The Hundred Secret Senses: A Literary Analysis

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Amy Tan 's third novel, The Hundred Secret Senses and her next work, The Bonesetter 's Daughter, also weave mysterious ghost stories with women 's life experiences. In both novels, ghosts represent the haunting past and the cultural memory of the immigrant sisters and mothers, waiting to be remembered and then exorcised. The Hundred Secret Senses starts with the claim that "My sister Kwan believes she has yin eyes" (3), a key sentence of this novel. The narrator Olivia, is half Chinese and half Caucasian. Kwan, her half sister from China, talks about ghosts all the time, especially the story of the loyal maid, the warlord, and the unfortunate lovers, Miss Banner and half-breed Johnson. According to the Olivia, Kwan thinks Olivia is actually…show more content…
For instance, after seven-year- old Olivia told her mother about Kwan 's seeing the ghosts, Kwan was sent to the mental hospital. The doctors diagnosed her Chinese ghosts as the sign of a serious mental disorder and gave her electroshock treatments. She is later released but asserts, "They do this to me, hah, still I don 't change. See? I stay strong" (15). In order to consolidate its supreme authority, the dominant discourse may suppress different values or ways of thinking. But her ghost story is like inerasable cultural memory that needs retelling and recollecting. Kathleen Brogan rightly observes that "Ghosts in contemporary American ethnic literature function similarly: to recreate ethnic identity through an imaginative recuperation of the past and to press this new version of the past into the service of the present" (4). Brogan further points out that "through acts of narrative revision-which are very often presented as acts of translation, linguistic or cultural-the cycle of doom is broken and the past digested" (11). It is through Kwan 's translation that the past finds its link to the present, the Chinese life to the American life and, finally, the hundred senses reveal the secret. Playing the role of surrogate mother, Kwan looks after her half sister, Olivia, and at the same time learns to speak…show more content…
These ghosts seem harmless and eager to communicate. Tan brings out the mysterious and spiritual aspects of life in her writing according to her own interests. Avoiding the trap of self-orientalizing, and the inscrutable, mystical Chinese stereotype, Tan creates an episode which shows that Simon believes in the appearance of the ghost of his former girlfriend, Elza. It provides a good example of how to break the binary opposition of the superstitious Chinese and the rational American. Kwan explains to Olivia that she can communicate with the dead because she uses her hundred secret senses, "secret sense not really secret. We just call secret because everyone has, only forgotten.... Memory, seeing, hearing, feeling, all come together, then you know something true in you heart"

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