Sour Sweet Timothy Mo Title: How do language and cultural assumptions interact to benefit / disadvantage each member of the Chen family as they adapt to their new lives in Britain James Watson Between Two Cultures, discovered through long sociological analyses, that the attitude of the Chen family as a whole, towards Westerners is a good reflection of how many Chinese people feel about European cultures. Of all the Chen s, it is probably Lily who displays the most convincing argument for this point of view. Lily shows no interest in assimilating with the Westerners and clings to her own cultural heritage instead. Lily is certainly the strongest character in the book, both emotionally and possibly even physically. Her day to day activities are on the whole a good reflection of what Chinese women living in a different culture would be. She is the one to stay at home and has responsibility for the household and the bringing up of any children.
However unlike the majority of her counterparts, who on moving into a new community feel isolated and a burden on their families, Lily has a desire to succeed and make something of her life. It is almost as though, in some respects Lily resents the fact that she was born a woman, as is evidenced by the following line; Man- Kee would have the opportunities which she had been excluded form herself because of her sex and ill-fortune The drive and determination to fulfil her primary duty shows us Lily s very masculine attitude to her family and goes against the way in which most Chinese women, in this situation would behave. Lily wants her relationship with Man-Kee and his childhood to be more loving than her own but although she tries very hard in this respect, she seems care more about the way that he is growing physically and mentally rather than emotionally. Again this is a reflection of the culture that she grew up in. Although she tries sending him to an English school, her lack of understanding of the English Schooling system means that she eventually, ignoring the protests of Mui, sends him to a supplementary Chinese school. This is an institution whose methods of teaching she is familiar with and understands and her whole attitude towards his education changes from this.
It is almost as though she can now relax, as she knows that his education is in good hands, Lily uses her lack of understanding of the English language to her advantage when she is called upon by a snooping social worker. Here, she plays on the fact that she can t understand to her advantage, although it is obvious that she knows exactly what the woman wants to know. There is a lot of role reversal between Lily and Chen in the book. It is Lily who has saved the money (and has therefore has some responsibility for finances), which enables them to buy the shop, and it is also Lily who takes on the task of teaching Man-Kee fist, a task that would usually be undertaken by the father. This underlines Chens failings as a man in his culture, and his confidence in himself is therefore affected. In the second paragraph of the book, Chen is described as an interloper.
This word epitomizes the whole of Chen s world. He is an outsider in his work, due to the fact that he is an outsider and not a kinsmen, and he feels like he is an outsider in his own home. Chen is essentially a responsible and dutiful man. It is a result of him doing his duty as a son that he ends up at the gambling den, gets into debt and subsequently is killed. He carries the burden of this debt alone as because in Chinese culture the husband is responsible for providing finances, Chen felt that if he told Lily, he would again be failing in his duty. The irony of this is that if he had told Lily, his debt could have been paid off immediately with the money that she has saved in the tea tin and all the upheaval that followed could have been avoided.
Although Chen has some understanding of the English language, he usually leaves it up to the women, mainly Mui, to do the talking. The only time in the book when we hear Chen speak in English is when he is talking with Mr. Contantinides. This is a reflection of both cultures, showing that in a business setting the man is always the one that is assumed to be in charge. Of all the Chen s, it seems to be Mui, who has adapted to her new surroundings the best. Mui, s background of being a servant in a English Bachelors household would have already given her some insight into the language and culture of the English.
However when she, like so many other Chinese women arrived in England, was subject to culture shock. She therefore lacked confidence and became dependent on the TV and Lily and Man-Kee for company. This obsession with TV and her particular fascination with soap operas and the news reinforced Mui s already working knowledge of English language and its culture. She seems to have a greater understanding of Man-Kees emotional needs than Lily and is warmer and more maternal towards him. She understands that if Man-Kee is to succeed in this country, he must adopt some of its culture and language without losing a sense of his own identity and heritage. She also has enough confidence and understanding of the British culture by the end of the book that she knows that as long as Lo has paid income tax he will qualify for social security, a notion that wouldn t even have occurred to Lily.
Throughout the entire book, the development of Mui s language and cultural knowledge parallels the development of Mui as an individual. She knows that she has to adapt rather than confront this new culture and is the one member of the family to benefit from it. In conclusion, I feel that all the Chens have both benefited and lost from the cultural and language assumptions in Sour Sweet Lily resistance towards the State and her resistance towards the language benefit her in the short term, however, in the long term, I feel that she will be disadvantaged. She will probably lose the ability to communicate fully with her son Man-Kee as he grows up and is absorbed more fully into the English culture and it s language and her disrespect for English law is bound to catch up with her in the end.
Mui, on the other hand has benefited more than she has lost out. She has found a husband, has her own business and is settled in her life her. Although she has maintained her own cultural beliefs, she has had the foresight to assimilate herself to such a degree that she can co-exist with Westerners in a relaxed way. It is hard to find any way that Chen has actually benefited in coming to England. Before his father was taken ill, he was doing well at supporting his family, but from this point on, both language and culture seem to work against him, culminating in his premature and possibly avoidable death. 351: Language Literature and Culture Assignment Three Section B By Bobbie Turner 1 PA Word Count 1, 123 How do language and cultural assumptions interact to benefit / disadvantage each member of the Chen family as they adapt to their new lives in Britain.