Perhaps everybody has experienced some form of pressure, such as exertive social pressure from close friends or set social values. It seems beneficial to strive to fit in the conservative social setting rather than stand out. In “Alone” by Yiyun Li and “Sweetheart sorrow” by David Hoon Kim, highlight the cultural tension, the identity struggle of two Asian women, Suchen and Fumiko. Their struggle to move past the conservative expectation of the society. These are also the issues of modern Asian women, as well as many young students, face on a daily basis. The discrimination and isolation due to unmet expectation cloud and hinder full exploitation and enjoyment of their lives. Fumiko and Suchen both portrays the struggles of the Asia women in the dynamic and globalized world, as well as their life experiences as they battle cultural elements in their lives. Both the characters emphasize on the theme of isolation, the impact of inability to break from experiences and discrimination. Thus, establishing the need for retrenchment of retrogressive social values and expectations as well the importance of proper decision making in life.
The pressure from the society lead the two women into suicidal thoughts. Fumiko commits suicide much earlier in the story while Suchen and five other girls try to commit suicide by boat capsize as a way of leaving behind the high expectations from their society. These expectations form inner demons haunted Fumiko and Suchen throughout their life. Suchen inability to fit into the conversation in the restaurant, “Suchen wonders what it would be like to be understood without having to speak, the comfort of silence without the threat of misunderstanding or estrangement” (Li, 1), shows her identity struggle as everyone is expected to fit into the society without necessary being unique and standing out.
The high cultural expectations lead to nervous breakdown on Fumiko. She chooses death to avoid being taunted and haunted by those expectation. Despite the failed Suchen suicidal attempt. The act of surviving but losing her friends form a permanent source of distress making her a prisoner of her own memory “yet their absence, the girls had made themselves more present” (li, 5). Her mother’s efforts to relocate the family to another province were fruitless. She was intended to offer a fresh beginning for the family with the incident never to be mentioned in the new home. However, these efforts were in vain as Suchen was held captive by the memories of her deceased friends. Suchen daily life events were interpreted in reference with the incident that grew more vivid with time “she had never guessed the meaning of Meimei’s wave that she would never know if Meimei had been beckoning her to come along on a joyous journey or begging her, the last one afloat, to save her?” (Li, 7).
The discrimination resulting from their flawed lives result in the desire for relocation and new beginnings. Fumiko parent makes valiant efforts to help their daughter escape the elements that remind her of her Japanese background. Phillipe observation and confession to Blatand “Your girlfriend came to France as a cure (Kim).” is supported by Fumiko’s decision to come to France despite her limited knowledge of the French language and resulting cultural and linguistic barriers.
The inability to break free from their past lives elements ruined their present and future life prospects. The two women are held back by their element from progressing in life. Despite being in a loving and supportive relationship with their significant other, the women fear the impact of sharing their secrets and disappointment. Therefore, they desire obscurity in life rather than trust beyond their levels of the comfort zone. It’s therefore easier to share with strangers such as the researcher Philippe and the divorced man as they would understand without judging. Fumiko is self-indulged in her miseries to the extent she fails to see the pure and accepting nature of Blatand.
Blatand, who seems to float in the cloud of love throughout the storyline is not only shocked to find out she was dead for weeks but her behavior during this period indicate a caring man who is open to doing everything to restore Fumiko to a better state of mind and body. He is obsessed with her but respects her solitude decision lock herself while frequently checking on her. More so in “Alone”, Lei makes effort to stick with his wife for 16 years even despite her damaging attachment to the boat capsize boat incident. Through his frequent to reintegrate her into the society. The only possible explanation as to why he would consent tot eh relationship for that long is love. However, the women possessiveness and inability to break away from the elements refrain. The elements resulted in an isolation and limitation of socializing and open to opportunities that life offered to them. Fumiko encounter with Blatant whom she mistakes for being Japanese rekindle the elements that she sort to run away from. The intense relationship with blatant was noxious and toxic as it leads to her eventual premature demise. Blatand presence was too overwhelming, facilitating her unfeigned love for him but triggering the detrimental journey that made her choose death.
Suchen was reluctant to live an ordinary life due to her past experiences. “Lei had insisted that a new life in a new country—marriage, friendship, children—would save her from her despair.” This leads to misunderstanding in the family marriage of sixteen years and resulted in divorce filling by her husband, a request she agreed and mailed the divorce papers immediately. As lei puts it she lacked the faith or interest in marital life due to her devotion to the deceased friends thus making it impractical to build and commit to any other form of relationship.
The theme isolation is further emphasized by the main character inability to confess and confides their inner demons and fear to their close one and significant persons in their lives. Suchen shows her inability to confide to her family, reported as well as her husband of 15 years about the true vents of their ordeal. Overwhelming she confides through her narration to Walter the stranger divorcee, whom she met on the restaurant her fear and haunting story that has haunted her life since the boat capsizing incident.
Fumiko unravels to Philippe a young student researcher of her condition and details he was unable to confide to Blatand who was much closer to her that the stranger researcher. It seems the desire to be understood without the stigmatization and guilty resulting from the judgment was the driving force in both situations. The inability to overcome the discrimination forced in their earlier life experiences made it hard for the individuals to face their significant others with the trust of a different outcome if they tell their life stories. Despite Suchen admission “the man whom his life with her deserved more than a lie more than silence”, she probably was convinced her husband wont view her the same after such confessions.
The analysis of the above literature reveals the impact of past life experiences on young people especially the young women. The background details of the key characters reveal the struggles faced by the restriction of the community elements. In addition, it acts as a revelation to the need for stringent social support systems. It is clear that the plan to let Fumiko seek her own path with only monetary and no social support was unsuccessful. It critical to ask whether the two character Fumiko and Suchen would have reacted differently had the society treated them differently.
The journey of Endurance ended differently for the two ladies. Unable to avoid her element, Fumiko sort to end her life setting her free from the haunting struggle while Suchen choice of freedom from the elements through living did not bring her inner peace. The inability for the two women to seek freedom from their elements highlights the impact of negative cultural values and expectation deeply entrenched in the society. More importantly, it’s key to note their reaction to the situation. Despite being faced with almost similar plagues, the two women reach differently, one chooses to end life while their other one ironically chooses to embrace the challenges though lives life like she was dead.
Li, Y. (2009, June). Alone. The New Yorker. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/11/16/alone-8
Kim, D. (2007). Sweetheart Sorrow. The New Yorker. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2007/06/11/sweetheart-sorrow
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