Resolution and Reconciliation in “The Joy Luck Club”

Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, published in 1989, is a challenge to the novel as a narrative paradigm. The book is a collection of first-person monologues of four mother-daughter pairs, which delves into the generational divide. In it, the conflicts between mother and daughter and the differences between traditional Chinese values and American values come to life in vivid vignettes. However, The Joy Luck Club is not essentially a discussion of the generation gap. Instead, the book demonstrates how the two generations come to resolution and reconciliation through the mother-daughter pairs’ negotiation of their identities as Chinese Americans. By examining the stories of two of these mother daughter pairs, mothers Suyuan Woo and Lindo Jong with daughters Jing-mei Woo and Waverly Jong, we will see highlighted generational differences and misunderstandings, and the grounds upon which reconciliation is finally achieved.

The separate story sections are divided into four parts: the mothers telling two stories of their “unspeakable tragedies left in China” (Tan, 20), and the daughters tell one about growing up and one about a current family/marriage situation. The structure presents a two-fold impression, dramatizing the critical transition in cultural values. The mothers grow up in pre-1949 China, where the society deprived women of their speech and shackled them with Confucian ethics. They had to behave silently and follow all the rules. In the contrast, as American-born and English-speaking, the daughters tend to think and act in the American way as they were hugely impacted by the mainstream American culture. They are alienated to Chinese culture which is only a composite gathered from stories, legends, books and the movies to them. Due to the generational differences, the confrontation appears when the mothers try to use their past experience to teach their daughters, but the daughters reject the waning influence of the old culture as they get more and more aware of their American identity. In the eyes of the daughters, mothers are “the source of authority for her and the most single powerful influence from China” (Wang, 30).

In the mother-daughter relationship of Lindo and Waverly, it is generational differences which lead to the misunderstandings, but the reconciliation is reached when Waverly realizes her mother – a linguistically and culturally poor speaker – has always had her own best interests at heart. From Waverly’s perspective, Lindo always keeps in the dominant place and plays the role of authority in their relationship; thus, Waverly always sees her mother as an invincible opponent in life since childhood. Waverly showed extraordinary talent in chess when she was a child: she won championship after championship. However, she was very uncomfortable with Lindo’s constant bragging in public. She intended to attack Lindo by giving up chess, but she even forgot she was meant to fight for her independence in the battle. When Waverly returned to chess, she found her prodigy had all gone, and what had sustained her was her mother’s love and support. Now, as a mother herself, Waverly finally understands Lindo’s unspoken love. Furthermore, Waverly anticipates Lindo will not like her white boyfriend, Rich, but surprisingly, Lindo does not criticize at Rich’s culturally ignorant behavior on table. That makes Waverly puzzled, because her mother is always finding fault with her. When she talks to her mother openly about Rich, she realizes that Lindo’s criticism only comes out of her deep concern for Waverly’s well-being, and her desire for her daughter to reap the happiness of marriage which she was deprived for so many years in China.

The relationship has been examined in another different perspective from the side of Lindo. She questions the feasibility of the mixed cultural identity in the chapter “Double Face”:

It’s my fault she is this way. I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these two things do not mix? I taught her how American circumstances work…She learned these things, but I couldn’t teach her about Chinese character. How to obey parents and listen to your mother’s mind. How not to show your own thoughts, to put your feelings behind your face so you can take advantage of hidden opportunities… Why Chinese thinking is best. (The Joy Luck Club, 289)

From the above quote, we can see Lindo fears that her daughter is dominated by American identity, and she blames herself for Waverly’s lopsided duality. However, Lindo’s fear is not justified by Waverly’s narrative. Waverly claims she learnt some invisible strengths from her mother at the age of six, for example, how to not show her thoughts, and she has not only benefited from them at chess games but also brought them to her adulthood. Therefore, Lindo is unduly panic because her daughter has done a good job with incorporating her Chinese thinking into her American life. Moreover, Lindo herself – along with other mother figures – are examining at their identity as well, looking for a way to combine their Chinese background with the American cultural aspects.

