Cultural Symbolism In Madeleine Thien's Simple Recipes

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Madeleine Thien’s “Simple Recipes” is not mainly about the father cooking food and his treatment towards his son, instead, the author uses food to symbolize the struggles her immigrated family experienced in Canada. While it is possible to only look at the narratives that food symbolizes, the idea is fully expressed when the father is compared with the food. The theme of food and the recipes are able to convey the overall troubles the narrator’s family encountered. Although, food is usually a fulfilling necessity in life, however, Thien uses food to illustrate the struggle, tensions, and downfall of the family. Yet, each food does represent different themes, but the food, fish, is the most intriguing because of the different environment it …show more content…

The four different environments are: “[the] plastic bag filled with water” (339), the sink, the wok, and the dining table. In addition, the different environment and the time before it was placed onto the dinner table signify the tension built within the family. When the fish was in the plastic bag and the sink, it implies the trapped Malaysian culture within the family. The narrator was able to see and touch the fish’s “gills and the soft muscled body” (339), indicating that she’s able to feel her cultural roots. When the fish was placed in the sink full of water, it fish hopelessly tries to survive. Similar to the father, he tries to pass on the culture hoping it could survive within the family. Sadly, the culture “[was] slowly dying” (341) in the sink. When the fish was being cooked in the wok, it is described as “tires on gravel, a sound so loud it drowns all other noises” (342). The noise level hints a tense argument that has been built up within the family for years. As such, when the fish is served, the tension and dissatisfaction between the son and father imploded; hence, the father acted violently towards his son for being “ungrateful” (344). The cooked fish signifies the death of the Malay culture within the family. However, the father didn’t give up. In the future, the narrator moved to an apartment, where she was …show more content…

Like the narrator’s father, he notices the family’s cultural identity is slowly dying. His wife, a native Malaysian, is adopting a new identity as a “sales clerk at [Woodworks]” (340) in Canada. In marriage, a couple is supposed to share the responsibility to raise their children and support each other. However, she may have given up on the teaching responsibility from the moment the language “never came easily to [the daughter]” (340). Ultimately, the father is solely responsible handing down his family’s cultural and social roots to his children. The father tried to teach his daughter the culture through rice cooking, but she fails to replicate the method; whereas the brother avoids the cultural lessons by integrating himself into the local culture. This heavily suggests the brother rejects speaking the language and the culture, compared to the daily exposure of the Canadian culture and speaking English. The story “Simple Recipes” masks itself as a family having internal conflicts on the dinner table. While analyzing the story, it suggests the difficulty of integrating the local and origin culture in multicultural immigrant families. By evaluating the fish’s importance in the story, it showed a clear representation of the Malay culture’s struggle for survival. The actions of the father acted as a doctor trying to save and revive the culture, despite

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