is depressed and is struggling to make the two ends meet.

Soon, mother, referred to in the book as Mah meets another man who becomes a real father for her daughters, though the responsibility of the mother does not become smaller because of that.  Not only she has to earn the leaving for the family, but what is of utmost importance is that she has to teach the daughters the real value of money, of tolerance,  and of course of virtue.  What makes the mother’s task even more challenging is the poor example of the father’s rather oft unemployment, as well as the fact he has left the family behind.

Mah is a very interesting character. From one point the reader sees that she is very strict and harsh. She does not want to compromise, she does not want to accept that her family is living in a different country that is why it is absolutely acceptable that it lives by different rules. However, it is also easy to see another side of her character. She is a strong woman but unfortunately a woman with a very tragic fate. She has never known the happiness of family life, moreover she lost her daughter, whose suicide she never manages to overcome. It seems to me that the all-consuming love for her children that she has is presented in the second chapter, where Mah serves her daughters poor dinner, but she eats only bones, saying that “bones are sweet”. Without a shadow of doubt, by means of every of her deeds she wanted to make her daughters happy, sadly this did not work out the way she wanted it to.
When reading this novel one can indentify several main themes.  Surely in deals with the problems of “fathers and sons”, problems and misunderstandings that always occur between two generations but are even more expected when the two generations have been brought up in totally different cultures. The mother wants her daughters to grow up according to the Asian traditions, she wants them to value their background and get married also in the traditions of their ancestors. The daughters, on the other hand are willing to fit in, and live the life of American girls not bothered by issues of national identity.

Other themes that the author brilliantly dwells upon are the issues faced by Asian immigrants working and living in California, as well as issues of family relations and love. For me personally, the vital theme of the book is learning - learning, which takes place between the parents and the daughters.  Both generations have vast life experiences that are different from each other, and all through the novel the reader sees how the knowledge about past and present, home and new countries is shared.

 From the beginning of the novel it is clear that even though it is fiction the story told is not fully fictitious, rather the author assumes a style of a fiction novel in order to present a true life situation. It becomes dramatic when the story of a suicide is told. One of the daughters commits suicide the reasons for which are described towards the end of the novel. 

Surely, suicide is also a central theme of the novel and all the characters become affected by it.  The suicide is conducted by the second of three sisters who jumps out of the window when being on drugs. It is a tragedy, which the family members are not able to live past. The girl came to suicide because she was not happy, because she felt that she does not and cannot belong in America, as well as because her mother’s influence prevented her from being with the one she loves.

The themes present in this outstanding contemporary literary work can be related to those in Ronald Takaki’s Strangers from a Different Shore: A History of Asian Americans. This book is a testimony about immigrants of Asian origin in the United States of America. The author concentrates on Chinese, Filipino, Japanese and Indian immigrants, though other ones are also mentioned. The work combines traits of historical and fiction literature as well as traits of personal memoirs. It is remarkable how well Ronald Takaki is able to describe the feelings of immigrants who leave their home countries; it is exceptional how well the author compares the history of Asian immigration with the history of the European one.

Takaki tells a solemn story of Chinese immigrants who chose to move to the United States in search of financial and social wellbeing, though are mostly faced with forced isolationism, racism, as well as economic hardships. Takaki, Japanese by origin, raised in Hawaii presents his own encounters of racial inequalities, hard labor and difficulties retaining national identity together with learning to live in a new country.

In every chapter Takaki shares new insights about endless obstacles that Asian Americans had to go or are stilling going through. In the first chapters of the book the author regrets that when growing up he did not receive proper cultural education that would teach him about his identity and origin. As he writes in the first chapter of the book, he did not “know why families representing such an array of nationalities from different shores were living together and sharing their cultures and a common language”. He continues mentioning that his teachers did not explain “the diversity of their community or the sources of our unity” (Takaki, p. 3).

Indeed, he was born in a family of immigrants, though in the family that has been living in the United States for already three generations. He grew up as an average American, though all through his young years and especially in college he was regarded as a foreigner. It is a paradox, though such cases are rather usual that exceptional.

In conclusion it must be said that the problem of getting used to living in a new place, as well as problems connected with a dilemma between a need and desire to start a living in a foreign country as its real citizen and the desire to keep the traditions of past generations is a central problem for millions of immigrants moving away from their home country. Today relocation became a usual thing, no matter if done for work, for a partner, or because of other reasons. Still, notwithstanding the fact that changing a country became so widespread, living in a foreign country as a foreigner is still very challenging. Only those possessing strong will, those who are flexible and open to new experiences, and of course those who understand that no change comes at an easy price manage to start a new successful living in a foreign country. The two literary works discussed in the paper present stories of past generation Asian American immigrants which can be taken as a study guide to help understand lives of immigrants in general.

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