The Woos’ story is an exception to the monologue pattern, as the daughter, Jing-mei examines the mother-daughter gap from both sides. The mother figure, Suyuan, who is the founder of the Joy Luck Club, does not take narration in the book. Instead, her daughter, Jing-mei, narrates four stories including the first and last section which add additional continuity to the book. In the beginning, Jing-mei’s narration shows that she barely knew her mother. According to her impression of her mother’s experience in China: “I never thought my mother’s Kweilin story was anything but a Chinese fairy tale” (Tan, 12). Similar to Waverly’s story, a clash between the mother’s strong expectations versus the daughter’s inner sense of futility was formed during Jing-mei’s childhood. Partially due to Suyuan’s loss of two children in China, she strongly believed that Jing-mei must have some inner talents and expected her to be a prodigy. She forced Jing-mei to take piano lessons, but Jing-mei purposely fell short of Suyuan’s expectations because she felt being twisted into what she was not. In an aggressive confrontation with her mother, Jing-mei shouted out: “You want me to be some one that I’m not! … I wish I’d never been born! … I wish I were dead, like them!” (Tan, 142). Seemingly, the conflict takes place where the rigid East meets the liberal West: Suyuan thought she had the right and responsibility to explore Jing-mei’s prodigy as her mother, while Jing-mei held the American value of individualism, considering herself as a single solid individual separate from her mother.

The reconciliation happens after many years, at Jing-mei’s 30th birthday. She received the piano from her mother as a birthday gift, which shows that Suyuan understands why she refused to play: Jing-mei regarded it as something for her mother’s benefit. Now with the ownership of the piano, Jing-mei is able to try again out of her own will. Jing-mei is comforted that Suyuan’s faith in her ability to do what she wanted, even after she failed so many times. She comes to understand that her conflicts with her mother did not arise from any cruel expectations on Suyuan’s part but from Suyuan’s love and faith in her. Notably, in the last section of the book, Jing-mei becomes the representative of the second-generation daughters who goes furthest in contemplating the nature of a double identity. She is encouraged by the members of the Joy Luck Club to complete her mother’s unfilled wish – reunite with her twin half-sisters in China. She is worried for being not Chinese and she thinks she knows so little about her mother that she can hardly describe that to her sister. But when she eventually has her return trip to china, she happily perceives that the American culture she has embraced for so long does not preempt a Chinese consciousness as well. According to Rocio G. Davis, seeing her sisters and murmuring “mama” together – the word means mother in both English and Chinese – makes her realize that her inner Chinese identity, and uses that as a bridge to her mother (Davis, 22).

The Joy Luck Club articulates the renewed relationships between the first and second generation of Chinese American women. The misunderstanding between the two generations arose because of cultural and language barrier, but eventually reconciliation and resolution are reached when the daughters realize that the mothers have always had the daughters’ own best interests at heart. To a deeper extent, the generation togetherness depends on cultural wholeness. The happiness of the family unit comes after a series of cultural lost and found, and the affirmation of their Chinese-American identity has been examined as the major healing factor.

Works Cited

Tan, Amy.The Joy Luck Club. New York: Putnam’s, 1989. Print.

Wang, Veronica. “Reality and Fantasy: The Chinese-American Woman’s Quest for

Identity.”Melus12.3 (1985): 23-31.

Davis, Rocio G. “Identity in Community in Ethnic Short Story Cycles: Amy Tan’s The

Joy Luck Club, Louise Erdrich’s Love Medicine, Gloria Naylor’s The Women of

Brewster Place.”Ethnicity and the American Short Story(1997): 3-23.

