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Amy Tan and Functionalism

This essay will explore the real life of Amy Tan and the translation of her book The Joy Luck Club as a work and example of functionalism. The research will not only involve information about the characters in relation to functionalism but quotes from her book as they relate to this sociological theory and the influence of Asian culture in The Joy Luck Club. The main development of the essay will be based upon the comparing qualities found in The Joy Luck Club.

This essay will be partly analytical and partly research based in its design. Amy Tan’s work, though broad in theme will usually bear the relationship of the mother-daughter paradigm in the weight of the story incorporating a functionalist theory. Cognitive processes performed by the brain allow for construction of an internal model of reality from the sensory data. This also coincides with consensual reality or perceived reality which is the function of the normal processes of the brain.

Sensory perception is a crux by which cognitive science develops its theories. As such, the mind is in a continuous learning equation. The brain chronically categorizes representations of reality (objects, feelings, events, etc) and learns how to problem solve, and compute these different sensory receptions. This is a self-organizing process by which the mind acts like a computer and stores information from sensory events into a coded mechanism.

Amy Tan writes about the way in which an Asian woman grows up in a Western culture and the effects of this on the mother-daughter relationship (thus expressing two concepts of the structure of functionalism: gender identity in being female and stereotypes in being Asian). Thus, not only is the theme of the familial relationship relevant but also the theme of the first generation Asian American important. Especially in the novel The Joy Luck Club the view of Asian values as they are pitted against Western culture is examined, just as in Amy Tan’s life, such issues were relevant.

Thus, the social institute that is in relevance in Amy Tan’s novel as well as functionalist theory would be the paradigm of culture created by the mothers and how they uphold to their traditional culture values in the rearing of their children (such as playing piano, speaking their native language, and keeping their daughters in constant recognition of their heritage despite their daughters’ protests to become westernized). Thus, the biological need that is functionalist in Tan’s novel is that of the mother’s need to recognize their culture in their daughters which is their collective behavior.

Tan’s novels peak with relevance to the negotiation of the characters toward their assimilation into Western society …Asian American culture emerges out of the contradictions of Asian immigration, which in the last century and a half of Asian entry into the United States have placed Asians within the United States nation-state, its workplaces, and its markets, yet linguistically, culturally and racially marked Asians as foreign and outside the national polity.

Under such contradictions, late nineteenth-century Chinese immigrants labored in mining agriculture, and railroad construction but were excluded from citizenship and political participations in the state…By insisting on Asian American formation as contradictory, and therefore as dialectical and critical…while immigration has been the locus of legal and political restriction of Asians as the other in America, immigration has simultaneously been the site fro the emergence of critical negations of the nation-state for which those legislations are the expression…The national institutionalization of unity becomes the measure of the nation’s condition of heterogeneity.

If the nation proposes American culture as the key site for ht resolution of inequalities and stratifications that cannot be resoled on the political terrain of representative democracy, then that culture performs that reconciliation by naturalizing a universality that exempts the non-American from its history or aestheticizes ethnic differences as if they could be separated form history (Lowe 1996; 11). Asian Americans are prone to negotiation and this interaction between cultures as well as between generations is especially prevalent in The Joy Luck Club. Within the context of Tan’s writing there exist these elements; integration, acceptance, alienation both in terms of culture and through this culture of familial ties.

The ideal behind the immigration to America is extrapolated in The Joy Luck Club as a way of achieving the American dream. The functionalist theory is made up of collective behavior as can be witnessed in the relationships of the mothers and daughters in the book. Although there is bilateral descent among the characters (mainly due to forcing culture upon the daughters, and the nonconformity of the daughters to the desires of the mothers) the novel demonstrates functionalism in the way that this inter-dependent relationship of the mother and daughter plays out such as in some cases they are working together (mainly at the end of the novel when the daughters are older and understand the trials of their mothers in moving from their culture).

This issue is brought subtly to the foreground by way of the parents’ expectations of their children and the children’s noncompliance to these wishes, a sort of shucking off of the parents’ ideal for the children’s own interest, “Although ‘Asian values’ have continued to define the material success of Asian Americans in American culture and society since the 1980’s, these values have equally been deployed to suggest the inability of Asian Americans to embrace the American Dream, a problem that would culminate in the myth of ‘perpetual foreigner. ’…the history of Asians in America can be fully understood only if we regard them as both immigrants and members of nonwhite minority groups precisely because Asian Americans have never been completely absorbed into American society and its body politic” (Shu 2005: 93).

Thus, Tan’s novel, as juxtaposed with functionalist theory emphasize the alienation first generation Asian Americans dealings with as being ostracized from either culture, “Culture is the medium of the present—the imagined equivalences and identifications through which the individual invents lived relationship with the national collective. But it is simultaneously the site that mediates the past, through which history is grasped as difference, as fragments, shocks, and flashes of disjunction. It is through culture that the subject becomes, acts, and speaks itself as American. It is likewise in culture that individuals and collectivities struggle and remember, and in that difficult remembering, imagine and practice both subject and community differently” (Lowe 1996; 10).

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