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Catfish in the Bathtub by Maxine Hong Kingston Vocabulary scowls (par. 1) expressions of displeasure dismembering (par.

1) taking apart bodily limbs and innards sprains (par. 2) sudden twists of joints such as ankles or wrists unsettle (par. 3) make uneasy or uncomfortable tufts (par. 4) forms into small patches of hair awobble (par. 6) unsteady; teetering toadstools (par. 7) mushrooms revulsion (par. 8) a strong reaction away from something My mother has cooked for us: raccoons, skunks, hawks, city pigeons, wild ducks, wild geese, black-skinned bantams, snakes, garden snails, turtles that crawled about the pantry floor and sometimes escaped under refrigerator or stove, catfish that swam in the bathtub. The emperors used to eat the peaked hump of purple dromedaries, she would say. They used chopsticks made from rhinoceros horn, and they ate ducks tongues and monkeys lips. She boiled the weeds we pulled up in the yard. There was a tender plant with flowers like white stars hiding under the leaves, which were like the flower petals but green. Ive not been able to find it since growing up. It had no taste. When I was as tall as the washing machine, I stepped out on the back porch one night, and some heavy, ruffling, windy, clawed thing dived at me. Even after getting chanted back to sensibility, I shook when I recalled that perched everywhere there were owls with great hunched shoulders and yellow scowls. They were a surprise for my mother from my father. We children used to hide under the beds with our fingers in our ears to shut out the bird screams and the thud, thud of the turtles swimming in the boiling water, their shells hitting the sides of the pot. Once the third aunt who worked at the laundry ran out and bought us bags of candy to hold over our noses; my mother was dismembering skunk on the chopping block. I could smell the rubbery odor through the candy. In a glass jar on a shelf my mother kept a big brown hand with pointed claws stewing in alcohol and herbs. She must have brought it from China because I do not remember a time when I did not have the hand to look at. She said it was a bears claw, and for many years I thought bears were hairless. My mother used the tobacco, leeks, and grasses swimming about the hand to rub our sprains and bruises. Just as I would climb up to the shelf to take one look after another at the hand, I would hear my mothers monkey story. Id take my fingers out of my ears and let her monkey words enter my brain. I Description did not always listen voluntarily, though. She would begin telling the story, perhaps repeating it to a homesick villager, and Id overhear before I had a chance to protect myself. Then the monkey words would unsettle me; a curtain flapped loose inside my brain. I have wanted to say, Stop it. Stop it, but not once did I say, Stop it. Do you know what people in China eat when they have the money? my mother began. They buy into a monkey feast. The eaters sit around a thick wood table with a hole in the middle. Boys bring in the monkey at the end of a pole. Its neck is in a collar at the end of the pole, and it is screaming. Its hands are tied

behind it. They clamp the monkey into the table; the whole table fits like another collar around its neck. Using a surgeons saw, the cooks cut a clean line in a circle at the top of its head. To loosen the bone, they tap with a tiny hammer and wedge here and there with a silver pick. Then an old woman reaches out her hand to the monkeys face and up to its scalp, where she tufts some hairs and lifts off the lid of the skull. The eaters spoon out the brains. Did she say, You should have seen the faces the monkey made? Did she say, The people laughed at the monkey screaming? It was alive? The curtain flaps closed like merciful black wings. Eat! Eat! my mother would shout at our heads bent over bowls, the blood pudding awobble in the middle of the table. She had one rule to keep us safe from toadstools and such: If it tastes good, its bad for you, she said. If it tastes bad, its good for you. Wed have to face four- and five-day-old leftovers until we ate it all. The squid eye would keep appearing at breakfast and dinner until eaten. Sometimes brown masses sat on every dish. I have seen revulsion on the faces of visitors whove caught us at meals. Have you eaten yet? the Chinese greet one another. Yes, I have, they answer whether they have or not. And you? I would live on plastic. BUILDING VOCABULARY 1. Go through this essay again and list every animal mentioned. Then, write a short description of each, using the dictionary or encyclopedia if necessary. 2. Use any five of the Words to Watch in sentences of your own. THINKING CRITICALLY ABOUT THE ESSAY Understanding the Writers Ideas 1. What is Kingston saying about her childhood? How does her opening catalog of foods that her mother prepared, combined with further descriptions of foods, support this point? What are some of the strange foods that she ate but that are not mentioned in this first paragraph? 2. What attacks and frightens the young Kingston on her back porch? Where did they come from? How do we know that she was a young girl at the time? Explain the meaning of even after getting chanted back to sensibility. 3. What is the writers overall attitude toward her mother? Explain. Understanding the Writers Techniques 1. Does Kingston ever make a direct thesis statement? Why or why not? 2. In this essay, Kingston seems to shift in and out of various tenses deliberately. For example, in paragraph 3, she writes: . . . a curtain flapped loose inside my brain. I have wanted to say . . . Why do you think that Kingston uses such a technique? List three other examples of such tense shifts. Description 1. How does Kingston use the fi ve senses to create descriptive imagery? Give examples of her use of sounds, tastes, smells, sights, and feelings. Which are the most effective?

2. Eliminating the specific references to China, how do we know that the writer is of Chinese background? Which details or references contribute to this understanding? 3. Evaluate the use of dialogue (records of spoken words or conversations) in this essay. What effect does it have on the flow of the writing? on our understanding of Kingstons main point? Exploring the Writers Ideas 1. Kingston certainly describes some strange foods and eating habits in this essay. But what makes particular foods strange? What are some of the strangest foods you have ever eaten? Where did they come from? Why did you eat them? How did you react to them? What foods or eating habits that are common to your everyday life might be considered strange by people from other cultures? 2. In this essay, Kingston concentrates on her mother, mentioning her father only once. Speculate on why she excludes her father in this way, but base your speculation on the material of the essay. 3. For what reason do you think the Chinese greet each other with the words Have you eaten yet? Attempt to do further research on this custom. List as many different ways as you know of people greeting one another. IDEAS FOR WRITING Prewriting Write the words Family Food on top of a sheet of paper and write everything that comes to mind about the topic. Give yourself about five minutes or so. Do not edit your writing: put as many of your ideas as you can on paper. Thinking and Writing Collaboratively Read a draft of the writing by one of your classmates. Then, write a paragraph to indicate what you learned about the importance of food to the writer and to his or her family and cultural background. What parts of the essay stand out most in your mind? Where do you think the writer might have included further details?

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