Rhetorical Analysis Essay

Rhetorical Analysis of Amy Tan’s “Mother Tongue”
My intended audience: My Classmates and Instructor

          Amy Tan is an American author whose literature often explores mother-daughter relationships in a Chinese cultural setting. As a Chinese Immigrant, Tan’s mother had trouble speaking fluent English. In her essay, “Mother Tongue”, Tan writes about how her mother’s “broken” English affected her life. She expresses her views on facing racism and mentions how she handles it. “Mother Tongue” was published for the first time in a literary magazine called “The Threepenny Review,” in 1990. Throughout the essay, Tan argues that a person’s eloquence in English does not determine their intelligence. She uses anecdotes with descriptive language about her and her mother’s experiences with discrimination. She proves her point to the literary experts by establishing credibility (ethos), invoking emotional appeals (pathos), and stating logical facts (logos). 

          Tan writes this personal essay in an informal manner. Despite her English college degree and credentials as a best selling author opens the piece assuring the reader that she is not a scholar in English but simply a writer who loves the language (1). She uses this narrative to ease the reader into her essay and aims to manifest relatability between herself and all the readers. She wants her audience to take her argument seriously and respect her story regardless of her experience with the English language. In a way, her credentials would have overpowered her message in this essay. If she had opened the essay with her accomplishments, then her audience might have taken her argument earnestly for the sake of her achievements, not her story. Thus defeating the purpose of this essay, reminding that people deserve respect despite their proficiency in English.

          As an immigrant child, Tan examines the various forms of English she uses and how they change depending on her environment. She realized her switch in Englishes during one of her book talks where she used perfect English. She had said, “The intersection of memory upon imagination,”  which she realized differed from her other English. She uses a more comfortable form of English around her family where she uses phrases like “Not waste money that way” (1). By addressing this circumstance, she is highlighting the effect her native language has had on the English that she speaks around her family. This scenario is common within a lot of immigrant children. They switch between the English that they speak with their family which is influenced by their native languages and the standard English they use to speak in public places. 

          Tan uses compelling pathos to allure the audience to her argument. Usage of words like “broken” or “fractured” to describe her mother’s English deeply bothers the writer because she believes that it limits people’s perceptions of her mother. Tan asserts, “You should know that my mother ‘s expressive command of English belies how much she actually understands.” (1) The writer reveals that her mother’s day to day activities include reading the Forbes report and listening to the Wall Street Week to illustrate that her mother had a high knowledge capacity even though she spoke “improper” English. Throughout her childhood, Tan had to assist her mom in public places with her English skills. She had to pretend to be her mom on phone calls so that her mother receives the services she needs. Tan includes one instance where her mother visited the hospital to retrieve her CAT scan. The hospital claimed to have lost her CAT scan and informed her to make another appointment. They simply dismissed her despite her concerns that she had lost her husband and son due to brain tumors. They refused to hear her out until the hospital made a call to Tan. The writer explained her mother’s issue in “perfect” English and then they immediately addressed the issue and apologized to her mother (2). This respect was not something Tan’s mother was afforded with her “broken” English. Tan displays anger and disconcert which indicates her passion about this issue. Her strong emotional language allures the readers into her shoes and gives them a glimpse of the discrimination she faced. This not only makes the audience sympathize with the author and her mother but also prompts them to do something about the prejudice the immigrants face in this country.

           Tan uses logical reasoning to further prove her point. She discusses the statistics that show that a large number of Chinese students go into the Engineering field (3). She reveals the reasoning behind the issue is because many teachers steer away their Asian American students from Creative Writing due to their “broken” English spoken at home. These students are instead pushed towards Math and Science‒which is what happened to her. By saying this, she intends for the audience to reflect on their actions as educators and if they exhibited similar actions, consciously or unconsciously. Despite the opposing influence from her high school teachers, Tan was determined to be a writer and she graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in English. Even though she was well certified in English, she felt like she had to show her qualification by using complex sentences such as “That was my mental quandary in its nascent state,” (3) in her writing. Tan addresses this issue to spotlight the Asian Americans who do end up choosing careers in creative writing, who have to constantly prove their English skills, as if they are making up for speaking “broken” English. 

          Tan bases this essay solely on her experience and does not cater to other perspectives because her story parallels the stories of a lot of immigrant children who grow up in similar circumstances. The intended audience of this piece is composed of people who are educators in English literature and experts in English linguistics. That is why Tan uses her argument to convey the message that discrimination based on a person’s literary skills is improper and distasteful. She uses this essay to highlight the effects teachers have on their students and why they have to be considerate of their influences. Teachers should be welcoming of all students and the different Englishes they speak so that they understand from a young age that a person’s eloquence in English does not make them worthy of respect. 

          Throughout the essay, Tan uses credibility, emotional appeals, and logical facts to enforce her argument that people’s intelligence levels do not depend on their proficiency in English. In the end, she circles back to her roots. She knew she had succeeded when her mother finished reading her book and her mother gave her the verdict, “So easy to read.” (4) Tan expresses that at the end of the day, it does not matter what the society’s standards for English are as long as people who speak a different English, people like her mother, are able to enjoy her books. She learns to appreciate her mother’s English, the same English she once tried to denounce, in order to find solace in it and in herself.

Works Cited

Tan, Amy. “Mother Tongue.” Dreams and Inward Journeys: A Rhetoric and Reader for Writers, edited by Marjorie Ford and Jon Ford, New York: Longman-Pearson , 2010, pp. 34–44.