Amy Tan's 'Mother Tongue': Analysis

Amy Tan's 'Mother Tongue': Analysis

In her essay, Mother Tongue, Amy Tan contemplates how her background shaped her life, her education, and brought her shame, but ultimately, she learns to embrace her background. Tan describes the way that she was stuck between two worlds. When she is with her mother, she speaks in simple English, but while she is in the public eye, she shifts to an English that is more formal and acceptable; one that English-speaking people accept. Tan relates her story of her mother talking about a gangster that wanted her family in China to adopt him because her family had more status.

She tells us the story using her mother’s language, so we can see how expressive her mother’s broken English is. Even though the language is not what we may be used to, her story is something we can follow. It is vivid with detail and images. For Tan, her mother’s language is the language of her childhood, and it is clear, and full of imagery. She has no difficulties understanding exactly what her mother is saying. She knows that this simple English is the same language that helped her understand the world, helped her formulate her views, and helped her learn to express herself.

In the beginning of Amy Tan’s narrative, “Mother Tongue” she states, “I am someone who has always loved language. I am fascinated by language in daily life. I spend a great deal of my time thinking about the power of language – the way it can evoke an emotion, a visual image, a complex idea, or a simple truth” (Tan 299). In these few sentences you understand the passion she has for the English language and what it can do. Tan explains to her audience that she was introduced to the English language in many ways. She gives numerous examples of different language from the different influences in her life. Her use of language in this essay helps to prove her point that you shouldn’t base your judgment of someone’s intelligence on their use of an unfamiliar language. Tan’s rarely uses concise language, so much so that my word editor recommended the use of concise language on multiple quotes. She uses her writing as a strategy to effectively prove her point.

Tan’s intended audience could be anyone that had to learn a new language to fit in where they live. She shows the readers that there is more than one kind of correct English. She often refers to the “Englishes” that she uses. Tan points out the narrow-minded views that many people have of people that come from different backgrounds or cultures. The use of her mother’s experience shows the reader that people would judge way to quickly after hearing her mother talk. People would often assume that her mother was uneducated, even though she “reads the Forbes report, listens to Wall Street Week, converses daily with her stock broker and reads all of Shirley MacLaine books with ease- she does all kinds of things I can’t begin to understand” (Tan 300). Tan is trying to motivate people to accept the things that make them different. She is showing the audience that people will often have misconceptions about people that come from different countries, and people that aren’t easy to understand.

Amy Tan can effectively persuade her readers by her use of ethos and having a strongly known character. Tan uses easy to read language throughout her essay. Even without elegant words, the readers can still understand the complexity of the argument she is making. In the last paragraph Tan is able to emphasize the way that she is more concerned with her audience and appealing to them. She states, “Apart from what any critic had to say about my writing, I knew I had succeeded where it counted when my mother finished reading my book and gave me her verdict: ‘So easy to read’ ” (Tan 302). She is not seeking the approval of critics and chooses not to write like a professor even though others might believe she should. She writes purely for her audience and wants them to be able to understand her writing to the fullest.

Tan makes her writing so easy to read because she knows that most people who natively speak Chinese have a hard time being understood by English speaking people. She has goodwill for her audience because she has felt the pain of being treated poorly due to language barriers. Tan vividly describes a time when her mother was treated unfairly simply because the other person didn’t understand what she was trying to say. She recalls a time when a hospital would not look for a lost CAT scan for her mother until she came to translate. Since her mother was unable to speak perfect English, the person in charge of the results did not concentrate on what she was saying. It wasn’t until Tan came and explained what her mother was talking about that the doctor would take the situation seriously. The doctor immediately responded to the request and apologized for the mistake. It makes it clear that people who did not have perfect English can sometimes get misunderstood and disregarded. Tan explains how some people are treated simply because they are thought to be inferior. Not speaking perfect English according to how Tan’s mother was treated prevented her from accessing or getting the right services. The author’s way of writing is unique and complex on how she develops her points. She shows us the problem then tells us why it is a problem.

The carefully chosen writing style of “Mother Tongue” makes the essay feel like a conversation that you are having. Tan engages the audience directly when she says, “You should know that my mother’s expressive command of the English language belies how much she really understands” (Tan 299). By directly addressing the audience she is able to show that she wasn’t writing this essay just to share her ideas, she really wants the reader to understand what is happening, and why it is such a difficult situation. Tan uses many storytelling techniques to make all the experiences feel more personal. By making the readers struggle to understand her mother, Tan makes the reader feel the frustration of the thick language barrier. We are compelled to experience all of the confusion as if we are having a real conversation. The reader is made to feel empathetic towards the situation. Tan knows what her mother means, and she feels bad that others don’t get to experience her thoughts or ideas. Tan’s writing style gives her readers a glimpse of what it must feel like to be stuck between the two worlds. As a reader you are made to feel the road block that is put in the way of her mother. It creates a feeling of defeat when she knows that her mother is capable of expressing her own ideas, but due to people’s impatience she has to constantly be a translator.