Cultural conflicts are a common issue in the American society. Cultural conflicts occur because of a clash in the values and beliefs held by individuals and often from different cultural groups. Cultural conflicts have become part of the American society due to the migration trends in the region. The United States is currently home to people from all across the world. The mix of different cultures may create tension among individuals leading to conflicts. Immigrants living and working in the U.S. are more likely to face cultural conflicts. It is often difficult for such immigrants to assimilate the American culture. Further, their children are likely to develop conflicting values, beliefs, and thought patterns due to the conflict cultures between their parents and the greater U.S. culture. This paper is an evaluation of how Amy Tan and Jhumpa Lahiri integrate the theme of cultural conflicts in their stories “Two Kinds” and “Hell-Heaven” respectively.
In her essay “Two Kinds”, Amy Tan highlights the cultural division between Asian-American parents and their American-born children. Jing-Mei’s mother believes that her daughter can become anything she wishes to be in America, including being a prodigy. Her mother affirmed this while she was only nine, “Of course, you can be a prodigy too” (222). This indicates living the American dream that defined by capitalistic tendencies. Under the American dream, one can become anything, provided he/she works hard to accomplish the dreams. Jing-Mei’s mother believes that her daughter can become anything she wants in life if she puts efforts in something. Here, Jing-Mei’s mother seems quite influenced by Asian culture, where the parents normally decide their children’s career path. Jing-Mei’s mother attempts to influence her daughter into becoming a prodigy by selecting different forms of prodigy. In one of the selections, Jing-Mei’s mother tries to influence her into becoming Chinese Shirley Temple. Jing-Mei is unable to fit the character.
Jing-Mei feels that her mother is forcing the Chinese culture down her throat. Jing-Mei is adamant about her mother’s push to become a prodigy. Jing-Mei is of the opinion that since she is in America, she does not have to do what her mother says. After her mother requested that she turns of the TV and attend to her piano lessons, Jing-Mei thought, “I didn’t have to do what mother said anymore. … This wasn’t China” (227). This statement shows a feeling of emancipation from the Chinese culture. Jing-Mei is no longer feeling bound by the Chinese culture. Her appreciation of the American culture seems higher and is willing to follow her dream, although she is not sure of what she wants in life.
Jing-Mei’s mother seems quite fascinated by the American dream. Jing-Mei’s mother strongly believes that with hard work and possibly luck, her daughter will accomplish anything she wishes. As such, Jing-Mei will not have to endure the hardships that her mother has gone through. When Jing-Mei’s mother sees on TV a little girl playing the piano, she is fascinated and is convinced that this will be the best thing for her daughter. Jing-Mei’s mother was “entranced by the music, a frenzied little piano with mesmerizing quality…” (224). Despite not owning a piano and being out of their reach, Jing-Mei’s mother was able to purchase a second hand piano, much to Jing-Mei’s surprise.
The story “Hell-Heaven” by Jhumpa Lahiri examines how cultural conflicts play a critical role in immigrants’ lives. Specifically, the story explores the struggle that Bengalis face as immigrants living in the United States. Pranab Kaku is a young Bengali who got a chance to study engineering at the MIT. He experiences cultural shock to the point that he resolves to go back home. As Usha (the narrator) says, Pranab Kaku “had packed his bags and gone to Logan, prepared to abandon the opportunity he’d worked toward all his life” (2). Back at Calcutta, his birthplace, Pranab Kaku had led a luxurious life. He came from a wealthy background and was accustomed to having everything done for him. Pranab Kaku was prepared to go back home, only that he met Shyamal’s family. This helped him a lot in overcoming the cultural conflicts.
It is difficult for American-born Asians to forge an identity. This is because they feel torn between their own culture and the American culture. Children born of migrant parents must choose at one point between the American culture and their parent’s culture. Before the narrator left the house for the Thanksgiving ceremony, her parents made her “to wear a shalwar kameeza”, a long dress worn by Indian women (14). The narrator feels conflict between her culture and the American culture in the way of dressing. Her mother expected her to dress strictly as per the Bengalis traditions. On the other hand, the narrator felt drawn to the American style. During the Thanksgiving, Matty invites the narrator for walk. The narrator felt shy as she wore inappropriate clothes. Soon after, she borrows a pair of jeans, sweater, and sneakers. Her mother is surprised to see her daughter but does not utter a word. This signifies a cultural shift towards the American culture.
Marriage is the greatest source of cultural conflicts among the immigrants. In most immigrant families, children feel torn over whether to marry from their own cultures or to embrace intermarriages. The narrator experiences these conflicts from a tender age, even when marriage did not have meaning to her. As the narrator recounts, her mother would give her verbal warnings about dating an American, “Don’t think you’ll get away with marrying an American,…” (12). This resulted into conflicts. Pranab Kaku faces pressure from his parents over his decision to marry an American, Deborah. His parents call Shymal’s family expressing their disappointment over their son’s decision to marry an American. Kaku’s parents insist that they had arranged for him to marry a girl from his village. Pranab Kaku feels nervous over the thought of breaking the news to his parents about his girlfriend.
Even with Pranab Kaku marrying his American girlfriend, cultural conflicts persist between the two families. Pranab Kaku’s parents were categorical that they would not approve of their son’s decision to marry an American. There is evidence of cultural tension during Pranab Kaku’s wedding. Usha’s parents do not join the others when the dancing starts, instead opting to stay at the table. After a few songs, they resolved to go home, much to Usha’s disapproval. During the Thanksgiving, Pranab Kaku suggests that they all take a walk down the beach. While Deborah’s family “agreed that that was an excellent idea”, the Bengalis were adamant to go to the beach (15). The narrator indicates that the Bengalis began speaking freely “after the forced chitchat with the Americans” ended (15). This clearly indicates the cultural tension between the Bengalis and the Americans.
Lahiri, Jhumpa, “Hell-Heaven (Short Story).” New Yorker 80.13 (2004): 72-81. Literary Reference Center. Web. 9 Oct. 2017.
Tan, Amy. “Two Kinds” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Ed. Roberts, Edgar V., and Henry E. Jacobs. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2012. 222-228. Print. er