Deconstruction of Stereotypes in "East is East" and "Ae Fond Kiss"

Term Paper, 2008

12 Pages, Grade: 2,0


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. The relation between language and the world
2.1 Language as a construction of the world
2.2 Language as a simplification of the world: the origin of stereotypes

3. The power of representation: the portrayal of the ‘East’

4. Deconstruction of stereotypes in East is East and Ae Fond Kiss
4.1 Elements of Humour in East is East
4.2 drawing parallels in Ae Fond Kiss

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

“Oh East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,

Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God’s great Judgement Seat;

But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,

When two strong men stand face to face, though they come

from the end of the earth!”[1]

Stereotypes exist everywhere around us and are a natural means to be able to talk about the world. However, they might result in prejudices and discrimination. The stereotypical division into “East” and “West” is evidently a too simplistic one, since there is nothing matching these expressions in the world.

This research paper aims to reveal methods of postcolonialism to overcome binary oppositions like “East” and the “West”, which have been constructed during colonial times through western conception and representation of the “East”. After briefly showing constitutive and simplifying characteristics of language in general, an introduction to Eward Said’s work Orientalism is given as an example of the creation of the ‘otherness’ of a specific group. Orientalism focuses on how and to which extend the Orient or the East has been created in western notions. By this means the necessity for postcolonial discourse is highlighted. This so-called rewriting of the past can also be observed in the Asian British diaspora. The movies East is East and Ae fond Kiss can be interpreted as an example for postcolonial discourse and an attempt to break national or ethnic stereotypes and binary juxtapositions.

2. The relation between language and the world

2.1 Language as a construction of the world

According to the structuralist approach to language we perceive the world in terms of our own language. In other words, language shapes and constructs the world we live in and doesn’t merely describe reality.

“Wherever we look, we see language constituting the world […], not just reflecting it. For instance, the words for colours make a reality, they don’t just name things which are ‘there’: the spectrum isn’t divided into seven primary colours; all the colours merge into one another.”[2]

Hence, the Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure describes language as “constitutive”. According to him, there is no meaning within an expression itself, that is, there is nothing in the world that is equivalent to a word: “In language there are only differences, and no positive terms"[3]. It is the user of a language that attributes meaning to an expression. The meaning only exists in relation to other linguistic terms but not in reality with a positive content.

This making up of reality through using language is also an important factor in ethnic discourses. But this will be discussed in detail later on.

2.2 Language as a simplification of the world: the origin of stereotypes

Taking into account the structuralist theory of language, another aspect seem to come up. Since we use language to communicate we are always making up a reality. The world is so complex that we have to find superordinate terms, to be able to talk about things. Bryan Magee, popularizer and writer of philosophy, put it this way:

“Wann immer ich auch sehe, alles, was die Sprache vermag, ist äußerst allgemein und nur im weitesten und gröbsten Sinn anzudeuten, was ich da sehe. Sogar etwas so Alltägliches wie ein auf den Boden gefallenes Handtuch ist für die Sprache unerreichbar und das in vielfacher Hinsicht zugleich: Es gibt keine Wörter, um die Form zu beschreiben, in der es nun dort liegt, keine Nuancen in seiner Färbung, keine Wörter für die unterschiedlichen Schatten in seinen Falten, keine Wörter für sein räumliches Verhältnis zu den anderen Objekten im Badezimmer. Ich sehe das alles auf einen Blick mit großer Präzision und Endgültigkeit, […] und trotzdem wäre ich so wenig wie wir alle fähig diese Erfahrung in Worten wiederzugeben“[4]

Just like Magee’s example of the inability to describe the fallen towel in the bathroom most things cannot be captured by language. Because of the complexity of the world we need to simplify in order to be able to communicate. Therefore language itself can be understood as a set of overgeneralisations and stereotypes.

Bearing this in mind, it seems quite obvious why there are so many stereotypes in the first place. Stereotyping, just as language use in general, can be interpreted as a method to deal with the complexity of the world. A significant example for the constructiveness of language and overgeneralisation that goes along with it is the talk of the ‘East’ in opposition to the ‘West’, which will be elaborated on within the next chapter.

3. The power of representation: the portrayal of the ‘East’

The binary oppositions between the ‘East’ and the ‘West’, are a good example of constituting a reality rather than merely describing it. Only by using the terms ‘East’ and ‘West’ an oversimplistic distinction is made which does not exist in the world. As Kipling says in its poem “there is neither east nor west”[5]. The use of these binary terms goes along with a set of binary divisions and stereotypes that often refer to the East as “Other” or “exotic”. Edward W. Said examines in his book Orientalism the Western attitudes towards the East and its representation in literature and academic studies. Said stresses that this representation is a European ideological creation to deal with the ‘otherness’ and to put the West in a superior position. According to Said, “the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience”.[6] The West defines itself as the opposite to the East, which is represented as being ‘primitive’, ‘backwards’ and ‘strange’. But Said argues that this representation is not based on actual facts but through imagined constructs. The difference of these cultures is turned into a hierarchial “otherness”, which was quite useful at that time to justify colonisation attempts. The notion of “East” and “West” still exists as a coded discourse and further scholarship is often done within this context.


[1] Kipling, Rudyard. Rudyard Kipling’s Verse: Inclusive Edition, 1885-1932. “The Ballad of East and West” London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1933. p.231.

[2] Barry, Peter. Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. “Structuralism”. Manchester: University Press, 2002, p.44.

[3] Saussure, Ferdinand de. Course in General Linguistics. Trans. Harris, Roy (Transl). London: Duckworth, 1983, p.118.

[4] Ed. Morgenstern, Martin / Zimmer, Robert Treffpunkt Philosophie. Band 5 Wirklichkeiten und Weltbilder. „Bryan Magee: Sprache erfasst nicht die ganze Wirklichkeit“. patmos. düsseldorf 2002, p.28.

[5] Kipling, Rudyard. Rudyard Kipling’s Verse: Inclusive Edition, 1885-1932. “The Ballad of East and West”

[6] Said, Edward W. Orientalism. London: Penguin Books, 1991, p.2

Excerpt out of 12 pages


Deconstruction of Stereotypes in "East is East" and "Ae Fond Kiss"
University of Münster  (Englisches Seminar)
Asian British Culture on Film and TV
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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east is east, ae fond kiss, stereotypes, edward said, orientalism, etnocentrism, binary juxtaposition, asian british diaspora, humour, language world relationship, structuralist approach, Saussure
Quote paper
Marieke Jochimsen (Author), 2008, Deconstruction of Stereotypes in "East is East" and "Ae Fond Kiss", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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