“Mona in the Promised Land” is one of the most successful and renowned works written by Gish Jen. The main character of the book undergoes consistent changes under the impact tof her cultural environment in the course of the book. At the same time, she challenges numerous social and cultural norms because she does not want to be an ordinary person. Instead she attempts to find her cultural identity. In fact, the problem of identity is one of the core problems and one of the major themes of the entire book. In fact, the identity is a very important issue which, however, evokes heat debates because of the consistent changes in the life of the modern society. Traditionally, identity is closely associated with the identification of an individual with certain group, ethnic or cultural, which has certain set of values, norms and standards. At the same time, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that identity is quite a complex concept which should be viewed at different levels. In this respect, it is possible to distinguish personal and social level of an individual’s identity. What is meant here is the fact that each individual shapes his or her own identity but, at the same time, the individual’s identity is influenced by the impact of the social environment of an individual that leads to the formation of his or her cultural identity, i.e. identity at the social level (Ede, 2007). On the other hand, the individual identity is still homogeneous because, normally, individual does not have a double identity. Therefore, the concept of identity can be defined as a set of norms, standards, values and models of behavior shaped by an individual in the course of his or her personal development under the impact of his or her personal experience and social environment, including the impact of social relations, cultural traditions, existing social norms and standards (Stewart, 2008). In such a context, the main character of “Mona in the Promised Land” attempts to find her identity and in search of her identity she tries different cultural identities which do not meet her needs and expectations but the process of searching for the identity and self-identification of the main character reveals the process of cultural assimilation of people in the US because, on the one hand, the main character does not accept her ethnic identity, whereas, on the other hand, she cannot find yet her new American identity because she does not have a cultural or ethnic group to associate herself with that prevents her from close assimilation and integration into the American society.
On analyzing the story of the main character of Gish Jen’s book, “Mona in the Promised Land”, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that the main character lives in the Asian American family. at the same time, the author describes a complex period in her life, when her cultural identity is just shaping. In fact, the main character undergoes consistent changes because she is in the context search of her identity. Remarkably, she does not want associate herself with Chinese Americans as her parents are. Instead, she looks for a new identity which could have allowed her to be a truly American, a person, who belongs to one of the traditional groups in the US society (Ede, 2007). The major difficulty that arises in the course of the formation and definition of identity of the main character in the modern society is the problem of the growing cultural diversity of the modern society. What is meant here is the fact that traditionally an individual identity formed under the impact of a steady cultural norms and traditions existing in the society but the modern world grows more and more diverse because people interact with each other more dynamically than they used to in the past (Stewart, 2008). The modern society is a globalized society where representatives of different cultures interact with each other and cultural differences tend to disappear. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the example of immigrants who arrive to a new country, such as Mexican immigrants that move to the US, where they expect to find a better life and new job opportunities. In fact, immigrants have their own cultural identity, which is totally different from the traditional American culture. Therefore, immigrants face a problem of clashes between their own cultural identity and the cultural identity of the dominant ethnic group. Often, immigrants feel being outsiders in a new country, where they feel as if they are strangers who have nothing in common with the local community. As a result, cultural barriers arise and immigrants face the problem of self-identification because they need to find the group with which they can identify themselves. In regard to Mexican immigrants they tend to create their own community where they maintain their traditional lifestyle and culture and where they can preserve their identity. However, they need to interact with the American community and when they are outside of their community they need to develop a new model of behavior to meet standards existing in the American culture. Mona lives in a culturally diverse society, where she has to find her identity to get assimilated and integrated in the American society that is not an easy task. On the one hand, she has ample choices of self-identification with either cultural group, whereas, on the other hand, she does not really belong to either cultural group physically and mentally. Being a teenager, she keeps looking for the group she can identify herself with.
As the matter of fact, the problem the main character faces in “Mona in the Promised Land” is a widely-spread problem in the US, where people from all over the world attempt to find their identity as they move to the US insearch of a better life. For such people as Mona and her parents, the US is a sort of promised land but this promised land is a strange land, with a strange culture, where people cannot always find their cultural identity, find their place in the society, while the process of assimilation can be long-lasting and quite painful. In such a situation, many people face the problem of self-identification, especially when they move from one country to another (Ede, 2007). People face the problem of identification because their cultural identity, which they have shaped in the course of their life, may come into conflict with their new cultural environment, which is different from their traditional cultural environment (Stewart, 2008). As a result, people cannot always identify themselves with certain social group, either ethnic or cultural, and they need to modify their identity and adapt to the new cultural environment.
