Culture of Balance and Balance of Cultures: A Gendered Approach to Cross-Cultural Adaptation Process in Timothy Mo's Sour Sweet

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

[Part 7 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.]

The last female Chinese character in Sour Sweet to be analysed is Mrs. Law, the widow of a rich Chinese ship owner. It is explained in the novel that after the death of her husband, "bored and unhappy in Hong Kong, Mrs. Law...emigrated [to start] a new life in England at the age of fifty-five" (43). Despite the fact that Mrs. Law is a minor character in the novel, and that her psychological depiction does not have much depth, there are many implications that she has adjusted well to British cultural values and patterns. In analysing Mrs. Law within the framework of cross-cultural adaptation one may focus on two significant points. Firstly, there is her age, which according to the general pattern should be a hindrance for her adaptation, and secondly, there is her attitude in the face of Mui's giving birth to an illegitimate child.

To begin with the influence of the age factor as a determinant in immigrant adaptation, one may again refer to the data provided by Montgomery, who states that the older the age of the immigrant the lower his or her level of adaptation (684). In Mrs. Law's case, however, this data appears to some extent invalid, for Mrs. Law never appears as an isolated, disturbed character encountering cultural crisis. Therefore, she may be considered as an adjusted figure. Perhaps, this discrepancy between the general pattern concerning the influence of age as a factor in adaptation process and Mrs. Law's case may be explained by the simultaneous interaction of age and gender. In other words, her female identity seems to make up for a great deal of the disadvantage that would be faced during adaptation due to the effect of old age. This argument may also be supported by a comparison between the situations of well-adjusted old Mrs. Law and isolated Grandpa Chen, who is also old but male.

Mrs. Law's attitude to Mui's illegitimate child also differs from traditional Chinese cultural values. When Mui's secret is revealed, even her own sister Lily cannot accept the truth and blames her sister for ruining their honour and respectability as a family. Let alone giving birth to an illegitimate child, Mui's having a relationship with a white man is a big shame in itself. Hence, in order to prevent Chen from learning the situation and to escape his possible over-reaction, Lily asks Mui to leave the house. Under these circumstances Mrs. Law proves to be the only one who approaches the case with tolerance and understanding by taking Mui to her own house during her pregnancy and even after the birth of the child. What is significant about Mrs. Law's attitude is her awareness of and tolerance towards the fact that in Britain young women may live as single parents without being criticised or looked down upon by the society. Hence, Mrs. Law appears to be a successful female immigrant who has been adjusted to the socio-cultural environment of Britain, which is the final step before her complete cultural transplantation into the host society.

The conclusion to be made from this in-depth analysis of Timothy Mo's Sour Sweet is that unlike the major and minor male characters, who fail in transplanting themselves into the socio-cultural environment of English society through a successful adaptation, both major and minor female characters in the novel, namely Lily, Mui and Mrs. Law, can, through different means and experiences of adjustment and adaptation, to arrive at a stage where their Chinese cultural identities are fused in a reasonable proportion with the cultural patterns with the host society. Thus, Lily, Mui and Mrs. Law successfully transplant themselves into the multicultural society of Britain, which is implied in the novel by the reference to the "two cells, sharing the same territory, happily co-existing but quite autonomous" (277). All of these female characters reach this stage by creating for themselves bicultural and hybridised identities and a balanced and stabilise!d existence in the host society.

Another conclusion that may be reached about Sour Sweet as a novel of cultural transplantation is that the adaptation of characters and the reconciliation of two cultural spheres are governed and made possible by a philosophy that originates in the culture of origin of the Chinese immigrant subjects -- the ancient Chinese philosophy of the balance and reconciliation between two opposites that is implied by the title of the novel. This sense of duality dominates the novel, and eventually, at the end of the novel a unity out of duality is achieved by the establishment of a balance between yin and yang, "male" and "female," "sour" and "sweet," and Chineseness and Britishness.

Finally, the objective narration of this Chinese immigrant experience in Britain seems to support the argument that female immigrants complete the cross-cultural adaptation process more easily than male immigrants. Keeping in mind the fact that the author of the novel is a man, one may be forced to think the reasons behind the female-oriented atmosphere of the novel. Although Timothy Mo's gender identity is expected to have influenced his third-person narration of Chens' experience and to have brought the male psyche to the foreground, the novel proves the opposite of such an attitude. To put it differently, Mo's third-person narrator is extraordinarily successful in keeping objectivity and in identifying with characters no matter what the gender identity of the character in question is. Then, with respect to the existence of such an objectivity in the novel, which is also reminiscent of Mo's realistic style, one may put that the comparative success of the female immigrant characters in Sour Sweet in transplanting themselves into the cultural soil of Britain is so certain that it even controls the attitude of the narrator and remains untouched by the possible influence of the gender identity of the author.

Other parts of this study

United Kingdom Overview Mo's Sour Sweet

Last modified 15 May 2003