Even Lindo Sleeps

“There are times when even the tiger sleeps.” This Chinese proverb is essential in understanding the character of Lindo Jong, mother of Waverly Jong, in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. The book, written as a series of interwoven vignettes, delves into the world of Chinese mother-daughter relationships. The Joy Luck Club tells about four Chinese families: the Woos, the Hsus, the Jongs, and the St. Clairs. Waverly Jong’s mother, Lindo, has always been strong and stubborn, criticizing everything around her and not yielding to persuasion. This pugnacity bothers Waverly, who has spent her entire life subconsciously trying to impress her mother, a seemingly impossible task. Waverly has always been plagued by her mother’s criticism, becoming increasingly agonized thinking that she cannot live up to her mother’s lofty standards. After finally deciding to confront her mother about her implacable personality, Waverly realizes that her mother is just a vulnerable old woman despite her inner strength. The Chinese proverb, “There are times when even the tiger sleeps”, suggests that even the strongest have an Achilles heel. This proverb is particularly relevant to the sleeping scene with Lindo Jong because even though Lindo is strong and combative, she is still a fallible old woman who worries about her daughter.

The proverb can be interpreted literally, but it also has a deeper figurative meaning. The tiger, a powerful predator, is seen as an almost faultless warrior in the animal kingdom. Always on its guard, the tiger is a fearsome creature that is not to be meddled with. As with every creature, the tiger needs to sleep, thus making it vulnerable to attack. Viewing tigers as a dominant adversary and viewing sleep as a universally held moment of vulnerability, this ancient Chinese proverb correctly asserts that no creature is without its weaknesses or moments of weakness.

Waverly and Lindo’s contrasting personalities highlight both of their personal weaknesses. By the Chinese Zodiac, Waverly was born a Rabbit, making her “supposedly sensitive, with tendencies toward being thin-skinned and skittery at the first sign of criticism” while her mother Lindo was born a Horse, making her “obstinate and frank to the point of tactlessness” (183). These two an animal signs do not bode well together, leading to a plethora of conflicts between the two Jongs. Lindo constantly criticizes everything from the food she is eating to the people around her. A good example of Lindo’s hurtful criticism is when she calls Waverly’s expensive fur coat present from her fiancé “just leftover strips” (186). As stated by Waverly, “[Lindo] never thinks anybody is good enough for anything” (183). This insatiability infuriates Waverly, who simply wants her mother to accept her surroundings.

The proverb’s pertinence to Lindo Jong becomes apparent when Waverly discovers her mother sleeping. Waverly has always been angry at her manipulative mother for her “scheming ways of making… [Waverly] miserable” (199). Waverly leaves early in the morning to go to her parents’ apartment and yell at her mother. When she finds Lindo, she sees a side of her mother she had never previously observed:

The back of her head was resting on a white embroidered doily. Her mouth was slack and all the lines in her face were gone. With her smooth face, she looked like a young girl, frail, guileless, and innocent. One arm hung limply down the side of the sofa. Her chest was still. All her strength was gone. She had no weapons, no demons surrounding her. She looked powerless. Defeated. (199-200)

Upon seeing her mother in this state, Waverly’s immediate thought was that her mother was dead; dead while she was thinking terrible things about her mother. Waverly shouts at her mother, tears flowing down her face. Lindo then wakes up, and with a look of motherly worry, says to Waverly, “Shemma? Meimei-ah? Is that you?… Why are you here? Why are you crying? Something has happened!” Lindo had not called Waverly Meimei, her childhood name, in many years. After this, Waverly had realized the true state of mother: she was just a tired, worn old woman who only wanted the best for her daughter. The criticisms and the subtle, sneaky comments were only made so that Waverly would make a better life for herself and analyze the faults of her present environment. This epiphanous moment for Waverly helped her realize the subtle meaning behind the Chinese proverb, ““There are times when even the tiger sleeps.” Although it is never explicitly mentioned that Waverly is familiar with the proverb, she soon learns of its meaning and verisimilitude. Waverly had always viewed her mother as the proverbial queen of the chessboard, “Able to move in all directions, relentless in her pursuit, able to find my weakest spots” (199). After seeing her tiger-like mother not on her guard, Waverly realizes that even Lindo sleeps.

Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club is not only a story of Chinese mother-daughter relationships, but it is also an insight into the nature and mannerisms of humanity. Lindo Jong is a feisty, critical woman who is never happy with her circumstances. Despite this, she is still old, caring, and vulnerable. For these reasons, Lindo Jong of The Joy Luck Club truly exemplifies the ancient Chinese proverb “There are times when even the tiger sleeps.”

The American Dream in The Joy Luck Club

Thousands of immigrants arrive in America every year with the hope that a new life, a better life, awaits them. The come in search of “the American Dream,” the hope that there are higher paying jobs, quality public schools to send their children to, and a safer environment filled with opportunities and choices. Typically, immigrants make the long journey in hopes of creating a better future for their children so that they can grow up in a country where they only have to worry about earning good grades and qualifying for a decent job. The characters in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan demonstrate these American dreams by providing insight into both their difficult pasts and their hopes for their children.

In The Joy Luck Club, Tan wrote about Chinese immigrants who are mothers to American-born daughters. The book focuses on the relationships between the mothers and the daughters, who just want to fit in with the rest of their American friends. The mothers always want their children to be the most successful, and tend to boast about their daughters’ accomplishments, often exaggerating them. For example, Waverly Jong was a chess prodigy during her childhood; she won multiple championships and was even on the news. Her Chinese mother, Lindo Jong, enjoyed bragging about her daughter’s victories to anyone who would listen, and she also liked to think that she also had a part in those victories. At the end of one particular tournament, she told Waverly, “Lost eight piece this time. Last time was eleven. What I tell you? Better off lose less!” (pg. 49). By making this remark, Lindo expresses how she feels responsible for the wins and how she likes to be involved in her daughter’s life. Lindo’s pride in Waverly’s accomplishments represents “the American dream” because she clearly did not say that comment for attention, although that is what Waverly assumes. She said it because she was proud of Waverly and felt that her daughter’s successes were also her successes. Tan thus reinstates the idea that immigrant parents want many opportunities for their children and feel great pride when the children do something that they didn’t even have the opportunity to do, which is one of the many reasons why they come to America.

Another way in which The Joy Luck Club represents “ the American dream” is by discussing the fact that many of the mothers immigrated in order to escape unsafe situations or to find a safer environment. Suyuan woo, Jing Mei “June” Woo’s mother, experiences a situation of this sort. Suyuan escaped a Chinese city name Kweilin when the Japanese army began bombing and invading the city. She had to abandon all of her possessions, even her two twin babies, on the side if the road while fleeing. She eventually meets a man, gets married, and moves halfway around the world to the United States for a better life. She fled China because she wanted not only herself, but her future children as well to be in a safer environment with fewer hardships. She didn’t want them to have to experience what she went through. She also tries to get June to be a prodigy like Waverly Jong, but couldn’t succeed because June didn’t seem to be interested in any of the proposed activities, including piano. June states, “My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America” (pg. 141). This expresses Suyuan’s belief in America’s ability to give everyone a chance at a better life despite past hardships. Even though June did not become a prodigy like her mother wanted her to be, the fact that it was even possible for June to take up almost any hobby she pleased is a lot more than what China had to offer at the time. Fortunately, Suyuan was able to escape and provide a safer environment filled with possibilities for her children.

“The American dream” is the hope of many people looking for “light at the end of the tunnel.” Whether it has to do with making a fortune with a new business in the land of opportunities, or simply being satisfied with life, it will continue to attract immigrants and opportunity-seekers. As demonstrated by The Joy Luck Club, the people who come looking for “the American dream” may be leaving behind so much from their past when coming to the United States. In the book, the mothers left behind family members, their languages, and even their culture, all to make sure their children have a chance to do what they couldn’t: follow their dreams.

