Notes and observations on 'Last Week' from Amy Tan's 'The Opposite of Fate'
Writing an obituary for her mother while her mother is still alive. The family has gathered around to say their good-byes, and daughters from another marriage are attempting to help Tan get the obituary right. The Chinese culture of names and ages clashes with Tan’s Western knowledge of the same.
American names have no meaning. In China, the name is important and has meaning.
The seemingly cut and dried question of how old mom is becomes difficult to answer through the lens of Chinese cultures and immigration. Mom claims that her age was wrong on the immigration form. In China, people get bonus years for living a long time. There is even the question of when to count from. One year old at birth or after one year on Earth?
(The daughter is the mother.)
When looking for the reason why something happened, a doctor told the mother that it was just “bad luck.” Mom took it seriously.
Tan’s mother’s condition affects the way that she thinks and acts. Tan explores the past to see where the tirades started so that she can view her mother more sympathetically. (It’s your mother, even if she is crazy. We cut complete strangers slack but hold loved ones to more stringent standards.)
Tan’s mother is constantly threatening to commit suicide for any perceived slight. This passive-aggressive behavior gets the mother the attention that she craves. However, it is a reflection of the mom at age 9 seeing her mother kill herself, and a reflection of the Chinese culture in general as attempted suicide among women in China is high. (This behavior causes everyone to revert to the age, in which the mother-child relationship was solidified. These relationships typically do not change over time unless one or the other takes action.)
(For someone who finds passive aggressive behavior and idle threats abhorrent, the first thought is to just say, “Fine. Run out in the street. I’ll call 9-1-1 if you get hit.” However, it is important to remember how old Tan’s mother is, the culture she comes from and what she has gone through to get true context to the action. Americans grow up thinking that a good conversation can solve most ills.)
Tan’s mom had at least on bad marriage.
The theme of escape
(What is the fascination with the past? What do we expect to learn from it?)
Because of the mental deterioration, Tan learns how to lie to her mom so that her mom can see reason. She sees that her mom needs affirmation of wisdom and sacrifice but cannot ask for it.