Mr. Lo in Timothy Mo's Sour Sweet

Sinan AKILLI, M.A., Hacettepe University, Turkey.

[Part 4 of "Culture of Balance and Balance of Cultures: A Gendered Approach to Cross-Cultural Adaptation Process in Timothy Mo's Sour Sweet. Note: In-text citations refer to the bibliography, which opens in a separate window.]

A second male Chinese character in Sour Sweet is Chen's friend Mr. Lo. Since Mr. Lo is a minor character in the novel, but one aspect of his depiction as a Chinese man in Britain is worth consideration, -- his isolation from mainstream society because he interacts only with his own ethnic community and culture. As is explained in the novel, Mr. Lo is a lonely man who has been deserted by his wife a long time ago. Therefore, he is depicted as an encapsulated figure who is "quiet, withdrawn to the point of moodiness" (28), and as a Chinese immigrant who is trying to survive alone in a different country and culture. As a matter of fact, Lo's isolation might be considered as an indication of his being in the "crises phase" (Winkelman 123) of the cross-cultural adaptation process all through the novel. It is possible to support this argument with specific examples from the novel.

Just like Chen, Lo is quite reluctant to mix with the white British community. Thus, his social life is also limited with his own ethno-cultural milieu, to be specific Hong Kong movies. In this regard, the point made by Parker (149-151) concerning the role of Hong Kong popular culture as a bridge to the culture of origin counts for Lo, too. Lo first appears in the novel when he is terribly ill and visited by Chen's wife Lily, who takes him some food and Hong Kong newspapers. Apart from the Hong Kong newspapers which refer to Lo's cultural encapsulation, his room is also very expressive of his lonely and secluded life:

Lo's room contained his iron bed and one chair, over which he had thrown his black trousers and a shirt. In a corner of the floor was a gas ring, a kettle and single glass. There was neither a carpet on the plank floor nor a vase into which Lily might put her snapped and bent chrysanthemums. (46)

Lo next appears in the novel on Chinese New Year's Day when he visits the Chens in their home and gives them little presents, which is again a Chinese cultural practice. After that visit, however, Lo is absent in the novel for quite a long while. This long absence may also be read as an implication of Lo's isolated state and of his non-existence as an integrated personality.

Nevertheless, his last appearance towards the end is completely surprising since he appears as the husband of Mui, Lily's sister. Although the unexpected marriage between Mr. Lo and Mui, who is the mother of an illegitimate daughter, may be considered as a technical shortcoming of Sour Sweet , the event is significant in terms of its reflecting the relative change in Lo's attitude toward British social values. To put it differently, Lo's acceptance of Mui as a wife may be seen as an indication of his gradual coming to terms with the socio-cultural values of Britain. Normally, as a traditional Chinese man he would not even think of marrying the mother of an illegitimate child. Yet, as Lo gradually comes to acknowledge the fact that he cannot survive alone, he begins to adjust to the socio-cultural environment by the help of a female companion. In other words, Mr. Lo's setting up his own house and business with Mui supports the argument that the adjustment of a male character is possible only by means of a female. Lo's case, again, may be considered as an example of the argument that male immigrants adjust and adapt to the new cultural soil less easily than their female counterparts and that they take longer to do so.

Other parts of this essay

United Kingdom Overview Mo's Sour Sweet

Last modified 15 May 2003