Many people who have such problems tend to develop multiple identities, which imply the use of different models of behavior in a different social environment (Ede, 2007). What is meant here is the fact that an immigrant, for instance, can have one different model of behavior when he or she is in his or her community and another model of behavior when he or she interact with the dominant cultural or ethnic group. In fact, this is the case of Mona because she rejects the cultural identity imposed on her by her parents. Instead, she searches for a new, truly American identity which could help her to get integrated into the American society, gain the recognition and approval of her peers and simply become one of them. As a result, this individual may have different identities because in his or her community he or she has one model of behavior, obeys to certain cultural and social norms and traditions, whereas being outside of his or her community he or she needs to develop a different model of behavior and accept social and cultural norms of the dominant group (Ede, 2007). As a result, it is possible to speak about the multiple identities as well as about the problem of the self-identification of an individual.
Mona lives in the minority community, where people always feel their difference, their belongingness to a different cultural group which differs from the mainstream culture. In such a situation, the new generation of immigrants faces the problem of the multiple identities. The problem of multiple identities is particularly obvious in minority communities. In this respect, communities which have extremely different cultural background compared to the dominant group are particularly vulnerable to the problem of development of multiple identities. In this respect, it is possible to refer to the problem of the main character of the book “Mona in the Promised Land” Mona, who faces the problem of the multiple identities. To put it more precisely, she cannot identify herself with a certain cultural group. She does not identify herself with the ethnic group her parents belong to. Instead, she changes her identity respectively to her wants and current position. Hence, she pretends to be a Jew, or even an African American. Mona lives with her parents and she needs to develop models of behavior and accept cultural norms and traditions of her parents’ culture. However, she does not really want to accept these cultural norms and traditions because she does not feel being like an Asia, she is rather American than Asia. This is exactly where the major problem arises because other people tend to perceive her as Asian American but she wants to be an American. She needs to be assimilated and integrated closely into the American society. In this respect, the author lays emphasis on the fact that readers should not underestimate the impact of the cultural environment of the main character. Mona is under the permanent pressure from the part of her parents, peers, and mass media. She learns biased views and stereotypes which simply forces her to find her identity. She wants to belong to one of the mainstream cultural groups but her ethnic background, her origin and her family prevents her from getting integrated fast. As a result, she moves from one cultural group to another in search of the one, where she can feel comfortable and at ease.
In such a way, Gish Jen shows that the main character does not need to move from one country to another to have problems with definition of her identity. In such a way, the author of “Mona in the Promised Land” attempts to show the audience that the concept of cultural identity is a very complex concept which is vulnerable to changes in the course of the personal development and under the impact of social environment of an individual. At this point, it is worth mentioning the fact that the main character is vulnerable to the impact of stereotypes. Being a teenager, Mona wants to like other teenagers. She wants to feel being a part of the large community. She does not want to be an outcast but she is doomed to be the one as long as she identifies herself with her Asian American community and culture. This is actually why she moves from one cultural identity to another in search of the best one. She beliefs that she can choose any identity. She can choose to become a Jew or an African American but what she really wants to be and to associate herself with is American. In such a way, the author shows the overwhelming impact of the American culture on an individual, especially a representative of a minority group like Mona. In fact, the US is a sort of melting pot, where being an American is important for all people but for many representatives of minority groups this goal is unattainable because they cannot give up their cultural identity as well as the society cannot change their biased and stereotypes attitude to them. As a result, people are doomed to look for their cultural identity as Mona does.
On the other hand, the book shows that Mona is still capable to maintain positive relationships with representatives of different groups and she is not alone in the search of her identity. As the matter of fact, the problem Mona faces in her life is the problem common to many people in the US. The desire to be an active member of the American community forces people to change their identity or to find the cultural group where they feel comfortable to belong to.
Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is important to lay emphasis on the fact that the main character of “Mona in the Promised Land”, Mona, faces the problem of multiple identities and she attempts to find her cultural identity that is of the utmost importance for the teenager. However, her desire does not meet her actual opportunities. The process of assimilation is long-lasting and needs time to get an individual integrated closely into the American society. At the same time, the assimilation occurs under the permanent pressure from the part of the social environment of an individual and often people are practically torn apart, as Mona is, their families and their cultural background and their desire to belong to the mainstream cultural group.