Chinese family in this complex story about unrelenting hunger, oppression, love and loss. Narrated by Min; the deeply unhappy and obedient wife of Tian, a gifted violinist, finds work as a music teacher in New York, but ultimately fails to land a permanent job at the school. Driven by personal failure and his unrelenting hunger for the violin Tian cruelly forces his two daughters, Anna and Ruth to play the violin, so they can follow in his footsteps. Tian’s inability to separate himself from his violin ends up destroying his family.
Chang uses Tian’s obsessive hunger for the violin as a symbol of his identity, showing us that we must be careful not to become so focused on one thing that we lose all sense of self and family. Tian’s violin is everything to him, it is his destiny, his hope and his future; it is his one true love in life. Chang uses foreshadows when Min seats Tian at the restaurant she works at she notices that he has “placed his violin case in the opposite chair…facing him like a lover” (13) and she finds herself “[envious of] the violin case, dark and slender, curved like a woman” (13).
By sexualizing the violin Chang is allowing us a glimpse of the importance this violin will play in their lives and the envy that Min will feel throughout their marriage. In trying to explain why he doesn’t want more children, Tian tells Min, “sometimes there is only one thing-that a person must do…It is what he hungers for” (28). He explains to her that he gave up everything when he left China including his family. As he left his father told him “You forget about us…this family is no longer your family. I am no longer your father” (28). Tian then goes on to say “I know that there is only one thing in life that I permit myself to do.
Order custom essay Hunger with free plagiarism report
Anything else-frightens me. I am not allowed to have it”. Chang is using this dialog and flashback to show the double-bind that is Tian’s identity. His unrelenting hunger for music lead him to leave his disapproving family and homeland behind, allowing him an opportunity to immigrate to America to fulfill his dreams of being a violinist. Because of this sacrifice he sees his violin as his main identity; he is a violinist, and he must honor that at all costs. He can’t allow himself to enjoy anything else in life for fear that he sacrificed everything for nothing. The great irony here is hat this all-consuming obsession with the violin leaves him bereft of any time or desire to spend time with his wife and children, unless it involves the violin, which ultimately causes them to reject him too. When Tian’s own dream dies he ruthlessly pushes music on his daughters in order to allow him to live vicariously through them. Anna, the oldest, tries to win her father’s love through the violin but ends up having “a mediocre sense of pitch” (54) and Tian can no longer stand to teach Anna the violin. Min notices “when he looked at Anna he saw nothing but his own struggles; he hated her difficulties, but he especially hated his own. (55); this immense self-hatred, and lack of an identity outside of the violin, causes him to viciously force Ruth to become a violinist. Despite her lack of interest and the fact that she cries during every practice, Tian does not care as he sees promise in her. He yells at Ruth “Do you understand? From now on, you work. You practice every day” (60) to which Ruth responds “No no no no-“(60). It does not seem to matter to Tian that his daughter has no real desire to play the violin as Tian is blind to the needs or wants of anyone else in his family.
For years Tian ruthlessly forces Ruth to practice and eventually she wins a competition and gets to perform a concerto at Tian’s old school. During the concerto Min notices Tian sitting “listening as if to a beloved voice, indelible and persisting over time. He did not wipe away the tears…unable to take his tortured, joyful eyes away from the stage” (69). Tian’s tortured, joyful eyes are a symbol of Tian’s realization that his dream is dead but he can still exist through Ruth and the violin that was once his and is now hers.
During a celebratory dinner Ruth announces that the Head of the Music from Tian’s old school has told Ruth that she “could easily get a scholarship” (70) and that she “[has] a rare talent” (70). Ruth is excited and sees this as a way out from her father’s oppression where she would be free to play music for herself and not for her father. But Tian will have none of it, he says “[I will] not allow them to claim they discovered her…They only [want] to exploit her” (71). Through this scene Chang is showing us the dichotomy between Ruth and Tian’s shared love of the violin.
Ruth wants desperately to be free to pursue her own dream of music and Tian is not willing to let go of his own dreams that he has used to enslave Ruth. Ultimately Tian’s identity is challenged when his ruthlessness and hunger destroy his dreams. As Ruth struggles for her independence from Tian’s tyranny, Min watches “the fights take on a desperate intensity…each demand, each refusal and retort, would escalate their mutual rage” (87). Chang uses foreshadowing during one brutal fight Ruth when tells Tian “I hate you, I hate you! ” (80), to which he replied “You’re going to kill me! You’ll make me die! (80) Ruth cries and says “I’m quitting! I’m never going to pick up a violin for as long as I live”, to which Tian responds with “Then I don’t want you! You are not my daughter! You are nothing! ” (88), with those words Ruth moves out and never sees Tian again. One month later talking with Min on his death bed Tian says “Whenever I looked at her, I saw the violinist that she might be, I saw past her poor behavior…and I could see it-brilliance, like a star” (95). Min tells him “[you were good to me and Anna, you provided for us]” (95), Tian speaking his last words says, “That is not important” (95).
Even in death Tian is unable to realize that his life was wasted by his unrelenting hunger for success that is the cause of the vicious fights he has with Ruth. He fails to see the irony that he drove Ruth away, disowning her for wanting a life that was her own, just like him when he left China. If Tian had not been driven to succeed no matter what the cost to him or his family, he may have lived a rich, wonderful, loving life full of music; but that was not the path he choose. He instead chose to put everything he had, all of his identity into the violin leaving him hollow and empty when Ruth left.
All he had left were the memories of what she could have been if only she had his drive and ambition along with his own personal failures. The symbol of the violin as Tian’s identity and the devastating effects it had on him and his family serve to show the importance of not living your life for just one thing. What happens when that one thing goes away and you are left with nothing? Do you move on with your life and find something else to focus on or do you destroy another life by forcing your dream on them?
As a parent, I find this story to be a great cautionary tale; reminding us as parents that our children need to be free to discover their own unique identity. Unfortunately, you see versions of this story on sports fields across America; for example: there is the dad who was the high school football star with dreams of the NFL, relentlessly pushing his child to be a big NFL star, no matter what the cost or wants of the child. It is our duty as parents to gently nurture our child’s dreams and abilities, giving them the chance to grow into their own person and chase their dreams, not ours.
Did you know that we have over 70,000 essays on 3,000 topics in our database?