Identity

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Throughout the novels,  The Bluest Eye  and  American  Born Chinese , readers are able to understand and apply their insecurities to understand the struggles of minorities. These authors portray these minorities as African Americans and Chinese Americans to make sure that the character in the beginning wont go through one transformation, but numerous transformations. From transitions on appearance to personality, the characters are forced into only two options; 1,internalize the white value system and hate themselves or,  2, retain their self-worth as well as give up the hatred and violence toward the dominant white culture. Due to the white culture being universally pervasive and powerful in modern society, they are able to survive numerous sociological environments. These allegorical tales tend to correlate with reality. So, instead of ignoring the judgements made based on stereotypes, the characters Jin in American Born Chinese and Pecola in The Bluest Eye learn that if they want to be called things like “beautiful” or  “brave” they would have to meet the societal beauty standards and behave normal, according to society to not be deemed as a savage. These two novels don't contain only one story, contain stories that are sometimes contradicting and interlocking due to the characters Jin and Pecola trying to make a sense out of their lives. Through Morrison’s use of an mournful tone and Yang’s use of symbolism the author represents the struggles of cultural distinction, and how public embarrassment and harassment from prejudice can cause a loss in identity.
     

To begin, Toni Morrison develops the idea about a loss of identity due to the society being stereotypical through her mournful tone. The Bluest Eye provides an extended depiction of the ways in which internalized white beauty standards deform the lives of black girls and women especially for Pecola. Implicit messages that whiteness is superior are everywhere, including the white baby doll given to Claudia, the idealization of Shirley Temple, and the consensus that light-skinned Maureen is cuter than the other black girls. Although it may seem that through this way Pecola has become a stronger person but even in the beginning of the novel it is told that their “innocence and faith were no more productive than his lust or despair”(8). The author uses this tone to examine a depressing vibe instead of a positive due to the fact that she connects beauty with being loved and believes that if she possesses blue eyes, the cruelty in her life will be replaced by affection and respect.


Next, Pecola makes sure that even if she culturally different and is not able to lose her full identity, the hopeless desire leads ultimately to madness, suggesting that the fulfillment of the wish for white beauty may be even more tragic than the wish itself. By using this mournful tone it expresses that her love for being black died out by choosing to have those blue eyes rather than lighter skin, wishing she had,“those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights—if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different” (46). Pecola indicates that she wishes to see things differently as much as she wishes to be seen differently and is fine losing herself to become someone entirely new as if changing eye color will change reality. She makes sure that the shame held on to her would only leave if she had blue eyes because their beauty would inspire beautiful and kindly behavior on the part of others.


Finally, through Claudia and Frieda’s childish actions and being seen as a failure to society they are still examples of vigorous responses to oppression when trying to lose their identity. As adults, they learn to respond to this antagonism in a more indirect and self destructive ways since the all speech code is broken by them as, “all gestures subject to careful analysis; we had become headstrong, devious, and arrogant. Nobody paid us any attention, so we paid very good attention to ourselves” (191). Claudia hints this negative tone here, however, this willingness to take action no matter who defies them disappears within adulthood. Frieda and Claudia are able to be active in part because they are protected by their parents, and in part because they do not confront the life-or-death problems that Pecola does. That causes Pecola to be more willing to change since not only have they stripped away her pride, but who she can love based off of her appearance.


Luen Yang also develops the idea that society’s prejudice actions can lead to a hidden identity in order to fit in with the use of symbolism. As previously touched upon in Morrison’s text, Pecola relies on people known for their beauty like Shirley Temple, where as in the novel,  American Born Chinese,  the character Jin relied on his transformer toy, which symbolized white highschoolers that he looked up to. For Jin, transformers represent his basic desire of transforming into something different in order to not be judged upon. The story begins with Jin’s life in Chinatown, where he had a sense of community there and often visited a Chinese herbalist shop. The herbalists’ wife was at first confused upon what a transformer is, so Jin describes it to her as “a robot in disguise” and  that there is “more than meets the eye” with a transformer since it could change from this typical truck to a robot ready for combat. So, the herbalist’s wife advises to him that it is “easy to become anything you wish...so long as you’re willing to forfeit your soul” (28-29). Yet, this advice isn’t held on for too long when Jin arrives to an American high school and doesn’t highlight his recognition for Wei-Chen until a piece of his culture is felt again. At first, it may have seemed that Jin despised Wei-Chen for his heavy Chinese accent and his stereotypical Asian appearance, telling him to speak English because we are in America. This shifts when the symbol of a united chinese brotherhood overlaps because he is able to see his true-self and realized that transformers meets more than the eye, but the heart that carries his courage and passion towards the long-lost culture of his. While symbolizing a transformer is significant, it is also significant to realize that due to society being prejudice like the teachers’ stereotypes about Asians eating dogs being allowed to be said, that creates the expansion of looking forward to becoming the typical white average male who are given a set of advantages at birth.


