Chinese Cinderella, a memoir written by Chinese-American author Adeline Yen Mah, is a story describing her experiences growing up in Chinese culture. After Adeline is born in 1937, her mother dies two weeks later due to complications related to her birth. Since this occurred, her family members believe that she brings the worst luck. A short time after Adeline’s mother dies, her father remarries another woman who treats Adeline with the same disrespect. Niang, her stepmother, stays at home to watch Adeline’s other siblings and her own two children. She treats Adeline with contempt, while showering the other children with expensive gifts. The only person who seems to care about Adeline is her Aunt Baba, who always praises and rewards her for her successes. In Chinese Cinderella, Adeline Yen Mah is very persistent in achieving her goals because her personality is shaped by the people and environment she is surrounded by.
Throughout the memoir, Adeline’s personality is driven by the temperament of her parents. Adeline’s father and step-mother both have cruel and unloving personalities. Her step-mother punishes her for going to a friend’s house, which is a normal activity for any child of Adeline’s age. After scolding her, Niang says, “Not only are you a liar and a thief, but you are manipulative as well. Nothing will ever come of you. The problem is that you have bad blood from your mother” (103). Even though Niang is not an immediate part of Adeline’s family, she still looks down on her and accuses her of bringing bad luck. Adeline’s father also treats her with disrespect and transfers her to many boarding schools within China, where each time she is stripped from her family and friends. Even though these are events that children today could never imagine going through, Adeline remains positive and brave through it all. She says, “Though my parents tell me I’m worthless, I’ve proved them wrong! Of all the girls in my class, my classmates chose me to be their class president. I must forget about my home. In my other life-my real life-I’m not worthless. They respect me” (112). This shows Adeline’s perseverance to stay strong and continue to work hard for herself and her future. She knows that she is worth something to other people, besides her family.
For the majority of the memoir, Adeline’s Aunt Baba shows support towards her goals and rewards Adeline for her successes. Since her other caretakers treat Adeline in an unloving way, Aunt Baba is the only person that comes across as caring for her. She is the one person who appreciates and sees the true potential in Adeline. Aunt Baba saves and keeps all her report cards in a special lock box, so that she can look back on Adeline’s achievements. Aunt Baba also rewards Adeline for her accomplishments, since no one else notices her. Adeline says, “On Tuesday morning, I put the silver dollar Aunt Baba had given me for leading my class the previous term in my pocket…” (99). Aunt Baba shows admiration and caring traits toward Adeline that keep her driven toward her goals to make her family proud. Adeline knows that she will have the support of at least one person, which keeps her persistent personality alive.
The actions of Adeline’s family members help develop and shape her personality throughout the memoir. The harsh ways that her father and step-mother treat her push her to try her best in life and her schoolwork to show them that she has worth. Even though she has been pushed to the side by her guardians, there is a drive within her that pushes her to succeed. Aunt Baba’s opposite and supportive actions keep Adeline motivated to eventually be successful. Even if she does not have the love and support of her family, she knows Aunt Baba will guide and reward her along the way. At the end of the memoir when Adeline wins an International Playwriting Competition, her father eventually realizes the potential in her and allows her to go to college in England alongside her siblings. Throughout Chinese Cinderella, the cultures and actions of Adeline’s family shape her persistent personality and drive for success.
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