Intergenerational Relations in “Rules of the Game”

Intergenerational relations between mothers and daughters are further complicated in The Joy Luck Club as cultural differences come into play for the first generation Chinese immigrant mother and her Americanized daughter. This is clearly brought out when Lindo Jong shows off her daughter at the market, announcing “to whoever looked her way” that “this is [her] daughter Wave-ly Jong” (90), but her behavior is only met with resentment from Waverly as she wished her mother “wouldn’t do that” (91) and sees accompanying her to the market as a “duty [she] couldn’t avoid” (90). Using this scene, Tan plays out the mother-daughter tension, as Lindo’s older generation Chinese mindset that a child’s success is a reflection of good parenting comes clashes with Waverly’s Americanized thinking that one’s success belongs to one alone. The daughter’s struggle for a separate identity from her mother brings forth the idea that the older generation views a mother and daughter as one entity, but through young Waverly’s western perspective, this is a threat to her individuality, apparent when she retorts to Lindo “if you want to show off, then why don’t you learn to play chess” (91). The distance between the pair is two-fold, as not only is Lindo older than Waverly, thus causing a generation gap, she is also from the Old World and brings with her Chinese ways that Waverly is unable to relate to. The first and second generation Chinese Americans are represented through Lindo and Waverly Jong as Tan attributes the lack of understanding between the two as a cultural difference rather than a generational one.Intergenerational tension is also shown through Waverly’s difficulty in reconciling and relating to Lindo’s seemingly mysterious power over her. This is best portrayed when Waverly imagines her mother as a chess opponent to be merely “two angry black slits” (92), failing to even give her a proper physical form, but the latter has such great power over her chess pieces that they “screamed as they scurried and fell off the board one by one”. When Waverly pictures her mother saying “strongest wind cannot be seen” (92) in the final page of this section, the reader gets the sense that Lindo‘s mastery of “the art of invisible strength” (80) is one that is incomprehensible to her daughter because logic fails to explain why it is so immense that it can determine the failure or success of her actions. Lindo’s possession of this great power and her omnipotence is, in Waverly’s eyes, associated with qualities not only of the older generation, but also of the Old World as she emphasizes how this concept is said “In Chinese” (80). This gives the connotation that the idea was conceived in ancient China and back in those times when Lindo could express it in her mother tongue without a need for translation like in America now. Here, Tan brings out the seemingly impossible task of bridging the gap between the first generation immigrants and their children as they are like chess opponents with “clashing ideas” (85).With undertones of intergenerational relations, the feminist notion of mothers empowering daughters is highlighted as Lindo imparts the rules of life to Waverly. When Lindo teaches Waverly “the art of invisible strength” (80), the latter only realizes the truth in her mother’s teaching when she started playing chess at an older age as she “discovered that for the whole game one must gather invisible strength” (86) to win her opponent and subsequently, the battles in life. The fact that Waverly is eventually able to put into practice what her mother taught her hints at a subtle form of reconciliation across the two generations, and Tan is perhaps trying to make the point that although it might never be possible for the two to gain absolute access to each other, there are elements of the ‘old way’ that will still be fused with mindset of the younger generation. From this example, it is also evident that the mother figure plays a central role in influencing the daughter’s perspective, imparting enduring Chinese ideas of human will which Waverly later referred to as a wind that “whispered secrets only [she] could hear” (88) to succeed at chess. By emphasizing the importance of learning “this American rules” (85), Lindo empowers Waverly with the knowledge that she “must know rules” (85) because it is necessary to adapt to the white dominant culture in order to survive in the American society. Tan uses this “invisible strength” as a representation of a power the older generation females possess that can shape and control events. Using this, females like Lindo and Waverly Jong become empowered and are able to exert influence on their circumstances, thereby subverting the structure of patriarchy. Tan writes Waverly and her brothers as “peer[ing]” (81) into a shop and observing old Li, giving the reader the impression that the younger generation is literally looking at the older generation through a window and the only way they can gain understanding of them is by taking note of their actions and behaviors. Waverly expresses doubt at the idea of the older Chinese generation being able to triumph western rules when she opens her sentence with “it was said that” old Li’s medical practices can do better than “the best of American doctors” (81), showing how the younger generation is apprehensive of the ways of their elders. By looking in at them through a glass, the older generation seems to have become the exotic other in the American society. Thus they are not only alien to the white Americans, but to the second generation Chinese Americans as well. In the same way, when Lindo looks at the chess instructions in English but appears to “search deliberately for nothing in particular” (85), she is trying to get a grasp of the American culture at large but is limited by her lack of language skills. This exemplifies that the inaccessibility of the other generation goes both ways, as it is not only Waverly who is unable to comprehend her mother and the first generation Chinese immigrants, the latter is similarly not able to understand the former. It is also interesting to note that the act of watching is also reversed and acted out on the American children of the Chinese immigrants, shown when a Caucasian man took a photo of Waverly and her friends with “the roasted duck with its head dangling from a juice-covered rope” (82), as if they personify elements of the Chinese culture. This could be Tan’s attempt to bring out to the reader that people like Waverly who are Asian but American born and bred, are stuck in a space of in-between-ness because they belong to neither culture, causing them to grow up in an environment of uncertainty thus the empowerment of the daughters by their mothers become all the more important in establishing a stable identity.

