The Silencing Effect of Canonicity: Authorship and the Written Word in Amy Tan's Novels

By Dunick, Lisa M. S. | MELUS, Summer 2006 | Go to article overview

The Silencing Effect of Canonicity: Authorship and the Written Word in Amy Tan's Novels


Dunick, Lisa M. S., MELUS


In the past twenty years, novels such as Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior, Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, and works by an array of African American women writers have become relatively common occurrences on university syllabi. The inclusion of these female authored texts is often a function of their difference from the grand narratives of "traditional" American literature. University instructors and literary critics alike have tended to highlight traditionally oral forms of narration, especially women's oral story-telling, found in many of these ethnic women's texts as equal to the traditional grand narratives of Western literature. While the attention given to these authors has broadened our definitions and understanding of what we consider literary, it has at the same time highlighted these authors' difference to such an extent that they remain always in some respect outside of or in opposition to a traditional conception of the canon. In some cases, the effect of this limitation has been to valorize texts that fit into the neat models of what writing by ethnic American authors should do and has relegated writers who do not fit into these models to the outskirts of our critical interest. Thus, certain writers become naturalized as intrinsically important, while others are relegated to the realm of the popular. (1)

In the realm of Asian American women's literature, we can see this exclusionary effect in discussions about Amy Tan's works. The criticism about Tan's works centers on the way that the dialogic nature of talk-story functions either to create or to bridge gaps between bi-cultural, bilingual immigrant mothers and their Americanized second-generation daughters. (2) In particular, since Maxine Hong Kingston's Woman Warrior underscored the Chinese tradition of "talk-story" as a major trope in Chinese American women's narratives, focus on this specific oral tradition has become the center of much of the critical work being done about Chinese American women writers. However, in the case of Tan's texts, this critical focus on the importance of talk-story serves to limit the interpretive work to be done on these texts. Studies of Amy Tan's first three novels, The Joy Luck Club (1989), The Kitchen God's Wife (1991), and The Hundred Secret Senses (1995), have correctly identified patterns of tension in her texts that result from the conflict between the oral storytelling of Chinese mothers (what has been identified as talk-story) and their American daughters' initial resistance to and eventual acceptance of that mode of narration. (3) Critical work on Tan's texts has largely ignored aspects of that corpus which separates it from the work of writers like Kingston--the importance of written texts and the literacy of Chinese mothers. (4) Consequently, by failing to recognize that Tan highlights the crafting of written texts as important, critics also have failed to appreciate fully Tan's representation of her Chinese mothers (5) and the work that these texts do within a broader context of literature.

This critical shortcoming may be recognized and perhaps rectified with a reassessment of her work through the lens of The Bonesetter's Daughter (2001). This novel's intense focus on the literary quality of women's writing may allow us to recognize that literacy in the form of writing and written texts represents an important and often more effective means of transmitting cultural memories and cultural identity across generational lines than talk-story. Furthermore, The Bonesetter's Daughter is not a completely new development in or deviation from Tan's previous themes, but represents a more fully developed reworking of issues about identity and language than we can find in many of her works. (6) Through an analysis of the importance of written texts, this study will demonstrate the ways that Tan's works present literacy and writing in order to reveal the critical problems with identifying non-Western narratives only through an understanding of oral traditions. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Silencing Effect of Canonicity: Authorship and the Written Word in Amy Tan's Novels
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.