Jun 25, 2019 in Literature

Representation of Universal Emotions and Experiences

Emotions and their manifestation have been a subject of anthropological, physiological, and sociological research since Darwin made a rather controversial statement that emotions as well as their expression are universal for all human beings and animals. The statement raised various discussions on the nature of emotions and cultural dependence of their perception and expression. Further studies provided evidence to support the first part of the statement – a theory that emotions are experienced and recognized by all human beings. However, it was proven that the expression of one and the same emotion and its evaluation are not the same for all people and are based on cultural differences. The so-called unwritten codes, or unspoken display rules, understood by all members of a certain society teach them how to perceive and evaluate different emotions, how they are expressed, and if they are expressed at all within the society. Not only expression but also perception of emotions tends to differ in Eastern and Western cultures. The reason for this lies in the fact that while the majority of nations in the East are believed to be collectivist, Western societies have developed quite an individualistic approach to life. These differences stem from the relations between a person and the society he or she lives in as well as the attitude towards the society and its members, which are notably different in these cultures. Eastern nations are also prone to following old traditions. By contrast, the Western world prides itself on introducing new technologies, embracing up-to-date currents in everything and merging different traditions. Despite cultural differences in the West, a lot of people migrate from Eastern countries to more developed Western ones. Migration produces a notable effect on the ways in which younger generations of immigrants perceive and express emotions as two cultures merge and turn into something different.


The regulation of emotions is also believed to be culturally dependent. For example, while American individuals are encouraged to express their emotions and show initiative, and the opposite is considered insincere and impolite, if not unhealthy, the Asians tend to suppress their feelings as it is rude and inappropriate to show them. While Americans encourage and praise their children when they succeed in something, Japanese and Chinese parents attach greater importance to discipline and try to maintain it from the very childhood. In this respect, Chinese children are taught discipline so that they would be ready to work in close collaboration with other people within the society. That is a crucial skill to enable them to live in the society and meet its needs. Americans, in their turn, are encouraged to do things they enjoy and succeed in doing so that in the future they could become professionals in that certain area of study. Eastern nations tend to associate their own emotions with those of their folk group; Western individuals, on the contrary, are more likely to mind only their own business.

As the books in question show, immigrants respond differently to American culture. The authors of the stories emphasize the fact that at some point their characters feel out of place and regret about leaving their homeland. In “Children as Enemies,” it is proven by the fact that grandparents are too old to be able to adopt different culture as their own. The characters also admit that they are incapable of adjusting to new cultural conditions. “At this time it’s hard to adjust to life here” (Jin), the main character admits. To my mind, grandparents feel abandoned and betrayed when they see their children and grandchildren accept this new culture and abide by its laws. Therefore, they are angry at them and disappointed in them for reasons that are unclear to their grandchildren, who already have American minds and fail to understand the way their grandparents think and perceive the world. The author fills the story with piercing bitterness and resentment of people who have been deprived of their homes and thrown into this new world with its own traditions and values that they are unable to adopt. In doing so, he underlines an idea that the cultural gap between Asian and American cultures is so vast that it is practically impossible for elderly immigrants to adjust to it. It seems that it takes only one generation for one culture to take over the other one: grandchildren are already American, and all they want to be is American because they see no Chinese culture around them. It is important for young immigrants to feel that they belong to the place they live in. They no longer want to understand or accept their native culture as everything it may bring them in America is rejection, misunderstanding and alienation.

People who immigrate on their own accord are still bearers of traditions and culture of their homeland and act the same way as they would act in their native country. In The Namesake, the author stresses that Ashima and Ashoke Ganguli preserve Indian attitude to life and emotions. This is shown through characters’ reaction to various situations. They have different attitude to names (Lahiri 25), cooking and eating, marriage and behavior. To feel less lonely in America, where no one understands the way they think, they stick to other Bengali families. Through Ashima and Ashoke’s relationship the author shows the difference between Indian and American approach to expressing emotions such as affection within the family. When other men wait for their wives with flowers, cigars and champagne, Ashoke remains indifferent: “he neither smokes nor drinks alcohol of any kind” and “it has never occurred to him to buy his wife flowers” (Lahiri 12). This fact, however, was hardly used to imply that relationships between Ashima and her husband were colder than those of American couples. The author underlines differences between the cultures, stresses that Indians are unlikely to reveal their emotions and feelings, especially in public. When it comes to marriage, Ashima and Ashoke, like other Indian families, fall in love with each other through trust, respect, and mutual help. To my mind, the fact that they refuse to express their feelings like Lydia and Gerald, the parents of Gogol’s American girlfriend, certainly does not mean that there are no feelings between them. The scenes where Ashima expresses grief und suffering that she can no longer suppress when her husband dies are much more convincing in demonstrating her feelings than all presents and public kisses so generously expressed by Maxine’s parents. There were joys and grieves, laughter and tears, births and deaths that they experienced together.

