English 1320, Section 6
April 14, 2014
Long ago, women were considered to be only housewives and male’s inferior. Through shifting culture and brave activists such as Susan B. Anthony, we have prevailed through gender discrimination and earned our right in the world. As society continues to change, the roles of women will vary greatly from previous generations because of their desire to live free of constricting traditions and stereotypes.
Cathy Song’s poem “The Youngest Daughter” explores the difficult relationship between mother and daughter. Song begins with describing the anguish of the daughter. The first two stanzas suggest the daughter has been sad for many years. She suffers from chronic migraines due to stress (12-13) and she notices that her body is succumbing to age (3-7). On this day, the daughter has to bathe her sick mother (26-29), who tries to make the awkward situation more tolerable by talking about her breasts (21-22). Later in the evening, the mother makes tea and rice while they sit in silence. The daughter longs to escape (45).The mother knows her daughter longs for independence, but she needs the daughter to care for her.
Writer Jason Phillip notes that, “in traditional Asian families, it is customary for the unmarried daughter to remain with the parents and care for them as they age” (1). In many cases, this will be the youngest child’s responsibility because of her age. However the daughter’s bitterness comes through her frail appearance and the rituals she performs each day. This is also shown by how she refers to her mom as “mother” (13) instead of using an affectionate name such as “mama” or “ma”.
Moreover, there are Asian connotations throughout the piece. From the ingredients of the women’s meal: tea, rice, gingered fish, and pickled turnip (39-41) to the cranes flying outside the window (49-50). The symbolism behind the cranes can take on several meanings— either the daughter’s longing to take flight from the straining relationship, or hoping for the mother’s healing, or her impeding death to finally free the daughter.
Stylistically, the narrator uses basic, straightforward language to relate to her audience. Although she uses simplistic diction, the poem has a deeper meaning. Written in free verse, it uses vivid imagery (12-16), metaphors (42), and similes (3-4) to show the debilitation of aging and the sacrifices of obligation.
In “Breaking Tradition”, the mother-daughter relationship progresses over three generations of very different women. The mother is reflecting over her life, comparing her experience to her daughter’s. Lois Tyson claims, “The speaker’s mother taught her to repress and deny her feelings, desires, and painful memories; to never show defiance or passion, and to limit herself to a confining world of housekeeping and childrearing” (109). The speaker, now a mother to a teenaged girl, is resentful of the grandma because she is unable to connect with her daughter.
Similar to the speaker, her daughter wants to be independent and live freely. Unlike her mother who tried and failed, the daughter actually broke tradition. The daughter listens to music (41, 43), talks on the telephone (41), and wears whatever she wants (44). The mother struggles between her mixed emotions of happiness and jealousy over the daughter’s new-found independence. “I do not know the contents of her room” (45) suggests a disconnection between the mother and her child, possibly because the child did the one thing that the mother and grandma could never do.
However, the mother wants the daughter to know they are more similar than she thinks. They both endure the physical concerns of “small breasts” (9), “cellulite” (9), and stereotypes against women (12-15). The speaker denies she is like her mother, who gave into society’s expectations and handled every situation