Music as a Motif in The Joy Luck Club

Music is a prevalent motif in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, appearing during times of loss and confusion as a reminder of the past. The vignettes all share a common thread, in that music reveals how one must acknowledge the past and learn from it in order to mature and gain wisdom. Music is always present as a reminder of the past, especially past mistakes or regrets, throughout characters’ stories and reflections. When Ying-Ying stumbles upon the Moon Lady’s performance, she describes the performance as a song of regret: “The sad lute music began again as the sky on the stage lightened. And there stood the poor lady… An eternity had passed since she last saw her husband, for this was her fate: to stay lost on the moon, forever seeking her own selfish wishes” (82). As the Moon Lady sings her song, she remembers how she betrayed her husband and was thus separated from him. As atonement for her sins, she sings and reflects sorrowfully for an eternity, always reminding herself of her past mistakes. Jing-Mei’s recollection of her piano playing also demonstrates the prevalent theme of music as a reminder of the past: “The lid to the piano was closed, shutting out the dust, my misery, and her dreams…” (154). When the piano is shut, it also shuts away the memories of how Su Yuan used to spark Jing-Mei’s genius and motivate her, but with no success because of Jing-Mei’s ignorance. The piano, and the music it produced, is “[Jing-Mei’s] misery, and [Su Yuan’s] dreams…” (154). It is a reminder of Jing-Mei’s past reluctance and her mother’s past hopes. Meanwhile, An-Mei also reveals music as a reminder of past mistakes or regrets in her retelling of her mother’s death:The only sounds were that of the girl in the clock playing the violin. And I wanted to shout to the clock and make its meaningless noise silent, but I did not. I watched my mother march in her bed. I wanted to say the words that would quiet her body and spirit. But I stood there like the others, waiting and saying nothing. And then I recalled her story about the little turtle, his warning not to cry. (269-270)The music of the clock served as a reminder to the past, and more specifically, to her mother’s words about the “warning not to cry”. From the clock’s music, she begins to recall things her mother has told her before, such as how she didn’t belong with the false luxuries of the Wu Family. For instance, when Second Wife gives An-Mei the fake pearl necklace, “[An-Mei’s mother] told [her] to wear the necklace… so [she] would remember how easy it is to lose [herself] in something false… Then she turned to [her]: ‘Now can you recognize what is true?’” (261). The music that repeatedly taunts An-Mei during her mother’s death forces her to look back to her mother’s past advice. Through hearing music, the characters are awakened to their regrets and past mistakes. The Joy Luck Club conveys the message that one must reflect on past experiences, rather than shut them out and try to ignore the truth. An-Mei, after discovering all her luxuries in her new life, describes the clock in her room: “This was a wonderful clock to see, but after I heard it that first hour, then the next, and then always, this clock became an extravagant nuisance. I could not sleep for many nights. And later, I found I had an ability: to not listen to something meaningless calling to me” (254). An-Mei makes an attempt to ignore her doubts and enjoy her new life without delving too deeply into the truth behind it. She tries to ignore the music, and the reminders of her past, her true home, which didn’t contain false luxuries and illusions of joy. However, as her mother dies after poisoning herself, “The only sounds were that of the girl in the clock playing the violin… [An-Mei] wanted to shout to the clock and make its meaningless noise silent, but [she] did not” (269-270). Now, she finally realizes the falseness of her life in the Wu family, and is reminded of the past and her mother’s wise words through the endless chiming of the clock. She tries to ignore her instincts at first, until she is finally struck by the magnitude of her