Cultural References in Ah Mah

Cultural References in Ah Mah

Length: 1448 words (4.1 double-spaced pages)

Rating: Excellent

Open Document

Essay Preview

More ↓
Cultural References in Ah Mah  

   In almost every piece of literature there can be found references to the author’s or the narrator’s culture. Having an understanding of this culture can help one better understand a literary work. Reading a work that contains references to a culture can also spark interest and inspire the reader to learn more about the culture that is represented in the work. One such piece of literature is the poem "Ah Mah," written by Shirley Geok-lin Lim. This poem contains many references to Chinese culture that are very interesting and inspire curiosity. By researching the culture of China, one can better understand the references to it in "Ah Mah." Then, the poem has more meaning to the reader than if he did not posses any knowledge about Chinese culture.

"Ah Mah" is a poem about the author’s grandmother. The author, Lim, describes her grandmother in detail and explains how her grandfather "bought" her grandmother. Lim describes her grandmother as a very small and thin woman (10-11). She gives the impression that her grandmother had a hard life even though it appears that the family had enough money. The fact that the family is Chinese is also very apparent due to the many references to Chinese culture that are made as Lim describes aspects of her grandmother’s life.

The first aspect of the grandmother’s life that is a reference to her culture is the mention of silk. In the poem, Lim states that her grandmother "tottered / in black silk" (7-8). This reference may seem unimportant at first glance. However, if one has knowledge of the country of China, it becomes apparent that silk is important. Silk has been a major resource in China since ancient times. A route called the Silk Road was an important path followed by traders who traded goods with the Chinese for raw silk. Silk has been abundant in China for a long time and it was a more common fabric there before it was popular in other places. Silk fabric was still considered a sign of status in China, but it was more easily found there than in other parts of the world ("Chinese Culture").

Another reference to Silk in the poem that is more indirect is "Soochow flower song girl," which is referring to the grandmother (Lim 12). Soochow is a city in China that is also known as Suzhou or Wuxian city.

How to Cite this Page

MLA Citation:
"Cultural References in Ah Mah." 17 Jan 2019

Need Writing Help?

Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.

Check your paper »

Adeline Yen Mah's "Falling Leaves" Essay

- Adeline Yen Mah's "Falling Leaves" Works Cited Missing      For years, the world has been oblivious to the painful, degrading traditions toward women that take place behind the “Bamboo Curtain” of China. Falling Leaves , by Adeline Yen Mah, unveils the darker side of Chinese culture through her eyes as an unwanted Chinese daughter. Shocking mistreatment, of not only the author, but also the females in her extended family keep suspense alive throughout the book. My heart sobs at each account of Adeline’s tortured life, but through it all, there was a flicker of her spirit that could not be put out....   [tags: Mah Falling Leaves Gender Girls Essays]

Research Papers
817 words (2.3 pages)

Cultural Analysis On Cultural Relativism Essay

- Seungbae’s essay on cultural relativism argues that every moral decision one makes is only relevant within the sense of right and wrong depending on their cultural standards. He makes comparisons with cultural ethics as with the laws of motion but does not seem to necessarily relate today’s use of cultural relativism, and it also becomes a sort of backwards continuum in which the relativism that he argues for turns into an absolutist point of view, therefore turning his philosophy into what he is arguing against....   [tags: Morality, Ethics, Cultural relativism, Culture]

Research Papers
1027 words (2.9 pages)

Essay about Recognizing the Need for Cultural Change

- Recognizing the Need for Cultural Change Table of Contents 1. Introduction 2. Cultural awareness 3. Cultural sensitivity 4. Cultural competence 5. Cultural humility 6. Conclusion 7. References Introduction United States of America demographics profiles illustrates a nation rich in culture and culture diversity....   [tags: Cultural Awareness, Cultural Sensitivity]

Research Papers
1145 words (3.3 pages)

Cultural Dicersity/ With References Essay

- Cultural Diversity in the Work Place In today’s work environment, it has become more evident and vital than ever to foster cultural diversity. Business organizations that want to stay in business are integrating their global and local business efforts along with cultural diversification. However, the path that leads to cultural diversity is not an easy one. Issues and conflicts may slow down, and even restrain, efforts to integrate cultural diversity in the workforce, but the need to embrace and make cultural diversity work is a sensible and attainable prospect....   [tags: essays research papers]

Research Papers
1276 words (3.6 pages)

