This could explain why the grandfather waited until his sons were married to obtain a wife. The poem does not say about the grandfather’s previous wife but we can assume that she is deceased as it is considered inappropriate in the culture to divorce one’s wife without good reasons. But there is an old Chinese saying which states that it is alright for a man to have “three wives and four concubines” thus making it possible for an older man, especially if he is rich, to obtain a young girl as a second or third wife.
We are made aware that the grandfather is a well to do man as he could afford handmaids for the grandmother to lean on. The grandmother in this poem is described as a girl, and it appears that she is young and has never been married. One clue that points to this is that the poem states that the grandfather “bought the young face, (with) small knobby breasts. ” The grandfather’s decision to not have children, “he swore he’d not dress (her) in sarong of maternity” bespoke the tyrannical influence a man has over the decision-making process.
This may be due to the fact that having more children after all of one’s children are grown is looked down upon in Chinese culture. This is because it is thought that the duty of continuing the family line is passed on to the man’s children when they are grown. Thus far, we have come to a better understanding of the unhappiness evinced by the grandmother. Relieved of the role to provide continuity to the family name, she is destined for a life of non-fulfillment due to the “barrenness” enforced upon her.
Through the word “bought” and the descriptions in the last stanza, we now see that her husband’s treatment towards her veered on the side of male selfishness. He sees her mainly as a sexual object to satisfy his lust more than anything else. This is in conformation to the notion of eroticism linked to foot binding as well as that women are second-class citizens in the Chinese male-centered society, denied of the opportunity to education and independence, to be bought and sold as servants or consorts.
In addressing foot binding, a bold issue, as for many Chinese people the practice is so linked to sex and sexuality that it makes them uncomfortable to discuss it or talk about it seriously, Shirley Lim has reaches back in time, tracing her roots to ancient China and delving into her childhood experiences growing up in 1940s Malaysia Malacca, to address issues of gender, race and complex relationships. The many cultural references used by the poet in “Ah Mah” reflect a desire on the poet’s part to find a voice for her work and her worth as a woman through a deeper understanding of her cultural background.
Through her poetry, with “Ah Mah” being a notable example, Shirley Lim is searching for an identity for herself as she does not want to be a woman like “my absent mother or silent stepmother, not the punitive nuns or my friends’ mothers, nor the rubber woman my bothers laughed hysterically at, not jealous Mandy or acquiescent Kim. ” This is very important to her as she offered in her memoir, “From Among The White Moon Faces” (1996) : “My name birthed me in a culture so ancient and enduring “I” might as well have not been born.
Instead, “we” were daughters, members of a family that placed its hope in sons. Something condescending and dismissive, careless and anonymous, accented the tones in which we were addressed. … Unnecessary as individuals, girls need concern nobody, unlike sons, especially first sons, on whose goodwill mothers measured their future. ”
Work Cited: Cultural References in “Ah Mah”, http://web2. mgc. peachnet. edu/bayres/Journals/BrainSplash/Brain. html#Shanna Adams One Thousand Years of Chinese Footbinding: Its Origins, Popularity and Demise, http://academic. brooklyn.cuny. edu/core9/phalsall/studpages/vento. html San Tsun Gin Lian, http://www. csuchico. edu/~cheinz/syllabi/asst001/spring99/wise/ Wan Roselezam Wan Yahya, Ph. D. (2001) BBL 3211 Unit 1-4/12 New Literatures in English. University Putra Malaysia:
Selangor Women and Foot Binding in China, http://www-ec. njit. edu/~jkc1763/fb. html Women Writers of Color. http://voices. cla. umn. edu/authors/shirleylim. html Lecturer: Dr. Wan Roselezam Wan Yahya Name: Jagjit Kaur @ Jagajit Subject: New Literatures in English Matrix No. : J06320 Code: BBL 3211 Course: BABE ( Semester 7).