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Chinese Cinderella

Author: Adeline Yen Mah

The anthology is about Mah who was rejected by her stepmother and despised by her brothers and sisters. She was sent to boarding school and left there. Her father is a distant but powerful figure. The anthology is about one of the times she went home.

  • It is written in the first-person narrative.

  • “Cinderella” - the fairytale has connotations of neglect, abandonment and rejection.



  •  The anthology is about Adeline Yen Mah’s unfortunate circumstance where she is hated by her stepbrother and siblings. ● She also doesn’t have an attachment with her father and feels as though he is manipulative. (isolation)

  • In the beginning, it is evident that she is aware of how quickly time is passing.

  • Also, she is quite reluctant to return home and is unsure of why she has been summoned home.

  • She finds out that she has actually won an international literary prize and a sum of fifty pounds. When she is given a chance to study in England, she confesses how she wants to be a writer but her father doesn’t agree with the profession and she is almost forced to study medicine and become an obstetrician.

  •  Chinese culture is accentuated throughout. Structure:

  • The author uses direct speech.

  • It is written in the first-person narrative.


​ Meaning:

  • The anthology is about how her father praises her after she wins a playwriting competition.

  •  Her father recognises that she has a talent and allows her to study in England like her brothers, however, only if she studies medicine and specialises in obstetrics.

  • The anthology is aimed to inform on Chinese culture and tradition, explain her thought process and describe her experience of returning home.

  • The element of regret and distress is clearly highlighted throughout the anthology.


  • “Elegant villa at mid-level, halfway up the hill between the peak and the harbour.”


  • “In my case perhaps the end of school forever.”- conscious of time passing as she is not looking forward to returning home. (quite melodramatic)

  •  “Perhaps”- lack of control over her own life and she doesn't know what is going to happen to her.

  •  “I was losing steadily”- indicates her mind is elsewhere.

  •  “Outside it was hot and there was a warm wind blowing. The radio warned of a possible typhoon the next day.”- pathetic fallacy indicates the increased tension and dread she feels about returning home.

  •  “Like a persistent toothache”- simile describing how returning home was a painful thought. This suggests that she has a vulnerable home environment and that she has little control over her life.

  •  “We all stood up and greeted her”- highlights formal and disciplined Chinese culture.

  •  “Chauffeur”- indicates her wealth (prominent family). It also can be argued that this indicates a detachment from her family as her family didn’t come to pick her up (she is unloved).

  •  “Your chauffeur is waiting to take you home. Full of foreboding, I ran downstairs as in a nightmare, wondering wo had died this time. Father’s chauffeur assured me everyone was healthy”- juxtaposition here highlights how she only returns home if something bad happens. It emphasises how the mention of home brings an unsettling feeling.

  •  “They give the orders and I carry them out”- parallel with the driver. Yen Mah and the driver have no idea why she is going home. ● “Short drive”- close to home. This quote is evidence of how she is abandoned by her family.

  • “Full of dread.”, “I wondered what I had done wrong” - negative action.

  •  “Replied rudely”- below the driver in the hierarchy as she was spoken to in a rude manner.

  •  “I had forgotten”- indicative of distance with family.

  •  “Quite and cool”- pathetic fallacy here illustrates how loveless her home is.

  •  “See me in his room?”- the question highlights her disbelief.

  •  “Summoned”, “holy of holies”- hierarchy in the family. Father is seen as god-like and his room is seen as sacred (metaphorical language).

  •  “Overwhelmed”, “timidly”, “so scared”- these words imply fear.

  •  “Small sigh of relief”- doesn’t feel comfortable around her father.

  • “Is this a giant ruse on his part to trick me? Dare I let my guard down?”- questions highlight distrust and fear when she’s with her father and she feels as though her father has an ulterior motive.

  •  “I think”- her father lacks confidence in her abilities.

  •  “For bringing honour”- language relating to culture

  •  “Is it possible? Am I dreaming? Me, the winner?”- the triad of rhetorical questions reflects low self-esteem and emphasises her awe and confusion.

  •  “I was quite pleased to tell him you are my daughter”-emphasises pride. Adeline Yen Mah is not necessarily regarded as family. ● “I had given him face.”- emphasises how important her father’s reputation was to him. She has a hyperbolic reaction towards this as this is a rare if not the only amazing moment she has had with her father.

  •  “I only had to stretch out my hand to reach the stars.’- the metaphor illustrates how elated she is.

  •  “How come you won?”- italicised emphasises his disbelief.

  •  “Approvingly”, “But that’s a good answer”- encourages self-deprecation.

  •  “I asked boldly, thinking it was now or never.”- the climax of the story.

  •  “My heart gave a lurch as it”- hyperbole- intense happiness over how she has been given this opportunity. ● “Going to England is like entering heaven”- simile highlighting how overjoyed she is.

  •  “He scoffed” and “who is going you writing?”- belittling and condescending tone.

  • “I waited in silence. I did not wish to contradict him”- short sentences reflect anticipation and hesitation. It also builds tension.

  •  “You will”- the modal verb is repeated several times which proves that he is an authoritarian figure.

  •  “You will specialise in obstetrics”- irony- because she was blamed for her mother’s death and now her father wants her to be an obstetrician almost to make up for it.

  • “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.”- irony- still thinks like a writer. It illustrates her love for English literature. ● “Thank you very, very much”- repetition of “very” highlights her gratefulness and how accepting she is of her father’s decisions.

Effect on the reader:

  •  The anthology is easy to follow so engages the reader.

  •  She is writing for a general audience who may be interested in childhood memoirs or perhaps an understanding of the culture that Adeline comes from.

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