, Research Paper
Returning To One?s Roots
Falling Leaves ? The Memoir of an Unwanted Chinese Daughter, by Adeline Yen Mah, is a story of a young Chinese girl growing up in an environment that most people would crack under. Under the reign of a ?evil stepmother,? Mah?s life was worst than most young unwanted Chinese daughters during the early 1900?s. However, due to her strong will and the influence of a special Aunt she is able to over come such a horrid childhood. Today she is a medical doctor in America. However, if she did not have the strength of character to escape to America, where she attended school, is experiencing a fulfilling medical career and a happy marriage, her story could have never been told. The strong and intriguing meaning of her story, Falling Leaves is symbolic of Mah?s life. Mah is represented as an individual leaf on the tree of life that has roots stretching back in time; each leaf has a different experience as shown by Mah?s hardships, the significance of Falling Leaves is shown through Mah?s insight of the beauty of life and its circle of renewal.
All people have roots that reach far back in time that contribute to the legacy that makes up ones life in the present. Mah’s family background, as she quotes in the story, ?[is with] a Shanghai family headed by my affluent father and his beautiful Eurasian wife, set against a background of treaty ports carved into foreign concessions, and the collision of east and West played out within and with out my very own home? (Pg. 4). Since Mah?s life is affected by the attacks that rocked twentieth-century China it is the presence of strong women that influence Mah?s roots. Since Mah’s mother dies shortly after she is born, Mah?s female role model is her rebellious grandaunt, whom in an era during which Chinese women were still having their feet bound, founded a bank run by and for woman. Another woman who helped shape Mah?s character is her father?s oldest sister, Mah?s favorite Aunt, Baba. Although Baba was financially dependent on Mah?s father through her entire life Mah speaks of her with compassion and admiration. ?She was gentle, patient and wise. I loved her very much,? says Mah. It is Baba, who tries desperately to shield Mah from Niang, her vicious stepmother. Niang is also a woman who defied the Chinese ?preference for submissive women;? however, she used her powers with malignant effect, corrupting her stepchildren’s relationships with each other and with their father.
While Mah is growing up, her life is like a falling leaf, lacking direction and being blown around by outside forces causing her to drift and aimlessly flutter downward. Mah’s years of mental and physical abuse began after her mother died. Mah is then forced to suffer under her cold and manipulative stepmother, Niang whose sadistic acts were never questioned by her husband. In 1948 when the family is preparing to escape the communists, Mah as the youngest daughter is overlooked until the very last minute. It is decided that Mah will go to a Catholic School, St. Joseph?s located in Tianjin, a city from which ?most people were fleeing in the opposite direction [from]? (Pg. 91). Concerned for Mah?s well being, her Aunt Baba expresses the danger Mah could be in, ?The Communists! What about the Communists? There is intense fighting . . . thousands of refugees are pouring into Tianjin? (pg. 86). When it becomes obvious that the decision made by her hateful stepmother will not change Ye Ye, Mah?s grandfather, knows, ?They?re sending her away because they want to be rid of her? (Pg. 86). During her childhood Mah is in an unloving and uncaring relationship with her parents and with her siblings. One example of the cruel actions taken against her is when her brothers force her to drink urine. ? I took a big gulp. Immediately I spat it out. My three older brothers had mixed their urine with orange concentrate and forced me to drink it . . . I burst into tears . . . what troubled me most was James?s betrayal? (Pg. 257). Mah experiences nonstop emotional abuse from her wealthy father and his beautiful, cruel second wife. Mah did not understand why her father calls her ?worthless . . . and monstrous in behavior? (Pg. 85). Her life is unsure, just as a leaf appears as it is floating in the wind, not knowing where it will land. Mah?s only refuge in this rough childhood is her beloved Aunt Baba, the older sister of Adeline’s father, who is also despised and hated because she is financially dependent on Mah?s Father.
When this most caring and protective person in Mah?s life dies, Mah has the opportunity to see that life is a circle and in the end all people will return to what makes their past so rich. Mah turns the death of a loved one into an euphoric experience. She believes that her Aunt has a peaceful death and hopes that her ?nearness would help [Aunt Baba] along her final journey,? (Pg. 274) and give her comfort just as Aunt Baba had provided comfort to Mah for so many years. Mah feels a ?wave of repose, a peaceful serenity,? (Pg. 274) at the time of Aunt Baba?s death. Mah realizes that life, even though it may consist of many bitter hardships, when one returns to their roots all is forgotten and people reflex on the beginnings. ? Life had come full circle. Luo ye gui gen. ?Falling leaves return to their roots? (Pg. 274). As we get older, we tend to go back to our beginnings. This is what Mah does when she returns to Aunt Baba?s side. When she goes back to China and ?returns to her roots? she is symbolizing the return of a wandering child to her ancestral home in order to come ?full circle? and to finally reflect on and appreciate her own roots.
In summary, Mah, and the strong and intriguing meaning of her story, Falling Leaves, is symbolic to her own life. She is represented as a falling leaf. Mah?s life is going no where, drifting aimlessly, as she is mistreated, and taunted. Mah sustains the hardships she is faced with and in turn becomes a survivor. As a falling leaf, she returns to her roots with the death of Aunt Baba. She comes back to her ancestral home in order to reach ?full circle,? (Pg. 274) so she could appreciate her own roots. The horrible memories of Mah?s life were subsided when she, as a falling leaf, came back to her roots.