Proceedings of the 4th International Conference on Language, Innovation, Culture and Education 2016

Contrapuntal Reading on Interference of the Past in Amy Tan’s The Hundred Secret Senses

Lestari Manggong

Universitas Padjadjaran, Indonesia


This essay looks closely at interference of the past in Amy Tan’s The Hundred Secret Senses as narrative mode in the interweaving of focalisation between Olivia and Kwan, the two main characters in the novel. Olivia is presented as having constant internal conflicts with Kwan. Kwan, being constantly presented as Olivia’s care giver, does not show any dislikes toward Olivia. Olivia is also presented as having a strenuous tension with Simon, her husband whom she is about to divorce. Different from Olivia’s narration, the openings of several of Kwan’s narration are in dramatic monologues. In one example of Kwan’s dramatic monologue, Olivia’s verbal reaction never appears in print; but is inferable from what Kwan says. The employment of this discursive technique gives an effect of keeping Kwan’s interlocutor (Olivia) unheard. This indicates that Kwan is demarcating her narration from Olivia’s, since her narration only voices the voice of her friends from the past. This leads to an interpretation that Kwan’s narration is of different zone from Olivia’s, which in a way makes sense since what is narrated through Kwan has its source from Yin World. In tackling with how Olivia’s and Kwan’s focalisation interweave and how it is significant to the discussion, Edward Said’s concept of contrapuntal reading is adopted to track down harmonisation created from shifts of focalisation in the narrative. This essay aims to analyse how such harmonisation is reached and how it is significant to the novel’s main issue, that is, identifying Chinese American in multicultural America.


narrative mode, shifts of focalisation, contrapuntal reading, multicultural America.

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