A Heroine In Hiding In The Jade Peopny And The Edible Woman Character Analysis

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Women in roles other than heroes have been consistently depicted throughout literary history.

By examining typical female roles in Wayson Choy’s The Jade Peony and Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman, it becomes apparent that the female characters in these novels are heroes in their own right. These roles, which I will refer to as the passive female, the unsympathetic woman, and the new woman, are often portrayed in literature and, upon closer examination, are worthy of admiration and can be considered heroic. Despite the lack of recognition given to heroines by readers and writers of literature, this does not negate their existence.

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In literature, men have traditionally been portrayed as the heroic figures, resulting in society’s lack of familiarity with the concept of a female hero. This perspective is elaborated in Nadya Aisenberg’s book Ordinary Heroines, where she states that…

Despite being our culture’s central symbol, the hero is difficult to conceive within our male-dominated society. To evaluate the heroines in The Edible Woman and The Jade Peony, we must identify the qualities that characterize a heroine. It is crucial to differentiate between the attributes of a hero and those of a heroine.

According to Aisenberg (13), women have different voices and developmental experiences compared to men. Instead of physical courage and a sense of predestination, the heroine shows moral courage and a moral voice. Goodrich (3-8), in her novel Heroines, emphasizes that a heroine must be an individual, a survivor, magnanimous, and above all, possess and display an admirable personality. The creation of characters in the three female roles – the passive female, unsympathetic woman, and new woman – incorporates these heroic qualities.

The roles of the “passive female” are embodied by Marian in Atwood’s The Edible Woman and Lily in Choy’s The Jade Peony. Both women exhibit passivity as they do not actively engage in the stories, instead receiving actions from other characters. Marian becomes consumed by those around her, a theme evident in the title, The Edible Woman, and throughout the text. As Atwood writes, “She (Marian) had been so thoroughly taken in” (310).

When discussing her relationship with her fiancée, Marian tells Duncan that she came to the realization that Peter was attempting to demolish her (326). Similarly, Lily can be seen as a character who is consumed and influenced by her culture’s expectations of what it means to be an acceptable wife (Choy, 14). Despite being the mother of two out of the four children and having acted as a mother figure for all of them, Poh-Poh decides that they should all address her as “Stepmother,” and she, as a submissive Chinese wife, does not protest. Poh-Poh, the elder, believes that this notion helps maintain simplicity and order.

According to the text, in China, “That was the order of things”(14). Marian and Lily both conform to the stereotype of passive females and thus sacrifice their own needs and desires. However, despite this conformity, there are still admirable qualities found in both women. Eventually, Marian conquers her fear of life and actively engages with it.

Marian bakes a cake in her own image, eats it, and reflects on the audacity of her act. According to Marian, “It was miraculous to me that I had attempted anything so daring” (Atwood, 329). Norma Goodrich argues that a true heroine must be fearless in the face of danger and ultimately emerge triumphant (Goodrich, 8). Marian exemplifies this, as she confronts the potential consequences of her actions and refuses to be consumed by those around her any longer.

Lily is a strong survivor, which is admirable. The book’s opening paragraphs reveal that she came to Canada at the age of twenty without any education.

Lily was a young girl living in China during a time of war. Unfortunately, bandits killed most of her family when she was only seven years old (Choy, 13). Despite experiencing such hardships, Lily still managed to show love for her family and demonstrate incredible strength. This makes her character deserving of the respect and approval of readers. Similarly, Marian and Lily may have had more passive roles in the novels, but they were still strong characters who successfully faced significant challenges.

The Jade Peony by Choy portrays the typical “unsympathetic woman” found in literature. This character, often older, appears cold and rigid towards others. However, they are actually caring and play an important role in keeping the family together. Poh-Poh, the elderly Chinese grandmother in the novel, exemplifies this role. While initially seen as having a negative impact, it becomes clear that Poh-Poh’s negativity stems from her deep concern for her family’s well-being.

One example is that Poh-Poh would whisper blessings in Sekky’s ear, always whispering softly, so that the gods could not hear (Choy, 42). If the gods knew that she loved Sekky more than them, she believed they would bring bad luck to her and her family. Another example of Poh-Poh’s “tough love” is shown through her refusal to teach Liang how to tie the red ribbons. Liang is unaware that Poh-Poh resists because tying those ribbons once caused her immense pain and she does not want Liang to experience such pain.

“…she would withhold all her feminine abilities from me, keeping them solely for herself until she passed away” (Choy, 35).

Poh-Poh exemplifies the stereotype of the “unsympathetic woman” but her actions are motivated by a profound love for her children and a need to safeguard them. Although her tough love may make her unpopular, it ultimately strengthens her family both culturally and emotionally.

Norma Goodrich asserts that heroines teach us valuable lessons on enduring and overcoming humiliation and discrimination (Goodrich, 2). Poh-Poh exemplifies her resilience in the face of humiliation through her childhood encounters. “Grandmother entered this world with a deformed skull at birth…”.

. When the village midwife declared…

“Poh-Poh hideous, the judgment stayed”(Choy, 42). Throughout her life, Poh-Poh faced relentless discrimination due to her gender and being born as a “girl-child” into Chinese society. The pervasive presence of sexual inequality in China is vividly portrayed in Keith M. May’s Chinese Women Characters.

Since their birth, women have experienced discrimination, with infant girls often being smothered or sold at a young age.

According to May (34), women have historically been viewed as sexual objects and possessions of men, as well as tools for childbearing and servants to their families. Despite this discrimination, Poh-Poh managed to raise a son and play a role in raising four grandchildren, making her an admirable and heroic woman. Throughout literature, there has always been a rebellious spirit present.

A female character who embodies defiance, individuality, and a crusading spirit is often called the “new woman” and is seen as a type of heroine. Meiying, in Choy’s The Jade Peony, assumes the role of the new woman. Keith M.

May provides a clear description of the individual that the term “new woman” encompasses. This type of woman feels discontent with conventional society and often feels compelled to become a crusader or pioneer (May, 105). Despite being part of the Chinese population, which is currently in conflict with the Japanese, Meiying defies the expectation to remain loyal to her own people and continues her relationship with her Japanese boyfriend, Kazuo. This action goes against the unspoken rule of never betraying one’s own kind (Choy, 214).

Sekky initially characterizes Meiying as participating in an act that is disgraceful and could be considered treasonous (214). Meiying disregards societal norms of morality and chooses to act based on her own instincts. She prioritizes her personal beliefs over the potential risks. This is evident when her mother.

When she discovered Kazuo, she would angrily express her disapproval towards Meiying.

. and disown her.If Chinatown discovers her actions, Meiying will face widespread condemnation and humiliation as a traitor” (220). Meiying’s personal battle symbolizes the conflict between these two communities, yet she also becomes a trailblazer, bridging the divide between them.

Meiying serves as both the “new woman” and the heroine in The Jade Peony. According to Goodrich (8), a heroine must demonstrate fearlessness in the face of unjust or wrong restrictions. Meiying has shown tremendous courage, thus fitting the criteria of a heroine. Literature often portrays women in predictable and stereotypical roles.

Authors often overlook one aspect when constructing female roles – the fact that many of these roles, such as the “passive female,” the “unsympathetic woman,” or the “new woman,” are actually heroines in disguise. This can be observed in characters like Marian, Lily, Poh-Poh, and Meiying. Women are not just admired for their sensitivity and intuition; they are remarkable beings deserving of admiration for so much more.

Women are admirable because they are morally courageous individuals who have survived and will continue to thrive.

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A Heroine In Hiding In The Jade Peopny And The Edible Woman Character Analysis. (2018, Mar 02). Retrieved from


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