Beyond Our Ordinary Senses: Reading The Hundred Se Essay

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Amy Tan's novel The Hundred Secret Senses (1995) features on the distinct life time stories told by two half-sisters: Olivia, the primary narrator, a commercial photographer born in the U.S. and Kwan, a Chinese-born fifty year old woman as the secondary narrator. Olivia’s narrative presents a realistic world in twentieth-century San Francisco where little Olivia of age six grows up with her family and the eccentric sister Kwan. By contrast, Kwan’s dream-like stories create an unrealistic “World of Yin” that happens in the ninteenth-century Changmian village of China. As the life of Olivia in the real world proceeds, readers would slowly realize that the stories of Olivia and Kwan in twentieth-century are actually an incarnation of their previous lives in nineteenth-century Changmian. During the process of such incarnation, Olivia has undergone a gradual transformation from a hypersensitive cynical woman to an open hearted loving mother, which is highly in credit to the constant faithful love and care from Kwan that helps Olivia transcend the limits of her ordinary senses and rational view towards life. This transformation is reflected upon Olivia's relationships and interactions with major people in her life, such as her mother Louise, sister Kwan, husband Simon. Because mother Louise “always suffered from a kind heart, compounded by seasonal rashes of volunteerism ”(7) and reserves plenty room “for dates with men or lunch with her so-called gal pals”, young Olivia fails to get the “absolute love” but only “divided attention” from her mother (7). With the arrival of Kwan, the unreliable mother soon finds her daughter a “handy baby-sitter, will, able, and free”(10), which makes Olivia resents Kwan for replacing her mother even though the latter is so fond of the younger sister. Later, Kwan’s naivety and ghost stories irritate Olivia extensively, though Olivia knows

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