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Critique of Alien Relative by Amy Tan

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Alien Relative is a short story that talks about Chinese immigrant encounter into America and the contrast between their Chinese heritage and American lifestyles as perceived by different people.  Amy Tan uses the character’s personalities and experiences to depict these aspects and also build on themes of family ties, female friendship and acceptance among other minor themes.

The story is told from a first person point of view so as to show authenticity and to enable the writer gives her own objective views. Concerning the setting, it is set from the ancient time with scenes from Asia and America. Literary devices are employed in conveying the story in an artistic manner. The various styles will later on be illustrated in detail (Tan, 2007).  Characterization in the story has been aptly defined and thus ensures that the story is comprehensive and progresses smoothly.

 Winnie is the main character in the story. She tells the story in the first person. She has had a taste of cruel life in China, having been married to a bad man, through which we are introduced to her friendship with Hulan. She is currently Johnny’s wife and the mother of Samuel and Pearl. The author depicts her as being caring and generous. Winnie loaned Hulan her mink coat and did not demand the same from her. She repays the debt she owed Hulan by helping her get to America. She together with her husband wired some money to Hulan and her husband to acquire tickets of travel. She is also a skeptic. She doubts Hulan’s explanation concerning her name and thinks that she just made that up.

Hulan, later known as Helen arrives at San Francisco Airport in the company of her husband Henry and two children, Bao bao and Ming-fei Mary. Her son Feng-yi Frank is not with them. She is Winnie’s close friend It is because of her that the wheel’s of this entire story rotate.. The look she portrays on arrival at the Airport tells a lot about her personality. She was so old; her hair was unstylish, as usual, and was hanging down just like a washerwoman’s. She also wore an ugly coat .She is brought out as a naïve woman and uncaring. She does not apologize to her son for the abandonment. Frank’s poodle dog present was left to live outside on a cold little porch. “It was matted and dirty and so skinny” (Tan, 2007). She is corrupt; she bribes an official using some of their plane ticket money to say that their daughter Ming-fei Mary did not have TB.

Frank is Hulan and Henry’s middle son. We are introduced to him when he is only six years old. He is said to be clever, strong, patient and playful and  thus the reason as to why he is left behind when everybody else leaves for America. He was his parents’ favorite child. Later on a different kind of Frank is introduced. He is seventeen years old when we meet him next. He is remorseful. Despite not letting his mother forget what she had done he still forgives her and moves on. He quickly acclimatizes and enjoys his new life.

The author’s thematic concern majorly focuses on Chinese immigrant experience into America. We are told that Winnie moved from China to America. In the story, she facilitates Hulan and her family to move from China to America too. Hulan’s move to America becomes a daunting experience for her and her family (Tan, 2007). She abandons her middle son Frank because they don’t have enough plane ticket money. The logistics for emigration from China required that they bribe. She has to disguise herself as Winnie’s sister so that immigration officials would welcome the idea that Winnie sponsors her. In addition, it was not an easy task getting their son Frank to America after they had left him in China.

According to the story, there’s a sharp contrast between Chinese heritage and American lifestyles. In the voice of the persona, we are told that “nowadays Hulan calls herself Helen. She thinks life is so easy, doing everything the American way” (Tan, 2007). When Hulan helps Winnie leave her first marriage, we are made to understand that she did not really help, only promised not to interfere, but in China that was almost like helping. When Frank is asked by a certain American lady about his life in China, he comments “China wasn't too bad, just boring, same old clothes, nothing to do. Oh, and they didn't let you have pets.” The author also compares the traditions of the Chinese past to the freedom and anxiety of the Chinese-American present

A number of literary styles have been applied in telling this story. There’s the use of a story within a story technique. The story Hulan gives about the reason why they abandoned Frank in China is used to advance the plot of the whole story. Dialogue has been extensively engaged. Its purpose is to help readers get the characters of the various characters used. It also shows the social connectivity between them.

The explanation given by Hulan concerning her name is an allusion. The author alludes to the Queen of Clouds. It is said that her mother named her that because she came into this world like the Queen of Clouds, rising from the water at dawn. Imagery as a stylistic device has been used to paint visual images in readers’ minds (Tan, 2007). For example in describing Hulan’s coat, we are told “she wore an ugly fur coat; the skins bent all stiff to pieces, like an old dead dog dried out on the road. There’s also the use of onomatopoeia, sounds that suggest actions, for example the sound toong! toong! Us. The author uses suspense to wind up the story. Readers are left to envisage what would happen next. This builds interest in the reader’s minds.

Amy Tan launches well into her various themes and brings out the story vividly, only that the reader can’t tell where the story begins. She however has done justice to her piece of writing.

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