Literary Devices and Identity

8 August 2016

Writing is an exquisite art form. Through the use of subtle metaphors, complex dynamic characters, and flowing imagery; an author is able to communicate their ideas with unique individuality. Each writer’s style is particular to their personal identity. Lila Abu-Lughod is an anthropology professor at New York University. Her piece titled Thinking about Identity, shares her theory on what five factors comprise an individuals identity. She believes they are ethnicity, nationalism, mode of living, gender/family, and religion.

An authors writing style is based on their identity, therefore it’s based on those five factors. Authors Amy Tan and Mary Gruenewald exemplify this. They both have entirely different identities which are often conveyed by their writing in pieces Fish Cheeks and Evacuation Orders. Abu Lughod’s identity theory is inadvertently evidenced by the work of Tan and Gruenewald, especially through their use of literary devices. It can be argued that Abu-Lughod’s views are merely opinion; however, they are supported by factual evidence.

Literary Devices and Identity Essay Example

One of her main points was that people tend to stereotype based on one aspect of a person’s identity. For example, Middle Eastern people are often labeled as Muslim even though there is more to their identities then religion, and many of them are not Muslim. Abu-Lughod believes that people define themselves with many aspects and that there are five factors that play into ones personal and individual identity. Also, your identity is not predetermined or unchangeable, and it is constantly being influenced by “local and global history and politics”.

This theory of people being set apart from each other by their own five factors is constantly evidenced. Especially through works like “Fish Cheeks” and Looking like the Enemy, due to them both being memoirs. How an author portrays themselves in writing things such as memoirs or biographies often depicts aspects of their identities and which of the five factors is most prominently defined in them. In Tan’s story “Fish Cheeks” her Chinese ethnicity and how it impacts who she is shown by the fact that she is a dynamic character.

She writes about having her crush Robert, the son of her minister, and his family over for dinner. Humiliated by her family, she becomes very embarrassed of her Chinese ethnicity and her families culture. She writes, “I wanted to disappear. At the end of the meal my father leaned back and belched loudly, thanking my mom 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 down at his plate with a reddened face… I was sunned into silence for the rest of the night.

” Tan blatantly expresses her shame through her writing. At that point of the memoir her feelings toward the ethnic side of her identity contrast immensely with how she feels at the end. This shows that she had to undergo change, which defines her as a dynamic character. At the stories beginning Tan said she was literally stunned into silence by her humiliation. Later, she relates feeling as though her pride got the better of her. Changing her perspective helped her learn to appreciate her family’s ethnicity, and accept it as a part of her identity.

This is shown when she concludes her story, “After everyone had gone, my mother said to me, “You want to be the same as American girls on the outside. ” She handed me an early gift. It was a miniskirt in beige tweed. “But on the inside you must always be Chinese. You must be proud to be different. Your only shame is to have shame. ” And even though I didn’t agree with her then, I knew that she understood how much I had suffered during that evening’s dinner. It wasn’t until many years later – long after I had gotten over my crush on Robert – that I was able to fully appreciate her lesson and the true purpose behind our particular menu.

For Christmas Eve that year, she had chosen all my favorite foods. ” Tan shows that with time her character’s views on identity changed, making her a dynamic character. Literary elements in writing such as this are what allow one to realize and come to know the author’s identity. Supposing she had not considered her Chinese ethnicity to be part of who she was, she would not have been ashamed of it to begin with. Through this, readers can assume it is part of her character and that it supports Abu-Lughod’s theory that ethnicity pertains to identity.

While Tan’s feelings towards her ethnicity changed drastically, Gruenewald’s however, were of pride from her stories start. Gruenewald elegantly expresses her attachment to her family’s Japanese ethnicity through her use of similes. The figurative language she incorporates in her writing allows her readers to relate to or understand her emotions. She expresses her feelings about the hardships her family went through being Japanese-American during World War Two. Due to an eminent FBI investigation of their home, she and her family were forced to burn any possessions linking them to their Japanese ethnic background.

Her despair is obvious as she describes, “Slowly I walked to the front of the stove, gave my doll one final squeeze then flung her into the inferno that seared my heart like some fierce dragon destroying all that I loved. ” Her doll was Japanese and had it been found it my have indicated loyalty to Japan and convicted her family of terrorism. Due to her pain and anguish upon loosing the doll readers can infer that her ethnicity was an important part of her personal identity.

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