Who Will Light the Incense When Mother’s Gone? & On Going Home

When reading non-fiction we have to think critically about what the writer is trying to convey in their piece. We look at formalist criticism and historical criticism, to see if there is anything that belong in either of those two categories. Writers also can also use different strategies in order to convey their thesis or themes. The non-fiction works that I have chosen are “Who Will Light the Incense When Mother’s Gone? ” by Andrew Lam and “On Going Home” by Joan Didion. I will discuss their theme and how Lam and Didion conveyed that theme into their work and for what purpose and to whom it was for.
I will also discuss why it is considered a piece of non-fiction and how imagination plays a part in the selected stories. Who Will Light the Incense when Mothers’ Gone? By Andrew Lam Summary The theme that comes out in the short story by Andrew Lam is “tradition. ” Lam conveys this theme when his mother asks who will light the incense. In Vietnam, which is Lam’s homeland, he remembers lighting incense but since fleeing to America is has become a distant dream and he no longer knows who to pray to and for what purpose.
“Having fled so far from Vietnam, I no longer know to whom I should address my prayers or what promises I could possibly make to the long departed. ” (p. 1115). It is a tradition that his mother has kept since moving to the America’s and it is a tradition that could be lost once she is no longer on this earth. But Lam realizes that his mother and he live in two different worlds. His mother still believes in praying to the ancestors every morning, while Lam is too busy living an American life. Strategy Purpose & Audience Lam conveys this theme by his memories of what it was like growing up with his mother in America.

She kept her children’s degrees, trophies from sporting events, just as any loving proud mother would do. But above that shelf, she had her incense that she lit every morning, religiously. “…she climbs a chair and piously lights a few joss sticks for the ancestral altar that sits on top of the living room bookcase. ” (p. 1115). The purpose of this story that I believe Lam is trying to express is the feeling he felt when he heard that no one will light the incense when his mother is gone. This is a feeling that any immigrant child can be able relate to; disappointment.
His mother wishes for one of her children to follow the tradition of praying to the ancestors but she knows that it will be too much to ask. “And when, upon my mother’s insistence, I light incense, I do not feel as if I am participating in a living tradition so much as pleasing a traditional mother. ” (p. 1116). Lam expresses that he feels he does not belong is lighting the incense because it is such a Vietnamese tradition and he has adopted the American ways. Non-Fiction This piece is described as non-fiction because this is a recount of a day in his life, and how he felt about that day.
He first starts off by describing his mother’s birthday. “My mother turned seventy recently, and though she remains a vivacious woman…” (p. 1115). He then goes in detail about the conversation that went on between his mother and his aunt. His mother asks who will be able to light the incense when she is gone, his aunt then reply’s that she does not know because none of her children will do it and to forget even thinking that the grandchildren will do it. (p. 1115) Imagination Imagination is required in reading this story. I say this because, as the reader you have to put yourself in the narrators place.
Unless you are a child of an immigrant, you need to try to understand what he or she is going though in this story. Lam feels disappointment in himself because he could light the incense but would not feel right in doing so because he has not practiced doing so in such a long time. If you were to imagine yourself as an immigrant child who does not follow the traditions from your homeland anymore, you would not feel comfortable in doing the traditions as well. “I wish I could assure my mother that, after she is gone, each morning I would light incense for her and all the ancestor spirits before her, but I can’t.” (p. 1116)
On Going Home by Joan Didion Summary In Joan Didion’s “On Going Home” the reoccurring theme is “home. ” The narrator is home for her daughter’s first birthday and the feelings of being home again are overwhelming “And yet some nameless anxiety colored the emotional charges between me and he place that I came from. ” (p. 636). Didion is explaining that the term home, now has a different meaning to the younger generation. She explains how she feels about being home and what she wishes for her young daughter. She exclaims how she cannot give the life or feeling of “home” to her daughter, like she had.
“…would like to give her home for her birthday, but we life differently now and I can promise her nothing like that. ” (p. 637) Strategy Purpose & Audience Didion is trying to convey the feeling of being home again. Even though Didion is getting into her thirties, married, with a child and with a home of her own, being at the place she grew up brings unexpected feelings. “…and yet I was almost thirty years old before I could talk to my family on the telephone without crying after I had hung up. ” (p. 636) During the time that Didion left home, the idea that you were never able to come home again weighted heavy on your mind.
The purpose of this story could be to see if anyone still felt the same way about being home, like she did. Anyone who has left home, and wished to come back could relate to this story, or someone who is close to their family. Non-Fiction This story is a form of non-fiction. Didion is retelling the time she went home to her parents’ house for her daughters first birthday. She talks about the conversations that she and her family has about people she once knew. “…and we appear to talk exclusively about people we know who have been committed to mental hospitals, about people we know who have been booked on drunk-driving charges…” (p.636)
Another bit about this story being non-fiction is how her family and herself talk to one another. She says that they do not “demand” anything from her, and that they do not fight, and there is nothing particularly wrong. She also speaks about visiting her aunts. These are all events that Didion went through while visiting her family for her daughter’s birthday. Imagination In this short story, you do need to have a sense of imagination. You need to place yourself in the shoes of Joan Didion while visiting her parents’ house, about being around the objects that are now so precious to you.
She brings on emotions that only a child who has left home, or a person who is thinking about leaving home can feel. The emotions of getting into a routine again, having conversations about people around town that you used to know, and being around family that you have not seen in a while. Having to imagine this can provoke the same nameless emotions that Didion expressed. Conclusion Both themes for each stories revolve around family. Having a tradition that means a lot to a family member or being able to come home for a visit. Everything leads up to being around family, who love and support you though everything.

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