Literacy and Language Offer Meaning to the Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Literacy and language offer meaning to the world through communication and symbolism. Yet, each individual is limited by his or her own history and perspective. The world that surrounds the individual is that which is made up of each poignant message they have heard before. Poignant does not necessarily have to be "important" by general standards. It simply has to be something that is memorable for the individual. Within Maxine Hong Kingston's work Silence is a demonstration of many significant ways of how preconceived notions based on history and culture effect the ways in which an individual perceives what is and what is not important. Kingston builds imagery around her experiences in her two very different schools and the experience within each, as she sees it today created her response to it and therefore her development of understanding.

Though the work also represents a backward glance, as most biographies do, meaning it is a representation of understanding that may not have been clear in a child's brain. It is an adult looking back into her history and trying to give meaning to occurrences and situations, which at the time might have made no particular sense to the child living them. The symbolism of the events and understandings are enlightening or poignant to the woman who is remembering them and reflect the ways in which she begins to understand just how she came to be and understand her world and herself.

Much of the work is a comparison between Kingston's American school and her Chinese school. She gives hints of how misunderstood and stifled she feels in the American School while she feels free and alive in her Chinese school. In American school she was expected to be quite and so she simply did not speak at all. It was for this reason that she was even more misunderstood. She tried to explain herself but could not find her voice. "When I went to kindergarten and had to speak English for the first time, I became silent. A dumbness- -- a shame- -- still cracks my voice in two ... During the first silent year I spoke to no one at school, did not ask before going to the lavatory, and flunked kindergarten." (252-253) In contrast within her Chinese school individualism was rare the children were expected to perform together and if alone in private within only the earshot of the teacher. At Chinese School this difference and the understanding of cultural similarities made Kingston find her voice.

There we chanted together, voices rising and falling, loud and soft, some boys shouting, everybody reading together and not alone with one voice ... Most of the teachers where men. The boys who were so well behaved at American school played tricks on them and talked back to them. The girls where not mute. They screamed and yelled during recess, when there were no rules; they had fistfights. Nobody was afraid of the children hurting themselves or of children hurting school property. (254)

Kingston recognized differences in the way that culture played a role in the meaning and importance of words, or she did as she looked back upon her confusion, as a child. She speaks of her inability to understand the words "I" and "you." Culturally the importance of "I" was different, the Chinese character for "I" was much more complicated while this single letter word seemed to mean so much to the American's that it was to be boldly written in capital. To Kingston this was a contradiction a poignant misrepresentation of the individual.

How could the American "I," assuredly wearing a hat like the Chinese, have only three strokes, the middle so straight. Was it out of politeness that this writer left…

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