A Cultural Examination of the Russian Federation Essay

-   Introduction In 1991, the great social experiment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics dissolved. The empire spanning almost five centuries, from the remnants of the Golden Horde to Stalin's "new Russia" (Hoskins, 1997) from Poland to the Pacific disappeared, leaving a political-sociological void that is only now moving towards resolution. Still the largest nation in the world (Shultz, 2000), Russia spans two continents, multiple time zones, and a land area that diminishes that of the United States....   [tags: cultural markers, Hofstede Centre]

Research Papers
1852 words (5.3 pages)

Essay on The Importance of Positive Cultural Identity

- No human being is culture free. We are a product of the many different cultures which surround us. Our values, worldview and experiences are structured by the society and culture that exert influences on our lives each day. It is therefore important to be a multicultural person by first forming a positive cultural identity. Manning and Baruth (2009, p.24) defines culture as “people’s values, languages, religions, ideals, artistic expressions, patterns of social and interpersonal relationships and ways of perceiving, behaving and thinking.” However, in this paper, cultural identity also relate to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, social class and all that defines the self....   [tags: Cultural Identity Essays]

Research Papers
1171 words (3.3 pages)

Chinese Cinderella by Adeline Yen Mah Essay

- Chinese Cinderella is a compelling autobiography by Adeline Yen Mah, a struggling child, yearning for acceptance and love in her dysfunctional family. In this novel of “a ‘secret story of an unwanted daughter”, Adeline presents her stepmother Niang, as a violent, impatient, biased, domineering and manipulative demon. Analysing the language used by the author, we can discover how effectively she does this. Although Niang explicitly demonstrates her blatant favouritism towards her actual birth kids, shunning the likes of her stepchildren, some of her nasty traits cannot be avoided by even the most loved of her children....   [tags: Literary Analysis, Culture]

Research Papers
838 words (2.4 pages)

How the Misuse of Norm-Referenced Tests can Impact the Assessment and Treatment of a Client

- In this article, the authors discuss how the misuse of norm-referenced tests can impact the assessment and treatment of a client. Norm-referenced tests provide a comparison between the skills and behaviors assessed of a client to the relevant norms of a similar age group. According to the article, a clinician must ensure to properly use a norm-referenced test in order to provide evidence as to whether a client may need more assessments or whether a certain treatment approach is more beneficial to the client....   [tags: norms, referenced tests, client]

Research Papers
718 words (2.1 pages)

Cultural Relativism And The Cultural Perspective Essay

- Cultural Relativism is the view that all moral beliefs and ethical systems, are all equally valid. No one system is better than any other, no matter the variance from culture to culture. Further, Cultural Relativism follows that these beliefs and ethical systems should be understood by everyone else in the terms of their own individual culture. The Cultural Relativist believes there are no universal moral beliefs, and that there is no ultimate standard of good or evil. Instead, they believe each society has customs and beliefs that differ from each other and every judgement of right or wrong is a product of each society....   [tags: Morality, Cultural relativism, Ethics, Culture]

Research Papers
1273 words (3.6 pages)

Cultural Identity and the Language of Food Essay example

- Cultural Identity and the Language of Food Food is integral to cultural identity and is as much a part of culture as religion and language. Indeed, some cultures elevate food to a level nearing, if not exceeding, the status of their religion. Because I love to cook, to combine flavors in a way that results in something unexpected and wonderful, this paper will discuss various words related to food. Not actual food words, but words surrounding food. Interesting words like “gastronomy” and “feast.” Often there is much symbolism related to these words; from the fundamental idea that to eat is to live to the possibility that there are religious connotations to the etymology of some of thes...   [tags: Cultural Identity Essays]

Research Papers
4288 words (12.3 pages)

Related Searches

It has a population of about 710,900 and is located near Tai Lake in East China. There are many different manufacturing plants there, but Soochow is most famous for being a silk center ("Suzhou").. The significance of the grandmother in the poem being from Soochow may also be that the city is famous for being beautiful and having many beautiful things in and around it, such as arched bridges and pretty gardens.