mistakes at her mother’s death. If she had realized this sooner, she could have lessened her suffering and realized her true identity. Ying-Ying, on the other hand, does not ignore the truth. She confronts her past mistakes and mishaps, retelling her reaction from the Moon Lady’s song: “At the end of her singing tale, I was crying, shaking with despair. Even though I did not understand her entire story, I understood her grief. In one small moment, we had both lost the world, and there was no way to get it back” (82). She recognizes her mistakes and the family she lost. She doesn’t wander about aimlessly in search of something she knows she can’t get back or try to deny the truth, but instead confronts and accepts it. Lastly, the characters learn that one must apply past experiences to the present and learn from their mistakes as a step to maturity. Jing-Mei attempts to play the piano again after her mother’s death and as she plays, she reflects to the past and realizes something she had not known before, gaining insight and wisdom:After I had the piano tuned, I opened the lid and touched the keys. It sounded even richer than I remembered…Inside the Schumann book to the dark little piece I had played at the recital…It looked more difficult than I remembered…surprised at how easily the notes came back to me… I realized they were two halves of the same song. (155)Jing-Mei listens to the music again, her past, and she learns a monumental lesson from this small moment of reflection. As she begins to play, the message is unclear and “more difficult” to perceive, but as she makes more efforts to remember how to play, she comes to a realization. Jing-Mei finally sees that the piece she played years ago was originally only a half of a song, and incomplete. She realizes her past ignorance of her mother’s hopes and the naiveté she had exhibited when she had first played the piano. She remembers her mistakes, and in doing this, gains a deeper understanding of her mother. She becomes wiser as she begins to consider her mother’s true intentions for her. Ying-Ying also learns an important lesson from reflecting on the time she was separated from her family:…I never believed my family found the same girl….But now that I am old, moving every year closer to the end of my life, I also feel closer to the beginning. And I remember everything that happened that day because it has happened many times in my life. The same innocence, trust, and restlessness: the wonder, fear, and loneliness. How I lost myself. (83)Ying Ying still vividly remembers the Moon Lady’s song and looks back on her mistakes many years later. She remembers those times of “innocence, trust, and restlessness: the wonder, fear and loneliness”. She speaks wisely of her former ignorance and mistakes, describing how she was never the same after this experience and how she has moved on to maturity, applying her mistakes to the present. An-Mei, too, learns from her mother’s advice and realizes that she actually belongs to her original roots and family, not a life of false luxuries. Her mother tells her: “‘An-Mei, you must not forget. I was a first wife… the wife of a scholar. Your mother was not always Fourth Wife, Sz Tai!’” (258). Her mother speaks of a more blissful past and her regrets of leaving it behind. This also makes An-Mei remember her more blissful past as her mother dies and the music continues to play. She tells her mother during the funeral: “I can see the truth, too. I am strong, too” (271). An-Mei keeps her mother’s past words in mind as she denies the Wu family a few days later, crushing Second Wife’s necklace. She is no longer the naïve and easily manipulated girl she used to be and instead, becomes a mature and independent individual. Throughout the book, the characters of The Joy Luck Club are reminded of their pasts and past mistakes through music, from the chiming of the clock to the delicate trills of the piano to the sorrowful Moon Lady’s song. The music’s message is clear: in order to become wiser and more mature, one must first look back to their roots and their past, no matter how painful, and learn from them, changing themselves for the better.

