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Themes of Immigration in Jhumpa Lahiri’s and Amy Tan’s Literary Works

Updated May 12, 2021
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Themes of Immigration in Jhumpa Lahiri’s and Amy Tan’s Literary Works essay

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Throughout the years, literature has been used as a powerful tool to expose and denounce issues, controversies, or injustices surrounding the society at a certain time period. Indeed, in the world, there is nothing more powerful than words; most importantly the written words. Words on paper can be very convincing and persuasive such as books, memoirs, letters, and novels that are written in order to change people’s lives.

Clearly, some authors use their writings beyond only entertaining, but also they encourage crowds and people to stand up for an ideal and follow their dreams or set goals; therefore, such messages inspire and persuade people to conquer their dream and goals. Thus, the representatives of modern literature still use the written word and their different writing styles to explore controversial social issues and so expose them.

Nowadays, immigration has become a central problem in the American society. More so, it has profoundly shaped ideas, beliefs, and practices surrounding citizenship, race, and culture. Nevertheless, immigrants’ process of adapting and embracing the American culture is not easy. In order to succeed in America, immigrants make a lot of sacrifices; even some immigrants try to lose their identity and so become Americanized.

Many immigrants come to America seeking the American dream and the best for their descendants; however, it does not always turn out well for their children – loss of identity. Certainly, in the literary works of Jhumpa Lahiri and Amy Tan, both authors portray the themes of immigration, the American dream, assimilation; also the main challenge that the children of many immigrants face in order to be accepted and fit in the American society – self-identity.

First of all, these female authors use effectively the rhetorical appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos. First, ethos refers to the credibility or trustworthiness of the writer. The writer convinces his audience that he or she can be trusted. For instance, Lahiri and Tan both are writing from their own personal experiences, in which biography and fiction meet reality. Therefore, such veracity would take the reader to follow and agree with their point of view presented.

Indeed, ethos has a powerful effect on the readers; however, it is not only use alone. Both authors use it in conjunction with logos and pathos. Logos is the writers’ art of using logic to convince his or her audience while substantiating it with credible evidence. They establish this through specific facts, examples and precedents throughout both stories. Indeed, they write based on their accounts as immigrants coming from different cultural backgrounds – Hindu and Chinese.

Moreover, Lahiri and Tan’s effective use of pathos cannot be ignored. Pathos is the art of appealing to the reader’s emotions, using personal stories, vivid language and emotionally charged words. For instance, in “Two Kinds” written by Amy Tan is stated, “My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America. You could open a restaurant. You could work for the government and get good retirement. You could buy a house with almost no money down.

You could become rich. You could become instantly famous” (Tan); yet, the main characters created by the authors transmit a lot of emotions and feelings – love, sadness, frustration, satisfaction, and confusion; thus any reader can feel a connection with at least one feeling. Both literary works cite several emotionally moving passages of their lives and their transition into a new culture; whether as a first person character or as a third person character. Without a doubt, Lahiri and Tan create a vivid imagery to evoke the emotions of the reader. By providing these personal and emotional illustrations, even the most skeptical lector will be moved and feel touched.

On the other hand, the American dream is an ideology that emerged with the clamor of the people demanding a change. The people was tired of the economical oppression during the war; consequently, they started to search opportunities, and a better way of living. The main perception of the American dream is that an individual can achieve success, power, economic stability and social status only if they work hard enough. Clearly, the idea of the American dream is portrayed in the novel The Namesake and the short story “Two Kinds” written by Jhumpa Lahiri and Amy Tan respectively.

For instance, “America was where all my mother’s hopes lay She had come to San Francisco in 1949 after losing everything in China: her mother and father, her home, her first husband, and two daughters, twin baby girls. But she never looked back with regret.” (Tan); the author is introducing the idea or ideal that runs her life – an immigrant’s American dream; thus, it was not hers. Moreover, both stories address the conquering of an American dream by the first-generation immigrants; thus, the second-generation immigrants are affected by conflicts brought by society – rejection and prejudices.

Without a doubt, adaptation and assimilation into a foreign culture always represents a big role in an immigrant’s life. For many immigrants who come from different countries around the world, living in America, learning the language and so culture are very challenging. Since the 1990’s, many immigrants had come to America to work, settle down, and build a family; looking for the American dream, in which at a slowly transition the younger generations are raised as Americans. Throughout decades, the immigrants and their families have accepted and embraced the concept of “new American” and so its challenges. Nevertheless, American society still stereotypes, discriminates, or judges a particular type of person and so a community – immigrants are the outcasts.

Furthermore, immigrant parents carry their customs and the homeland in their hearts; however, some people do not accept them and so create rejection. Consequently, more pressure is put into their children. For instance, in The Namesake, Gogol has more conflicted feelings, starting with the non-acceptance of his Hindu identity; therefore, he decides to change his name because he believes that he does not belong to any Culture –no identity. However, he was raised into one, “He is aware that his parents, and their friends, and the children of their friends, and all his own friends from high school, will never call him anything but Gogol.” (Lahiri).