Furthermore, not only does Luen Yang make sure to express the struggles of being Chinese in an American society, but he also makes sure to show in more of a figurative way rather than realistic way through using animals like monkeys. In the beginning on the novel American Born Chinese they introduce to you the Monkey King, it may seem that at first, he is that arrogant, egotistical type that seems to know everything, which was true due to him being aware of his kung-fu skills like “‘First-Like Lightning” and “Thunderous Foot’”. But, when the monkey king transitions to a society of Gods and Goddesses that don’t want him there, it correlates with the character Jin going to an American school where the kids were stereotypical on him due to his appearance. So, even if the monkey king was a ruler, he wasn’t treated seriously by the Gods not because he didn’t have shoes like they said when he tried to attend their party but because he was an immature, improper and savage monkey. By crafting the idea that shoes symbolize the barrier or the potential gateway to acceptance, it causes the Monkey King to hold on to the fact that through wearing these “‘shoes’” it will help overcome this stereotypical identity of his when it is actually just another pointless excuse as to why the Gods don’t like him. When  the Monkey King is faced with the King of the Earth known as Tze-Yo-Tzuh, he goes straight into denial even after Tze-Yo-Tzuh shows how truly omnipotent he is, saying “I don’t care who you say you are, old man. I can still take you” (81). No wonder Tze-Yo-Tzuh thinks that the most suitable lesson for the Monkey is to be buried in something as stubborn and hard as he is: a mountain made of rock. It suggests that the Monkey King has a raging inferiority complex because he manages to rename himself as “the Great Sage of Heaven” and commands all monkeys to wear shoes because the gods and goddesses wear shoes even though clearly, monkey’s don’t need shoes but the shoes to him represent the path to a new identity that everyone will praise upon.


The last symbol seen in American Born Chinese is Chin-Kee’s character itself who is treated as a joke in the form of an American TV show and other medias because even to this day people are used to having actors be white straight males that portray their talents and gifts meanwhile other cultures are spread with bigotry for the satisfaction of seeing their demise in ““the land of the free””. Yang delivers a message of self-acceptance; of defeating your own, often exaggerated self-perceptions of cultural difference;  and the importance of building community based on shared cultural experiences.  Its message translates across minority cultures — and in the minds of anyone who has felt rejected for being different. An unapologetic depiction of one of the most notorious Asian stereotypes is given to the character Chin-Kee: the kung-fu warrior–his hands folded together in prayer, delight emanating from his “chinky” eyes, a long braid of black hair whipping down his back. Also mentioning that the storyline takes place in contemporary times, he wears a silk Hanzuang robe with matching hanfu shoes.  He bounces from one foot to the other yelling, “HARRO AMELLICA!” as if he was mentally ill to simply conversing, “Ah-so! What a big, bootiful american school! Chin-Kee Rike! Rike vely much! Heh-heh!” (110) Not only does his relative Danny (who is secretly Jin) looks at him strange after this statement, they also feature “Hahahaha” at the bottom in order to not take him seriously. Despite, what he said not being humorous at all, people find humor out of his appearance and his accent because anytime he has the opportunity to answer the question in class correctly, his eagerness to participate gets cut off from being isolated in the way he is treated in a school full of Americans. Looking back in The Bluest Eye, it may seem that Pecola and Chin-Kee are truly opposites, but in reality they are both trying to either become a stereotypical white person or try to fit in like one without being harassed for trying to be like one since it is easier to look and judge rather than communicate to them and judge. Chin-Kee makes sure to symbolize all the ridiculous stereotypes that haunt Chinese-Americans and produce this fantasy of how American pop culture should look like. When realistically, America is a place meant to unite cultures that have different stories behind each one, not only consist of the English language culture because that would mean that everyone is apart of the one same story and have nothing else to offer just like the rest of the American people.


Through Morrison’s use of a mournful tone and Yang’s use of symbolism to represent  the struggles of being culturally distinct, the reader determines that public embarrassment and harassment can cause a loss in identity. Even though Pecola, Jin and the Monkey King struggled to reach for self-acceptance, characters from both novels determine identity as a never endless process of change in figuring out who you are in society and how much you are worth to everyone. In The Bluest Eye, the characters are constantly subjected to images of whiteness offered through movies, books, candy, and magazines which encouraged people like Pecola to push the idea of beauty in the exterior part of her so that she can be higher valued in society. Similarly in American Born Chinese, the three narratives about three different characters revolve around embracing one’s identity like Jin being plagued by transformations due to not accepting himself as a Chinese boy in an American environment. Characters establish their sense of self-worth based on their ways of expressing tone and symbolism to show the price of beauty or ending the stereotypical, prejudice appearance given. These become internalized conditions, which have a devastating effect on the lives of the novel’s characters yet on the other hand, the incapacitating effect of internalized ugliness endows certain characters with power.






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