Muticultural Literature Analysis
March 2nd, 2015
“Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.” ~Lao Tzu
No matter where the story is set in time or location if the reader can allow their minds and hearts to open to the experience they can learn about the writers’ customs and the beliefs of their people. By sharing the tales that illuminate their personal realm the rest of the world can easily find some common thread in the stories. All one has to do is open themselves up to the tale and they can find something that they can empathize with or understand. No matter the background or culture one comes from we share this planet and by reading accounts from other cultures we can gain some understanding of each other and of ourselves.
Since the dawning of time people have formed clans and groups and waged war on others. This type of conflict is woven into the fabric of our history. The lesson we can learn by exposure to tales of conflict from other cultures and racial groups can help bring people together in understanding. In both The Return by Ngugi Wa Thion’o and Shanti by Vikram Chandra we find tales set in a historical time during or after a life altering conflict. Vikram Chandra shares a tale of Shiv and Shanti. Theirs is a love story in India during the time of World War II. This tale follows the paths of Shiv and Shanti as their paths cross and they eventually form a strong connection centered upon the shared loss of someone that they each loved. For Shiv it was his twin brother and for Shanti it was her husband who was serving his country in the military. Throughout the course of the story they share with each other stories of sadness and they both find themselves staring in the face of despair as they focus their attention on their personal anguish and what was before and what could have been had things been different. Finally they marry and in essence rescue each other from overwhelming hopelessness by opening up their hearts to the possibility of being loved and giving love again. Ngugi Wa Thion’o shares a sad tale of a man who was held as a political prisoner during the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya. After being released five years later he anxiously returns to his home to the sad discovery that the village, and entire world has not waited for his return. The hardest news is that neither has his beloved wife. This is the turning point for him he realized that he has returned to a village that is unrecognizable due to the invasion of the British and the subsequent colonization and to a wife that has given him up for dead and remarried as she moved on with her life. This story comes to a conclusion as we join him as he places all the worldly items he possesses that remind him of her and rolls them down a hill and into the river to be washed away. Essentially washing away his previous life.
Multicultural literature acts as a magic mirror that can enable the audience a glimpse into life in other parts of the world. This will open the reader up to some of the beliefs, customs, practices, experiences and conflicts that belong to a different portion of the world that we live in. By experiencing these things through the eyes of others we can gain understanding and compassion.
Ken Saro-Wiwa shares his Nigeria with the world in Africa Kills her Sun. This tale gives the reader the opportunity to share in a condemned mans’ last actions as he pens a letter to his long lost first love while waiting for his justice that will take his life. He spills his soul out to his beloved and explains how he feels that it is truly a corrupt world they live in and that he is filled with sorrow and pity for all who have to survive him and continue to exist in it. He takes full responsibility for all of his criminal behavior and relishes in the fact that he has demanded that he be put to death in order to cheat the corrupt government from making a spectacle of him. The reader comes to an understanding of what propelled a man that can hold the memory of a love so sacred in his heart to commit criminal acts that would justifiably result in death.
Kazuo Ishiguro provides a view into the private family dynamic of the Japanese in his tale A Family Supper. This account follows a young man who left his home in Tokyo to live in California as he now travels back to Japan after the death of his mother. There is a strong influence of the Japanese traditions and customs that his parents hold sacred and that he has apparently walked away from. On the trip to his family home from the airport his father shares with him the peculiar circumstances of his mother’s death. He previously had not known that she lost her live as a result of eating a very dangerously toxic fish for fear of offending a friend. He joins his father and sister for a family dinner prepared by his father. As the father excuses himself to care for the meal he walks through the garden with his sister where they discuss the state of affairs with his father’s employment, or lack thereof as his company collapsed propelling his partner to commit suicide after taking the lives of his entire family to avoid disgrace. It is obvious that the father still feels that this is acceptable and honorable although the sister finds it to be disgusting. The death of his mother, caused by eating the poisonous fish Fugu sets an eerie undertone to the dinner of unnamed fish prepared now by his father. The Father expresses his hopefulness that his son will consider staying home now although he immediately follows his entreaty with a statement filled with the assumption that the son will no doubt want to return to the United States. Suggesting to the audience the possibility that the Father is in fact poisoning himself and his children. Since the Japanese custom honors those who commit such acts if they have been dishonored it is a definite possibility.
Being unaccepted for who or what you are is something that affects people from diverse backgrounds and cultures across the world. Even when the thing that makes an individual stand out as different or as “other” is so vastly varied. The inability to control such things is a thread that binds humanity no matter where they come from or what they believe in. Alex La Fuma illuminated the sense of otherness in his story The Lemon Orchard a story that shares with the reader firsthand the disrespect and hatred suffered by black people in Africa during the period when the country openly accepted discrimination as government dogma. Apartheid was the accepted policy of segregation and political and economic separation against people based on their race. In this story we walk in the shoes of the main character, who is guilty for nothing more than having darker skin than those around him. Following the exchange of conversation of the men who have taken him from his bed out into the lemon orchard to teach him a “lesson” by abusing him, it is easy to ascertain that he is in fact more intelligent than they are. This alone is threatening to these men. He is being held back in what he is capable of doing in his life simply for being different. Quickly the audience comes to understand that he is an intelligent and proud man and that those that are abusing him have been trained to think that their behavior is not only acceptable but for the good of the population.
Ha Jin’s tale The Bridegroom is a drastically different story set in China. This story opens the reader into the life of an honorable Chinese man who values hardwork and honestly. He has found himself as guardian of a homely young girl after the death of her family. He thinks that no one will ever take her as their wife and he worries about what will become of her when a handsome young man from the factory in which they both work takes interest in her and proposes marriage it is shocking to everyone. It is eventually revealed that he is secretly a homosexual and as that is considered to be against the law it is mandated that he be “cured” or face prison time. During all of this turmoil his wife stands by him and supports him. The main character cannot understand how his adopted daughter can stay at his side and support him as though it is not disgraceful to himself as well as to her. She finally explains how he is a loving and caring spouse and that just because there is no attraction or physical connection it does not take away from the meaningfulness of their relationship. This story approaches Homosexuality as though it was a sickness to be cured and held to be against the law. The young man cannot change how he feels and everyone except his wife turns away from him for it.
Honoring and trying to understanding the beliefs and customs of the people in our lives and those that we share the world with is a concept that can be learned by reading tales from other cultures.
In Chinua Achebe’s story Dead Man’s Path the audience follows as an aspiring young school master as he endeavors to alter and modernize the school of a small village. After much work has been put into cleaning up the school and making it look the way he and his wife, who firmly believes any and all things modern are better he discovers that many of the villagers are using a worn path that winds through the grounds of the school. He is shocked as he is trying to clean the property up to impress his superiors who are planning a visit soon, so he decides to block off the path. But by obstructing this footpath he is interfering with the villages’ sacred beliefs and therefore brings about the wrath of their gods who destroy the school grounds on the eve of his superiors visit. Resulting in unfavorable reports that he has actually managed to incite a feud with the natives.
Cathrine Lim illuminates the need to respect the old ways In the tale Or Else, the Lightening God that follows a young bride and the conflict she has with her Mother-in-law. They both despise and disrespect each other to the point that they make each other and the one man they have in common miserable. When the Mother-in-Law is evicted from their home she utters a curse on the young woman even though see is carrying her son’s child. Although the young woman holds that she does not believe in the old ways she finds that she does after all and begs to have the curse removed.
Ishiguro, K. (2001). Literature Without Borders. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.
Lao Tzu quotes (Chinese taoist Philosopher, founder of Taoism, wrote “Tao Te Ching” (also “The Book of the Way”).