Although Asian newcomers try to adapt to the American culture as much as they can afford without abandoning their own customs, they cannot perceive the world the same way as Americans do. Their views on different things remain unchanged throughout their lives and will always make them foreigners. Still, this fact does not seem to bother them. They respect their own culture and are not embarrassed at it. The same can hardly be said about the parents in “Children as Enemies.” The authors of both novels show that it seems important where the parents of this generation live. If they remain in their homeland, children tend to preserve traditional attitude towards them. However, if they come to America trying to assimilate, as in “Children as Enemies,” they are regarded as trespassers and intruders by their own children. To my mind, the reason for this is that younger generations are still able to adapt to another culture and cannot cope with the fact that their parents are not capable of it.

The generation of American-born children starts to think like Americans and perceive and express emotions in an American way. These children no longer feel connected to the culture of their parents’ homeland. They are embarrassed at their roots, and, as the authors stress, any mention of them touches them on the raw, unlike their parents. The author shows that they do things that their parents would never consider as something possible and appropriate to do. Still, children are well aware of the differences that exist between them and their local friends; and their thoughts reveal that despite having developed this American way of thinking, they still feel foreign.

The main difference between these two generations of immigrants is that the parents have a home to cling to, still remembered home they can always go back to, whereas their children no longer consider their parents’ home to be their own. Children constantly compare their families to those of their friends, which always leads to scandals, tears and a desire to change their name to blend into the new surrounding and be like others. In The Namesake, the author shows (on Gogol’s example) that such comparisons leave children frustrated and angry at their parents. “He feels angry at his parents then, wishing them to be otherwise” (Lahiri 139). To my mind, children feel that it is their parents’ being so different that makes them foreign to this world in spite of all their attempts to fit in. In “Children as Enemies,” children are too young to understand true reasons for their loneliness in the new society, so they disrespect their grandparents, trying to pretend they are not connected to them. Gogol, however, already realizes that he is an outcast within his own folk group, and all his efforts to fit into the American society are also fruitless.

According to both authors, most children of Asian immigrants show little respect and admiration for their culture and do not associate themselves with it. Their parents try to bring them up in a traditional way. However, they are less strict than their own parents, probably due to understanding that the society is too different. Children are mostly brought up in the streets by their American friends and at local schools. As it can be judged from their words and thoughts, children feel no guilt or regret because the culture of their parents seems different from their own, contradicts the lives they want to lead or are supposed to lead in America. Therefore, they abandon their culture. The vivid example is outlined by the author in parents in “Children as Enemies.” Another bright example is Gogol’s wife, Moushumi, who tried to run away from her roots as far as possible; her actions show that she was resisting her native culture as hard as she could. Moreover, she was frightened of doing what was expected of her, she “began to fear that she was retreating into her former self, before Paris – untouched, bookish, alone” (Lahiri 249). To my mind, the force that made Moushumi keep running from her own culture for all these years was fear. She saw her parents deprived of their homes and families and their struggle to find their way in this new land. She wanted to feel independent. And still, some part of her soul longed for understanding and familiarity, which she found in Gogol. Yet it would have been a fiasco of the self she created and named the new, American, Moushumi to accept it. The author shows that Gogol seemed to behave in a similar way. The same behavior can also be observed in the characters of “Children as Enemies,” except for the grandparents. This fear is not exceptional; it is probably typical of all immigrants – a fear of being deprived of home, shelter and last refuge. This idea is vividly expressed in the novels when someone distinguishes a character from the rest of the American public (trying to mock a name or a tradition, for instance), reminding them that they, in fact, have no home left. In such cases, characters of the novels feel put off, rejected and offended.

To sum up everything written about the emotions and their expression in the novels in question, it should be mentioned that the examples provided by the authors have proven that the expression of emotions is indeed culturally dependent. While the older generation still preserves their native and traditional way of perceiving and expressing feelings, the younger generation already adapts to the American way of life. Through their characters the authors show that it is important for immigrants not to lose their identity and forget their culture for they will always remain the children of their native country and bear some of its specific views and traditions. Thus, there is nothing for them to be ashamed of because that is their true self that should not be neglected.


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