The relationship between the grandfather and grandmother in the poem is also an example of Chinese culture. The grandfather took the grandmother into his home after all of his sons were married (11-12). In traditional Chinese culture, the relationship between a father and his sons is considered to be the most important relationship in the family. Even the relationship between a husband and wife is thought of as subordinate to a father’s relationship with his sons (Hsu 59). This could explain why the grandfather waited until his sons were married to obtain a wife. The poem says nothing about the man having a previous wife, but one would assume that she is deceased or he has divorced her. One could expect divorce to be inappropriate to a very traditional culture such as that in China, but it is acceptable for a Chinese man to divorce and desert his wife if he unsatisfied with her (105). It is considered appropriate and even expected for Chinese men to remarry or to obtain a concubine after a death or divorce, but it is difficult for a man to get a young unmarried girl after he has already been married and had children. It is possible for an older man to obtain a young girl as a second or third wife, but this usually happens only when the man is rich (104). The grandmother in this poem is described as a girl, and it appears that she has is young and has never been married. One clue that points to this is that the poem states that the grandfather "bought" the grandmother (Lim 11). Another clue that the grandfather had plenty of money is the mention of handmaids that the grandmother leaned on for support (8-9). It is very common in traditional Chinese families to have hired labor, especially if they can afford it (Hsu 67).

Another aspect of the relationship between the grandfather and the grandmother that reflects traditional Chinese culture is the grandfather’s decision to not have children. As the poem states, "he swore he’d not dress [her] in sarong of maternity." (Lim 21) This could be out of kindness that the grandfather decides this, but it could also be due to the fact that having more children after all of one’s children are grown is looked down upon in Chinese culture. This is because it is thought that the duty of continuing the family line is passed on to a man’s children when they are grown (Hsu 110).

Perhaps the most stirring and noticeable characteristic of Chinese culture in the poem is the practice of foot binding. Foot binding involves wrapping a girl’s feet in very tight cloth when she is about four years old. The cloth is kept tight and restricts the growth of the foot. Eventually, there is so much pressure on the foot that the bones break and the arches and toes curl under. It is a very painful process and deforms the foot tremendously for the rest of the girl’s life. Foot binding became popular in China in the thirteenth century and was later outlawed. However, the practice continued to spread for many generations. Some people considered foot binding as a means of keeping women under control because it often prevented them from being able to travel around very well (Wudunn). The grandmother in this poem has had her feet bound and must limp around "on two tortured fins" and rely on the support of handmaids (Lim 9-10). Foot binding was also considered to be important for a Chinese woman to be beautiful and to have a good marriage (Wudunn).

Another image that is often present in Chinese art and literature and can be seen in "Ah Mah" is that of flowers. Flowers are an important symbol in Chinese culture because they represent nature and Chinese religion and philosophy involves closeness with and respect for nature. The first reference to a flower in the poem is "Soochow flower song girl" (Lim 12). This phrase is connecting the grandmother to flowers and therefore conveying the fact that she is pretty or well liked. The next reference to flowers is when the grandmother’s bound feet are compared to "yellow petals of chrysanthemum" (17-18). This is because the petals of a chrysanthemum curl inwards much like the toes of the grandmother’s feet. Her small feet are also compared to lotus, which is another type of flower. The lotus flower is particularly important because it is a symbol of awakening and enlightenment in Buddhism, the main religion of China. The lotus flower becomes closed at night, and when it is closed it represents potential ("Chinese Culture").

By reading a culture rich poem such as "Ah Mah" and gaining an understanding of the culture within it, one can understand and appreciate many of the details that the author includes. With a background knowledge of Chinese culture, for example, many of the small details in "Ah Mah" become very interesting and important. They become much more interesting than they would have been without a knowledge of the culture. When encountering a work that contains unfamiliar references to a culture, one should search for information to help him or herself understand this culture and in turn better understand the work and the author’s reasons for including certain details within it.

Works Cited

"Chinese Culture." Apr. 2000. The China Pages. 6 Apr. 2000 <>.

Hsu, Francis L.K. Under the Ancestors’ Shadow: Chinese Culture and Personality. London: Routledge, 1949.

Lim, Shirley Geok-lin, "Ah Mah." Bridges: Literature Across Cultures. Ed. Gilbert H. Miller and John A. Williams. New York: McGraw, 1994. 281-82.

"Suzhou." Columbia Encyclopedia Online. 2000 ed. 6 Apr. 2000 <>.

Wudunn, Sheryl. "The Greatest Leap: How China’s Women Have Traveled from the Ancient to the Modern in Four Generations." New York Times Magazine Online. Dec. 1999. 6 Apr. 2000


Return to