The theme for “Fish Cheeks” is about taking pride in one’s heritage and culture. The story is about a girl who discovers that her parents invited her crush over, and is mortified when her Asian parents and relatives embarrass her. In “Fish Cheeks”, the author, Amy Tan, explores the idea that one should not be ashamed of one’s culture, and reveals this through the Characters, Setting, and Plot.
Through the story’s plot, Tan is able to show the character is embarrassed about showing her culture to her crush, but she eventually accepts her difference from other girls. To support this claim are some examples from the story: At the beginning of the story, Amy’s family invited her crush over for Christmas Dinner and when she found out, she reacted by crying and thinking “What would Robert think of our shabby Chinese Christmas? What would he think of our noisy Chinese relatives who lacked proper American manners? What terrible disappointment would he feel upon seeing not a roasted turkey and sweet potatoes but Chinese food?” During the dinner she was totally embarrassed by her family, especially when her father “poked his chopsticks just below the fish eye and plucked out the soft meat. “Amy, your favourite.” He said, offering me the tender fish cheeks. I wanted to disappear.” In the end, when everyone had gone, her mother approached her and said: “You want to be the same as American girls on the outside.” She handed me an early gift. It was a miniskirt in in beige tweed. “But inside you must be always Chinese. You must be proud you are different. Your only shame is to have shame.” Thus, Amy realized the meaning of her mother’s words: “For Christmas Eve that year, she had chosen all my favourite foods.” Before the dinner, Amy was ashamed and embarrassed of her culture because she was worried about her crush (Robert) seeing her relatives and Chinese food and a Chinese Christmas.
Through the story’s setting, Tan was able to show that the character is ashamed of her culture and where she comes from, and how embarrassed she would (could) be if her family invites someone she knows to a celebration her family is having. To support this claim, there is an example from the story: In the middle of Christmas dinner, Amy was embarrassed by her father, who: “leaned back and belched loudly, thanking my mother 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. The minister managed to muster up a quiet burp. I was stunned into silence for the rest of the night.” In this paragraph, Amy is surrounded by her Chinese parents and relatives, celebrating a Chinese Christmas at her house with an American family. During the dinner, Amy’s fears about her relatives came true, because they licked the end of their chopsticks and her father belched in front of her crush and his family embarrassing her.
However, through the story’s characters, Tan was able to show that one should be proud of how different one is from the rest. She accepted her difference from others many years later, after she discovered the reason behind her mother’s menu: “And even though I didn’t agree with her then, I knew that she understood how much I had suffered during the evening’s dinner.” Tan wrote: “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. After the dinner, her mother represented her in her cooking, and many years later, she accepted her culture and heritage, and finally understood what her mother had been trying to tell her.
So, in conclusion, the story “Fish Cheeks” explores the idea that one should not be afraid of one’s culture, through the plot (when Amy’s family and Robert’s family celebrated Christmas together, resulting in Amy’s embarrassment) the characters (in which Amy discovered the true meaning behind her mother’s menu that night) and the setting (where she was surrounded by her Chinese relatives and celebrating a Chinese Christmas with her crush). I think that the author, Amy Tan, used this story to express the idea of not being ashamed of your culture, and how proud you should be of your uniqueness.