Fish Cheeks: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:03 Synopsis of Fish Cheeks
  • 1:53 Theme Analysis
  • 3:12 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Katherine Garner

Katie teaches middle school English/Language Arts and has a master's degree in Secondary English Education

In this lesson, you will find a summary of Amy Tan's short story 'Fish Cheeks.' You will also become familiar with the common themes of Tan's writing and how they are revealed in the story, as well as what a personal narrative is.

Synopsis of Fish Cheeks

'Fish Cheeks' by Amy Tan is about something that happened when Amy was a teenager. In the story, Amy's mother invites the minister and his family over for Christmas Eve dinner. Amy has a crush on the minister's son, Robert, and she is even more mortified about the idea than a typical teenager might be because of what the family might think about her family's culture.

Amy's family is Chinese, and her mother is planning to cook all of the family's favorite dishes for Christmas Eve dinner: tofu, squid, fish cheeks, and other dishes that Amy is afraid that the minister's family will find strange. She feels that her mother is going out of her way to cook the dishes that will make them seem even stranger and more different. She is also worried about how the behavior and customs of her large extended family will be perceived.

When the guests arrive, Amy is embarrassed by how her relatives eat noisily with chopsticks and reach across the table into different dishes instead of passing them, as the minister's family would expect to do. Her mother proclaims that she made the fish cheeks because they were Amy's favorite. The worst part is when her father belches loudly after the meal, which is considered acceptable and even polite behavior in Chinese culture because it shows appreciation for the meal. Even though her father explains this to their guests, Amy is terribly embarrassed and cannot wait for the evening to be over.

When the guests have left, Amy's mother gives her an early Christmas gift: a skirt in the style that is popular among the other girls at school. Her mother tells her that it is okay to want to fit in with her appearance, but that she should always hold on to her culture. As Amy looks back, she realizes that her mother understood how she felt that night more than she realized. The dishes her mother cooked were actually her favorite, and she appreciates the lesson she learned about being proud of her culture.

Theme Analysis

The tone and themes of this short story have a lot in common with Amy Tan's other writing, including her popular book, The Joy Luck Club. She describes a childhood memory that is both humorous and a very significant moment from her past. Her writing takes the form of a personal narrative, which is a story that is based on a memory or detail from the author's personal life. As an adult looking back, she gains better understanding of how important this event was in shaping her point of view.

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