Definitely, immigrant parents and society can impact a second-generation immigrant’s life; he or she will struggle when blending in the American society. Indeed, rejection will affect seriously a second-generation immigrant. He or she will not feel identified with his/her parents culture, they might deny their roots and follow the American customs, or decide not to follow any – an undefined citizen. Most seriously, this undefined individual will not only jeopardize his or her future as citizen but his or her persona – flourishing the loss of identity.

In “Two Kinds” written by Amy Tan, the author portrays the struggles of an Asian immigrant mother, Mrs. Woo, who has her mind set for what her daughter should be. Indeed, the mother has great aspirations that her daughter will be a great success as a prodigy. Nevertheless, the Asian-American daughter does not agree with her mother’s plans; thus, the daughter only wants to follow her own path and find her true self. In society, many first-generation immigrants believe that America is the land of opportunities and so actions matter. Such ideas are stuck in each immigrant, who are progressing in different sectors of society whether politics, economics, or entertainment – writing.

For example, in politics, “We have never been a nation of haves and have-nots…Senator Marco Rubio once declared. We are a nation of haves and soon-to-haves, of people who have made it and of people who will make it. That’s a lovely aspiration, the vision that brought Rubio’s father to the United States “(Kristof). In every immigrant parent, there is the idea that America is the land of opportunities and so it is best place for their children’s education, professional success, and obtaining a better future. Therefore, Mrs. Woo tries to shape her daughter’s life through out planning her future, imposing self-discipline, and building strong cultural values.

Tan portrays a strong character that has a major influence on the identity of her daughter. As every parent, Mrs. Woo is very strict regarding her child’s future planning. Many parents want to be involve on deciding what school their children should go, choosing their careers, also planning the “right way” to follow for their children according to them; all because they do not want their children to suffer later on in life.

Tan states, “Soon after my mother got this idea about Shirley Temple (a child movie star), she took me to a training school in the Mission district” (Tan). Mrs. Woo wants her daughter to be an actress and expects her to become a movie star, which gives courage to the daughter to follow through. Certainly, It is tough to be in a position when a parent has many expectations on their children’s success in a foreign country. Consequently, this assumption would lead to disappointment when the ambition is unsuccessful. Indeed, fulfilling parental and societies expectations torment second-generation immigrants.

In addition, Lahiri’s stories in Interpreter of Maladies portray many issues surrounding self-identity whether inside a relationship or a different cultural environment. Consequently, there is a lack of harmony and acceptance to embrace a different culture than the Hindu community. During the 1930’s, there was a rise for nationalism, “the war inspired broad patriotic sentiments in…Chinatowns and Little Tokyo… member of both communities, especially among the American-born, construed their nationalist works as complementary to their commitments to assimilate into American life” (Ngai 173); certainly, nationalist ideas were placed in society; however, it was decreasing with the pass of the years due to more immigration and rejection to embrace American culture.

For example, in The Namesake, Gogol’s mother states “I’m saying I don’t want to raise Gogol alone in this country. It’s not right. I want to go back” (Lahiri), indeed, it is hard the transition from one culture and tradition; however, such denial is pass on from generation to generation; and so affects the future American-born –their self-identity are disrupted.

The short story “The Third and Final Continent” addresses the immigrant experience; in the story, the narrator describes his living in America, transitioning from Asia (India) and Europe (England). Indeed, it is Lahiri’s fiction linked with her reality. In this story, she portrays the assimilation and the American experience that her immigrant parents had to face. Moreover, she invites the reader into this imaginary journey and lifestyle, when stating in the words of the narrator, “I bought a carton of milk and a box of cornflakes. This was my first meal in America.

Even the simple chore of buying milk was new to me; in London we’d had bottles delivered each morning to our door. In a week I had adjusted, more or less. I ate cornflakes and milk morning”(Lahiri). Certainly, cereal and milk is a very traditional American breakfast; such that many second-generation immigrants consume and future descendants would consume. Clearly, assimilation is the process of adapting or adjusting to the culture of a group in a foreign country; thus, second-generation immigrants faced several challenged due to the search of their self-identity.

In conclusion, modern literature is a powerful tool to expose and denounce social issues surrounding different individuals from around the world. Without a doubt, the literary works of Jhumpa Lahiri and Amy Tan, both portray the themes of immigration, the American dream, assimilation; also the main challenge of many immigrants – self-identity. Currently, immigration has become a central problem in America; in which immigrants’ process of adapting and embracing the American culture is not easy.

Indeed, most immigrant parents establish a strong cultural value while living in a different country. Some parents apply their own culture to their children; moreover, the transition is hard for many individuals who move from his or her native land to a different social group, especially when a person is trying to blend in and be part of the group or community. Thus, a perfect balance should find the mid point among these cultures – American culture and diverse immigrant’s culture, for the good of American-born immigrants and so society.

Themes of Immigration in Jhumpa Lahiri’s and Amy Tan’s Literary Works essay

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Themes of Immigration in Jhumpa Lahiri’s and Amy Tan’s Literary Works. (2021, May 12). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/themes-of-immigration-in-jhumpa-lahiris-and-amy-tans-literary-works/

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