Mother-Daughter Evolution in The Joy Luck Club

Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club provides a realistic depiction of Chinese mothers and their Chinese-American daughters struggling in relationships strained by tragedy, lack of communication, and unreasonable expectations. Tan criticizes mothers who intend to instill Chinese values while supplying American opportunities. The result is daughters becoming too Americanized and materialistic. Living in America demands a particular way of life that dictates the rules of success socially and professionally. These concerns show in the daughters’ embarrassment of their mothers’ traditional Chinese behavior and appearance. Each relationship progresses, though Jing-Mei and Suyuan show the greatest development. Jing-Mei narrates the mother and daughter chapters and possesses an elevated comprehension of forgiveness even after her mother’s death. She is constantly trying to prove her worth while Suyuan has found that her daughter is endowed with selflessness, considered a “best quality.” Compared to the others, their relationship is most resolved because Jing-Mei meets her half sisters and defines herself in the process.The first example of improvement is Jing-Mei’s reaction to her mother’s death in terms of participating in the Joy Luck Club. She questions whether she can adequately complete her mother’s duties. While Suyuan was living, Jing-Mei suggests, “There’s a school of thought that parents shouldn’t criticize children… When you criticize, it just means you’re expecting failure” (20). She was referencing Western thought, and her mother replies, “That’s the trouble. You never rise. Lazy to get up. Lazy to rise to expectations” (20). These words feed Jing-Mei’s feelings of incompetence while displaying Suyuan’s genuine interest in her daughter’s success. By contrast, Waverly’s mother completely relinquishes support after her daughter throws a temper tantrum. This reaction is unnecessary, and different from the reaction of Suyuan to her daughter dropping out of college. Suyuan encourages her daughter to finish school but provides needed positive endorsement. Jing-Mei supports this by guessing, “No doubt she told Auntie Lin I was going back to school to get a doctorate” (27). A doctorate, an academic degree of the highest level, is a prestigious endeavor, and Suyuan’s faith in her daughter’s intelligence is complimentary. Suyuan also shows confidence in Jing-Mei by attempting to force her to become a prodigy. Suyuan’s words, “You can be best anything,” (141) are inspiring but used for ammunition against Lindo. Jing-Mei does not comprehend her mother’s objective and exclaims, “Why don’t you like me the way I am? I’m not a genius! I can’t play the piano . . .” (146). Even after this argument, she keeps playing the piano and disappoints her mother during a recital. Comparatively, Waverly completely quits chess due to the games she believes her mother is playing. The significance lies in Jing-Mei’s continuation of her piano practice knowing that she is not and will not ever become a prodigy. Suyuan offers the piano as a kind gesture, but Jing-Mei originally refuses this gift. The piano serves as a symbol of her mother’s forgiveness and represents a longtime conflict with Waverly.This musical instrument epitomizes Jing-Mei’s shortcomings as a child, which add to her rejection of the present. Refusing to accept this gift alludes to her assumed bitterness. She eventually accepts the piano, but it is too late. Her mother’s words, “You have natural talent. You could been genius if you want to” (154), show the compassion that Suyuan possessed toward Jing-Mei. Jing-Mei further identifies herself by finding her mother’s “long cherished wish” (332). The issue is not about her mother’s death, but concerns Jing-Mei’s ability to individualize her existence. She has continuous problems with this effort (piano ability, evicted from apartment, dropping out of college) but learns to respect her mother’s willpower. This motherly love is accented by Jing-Mei’s agreement to meet her half-sisters in China and inform them of their mother’s death. Jing-Mei wonders, “What will I say? What can I tell them about my mother? I don’t know anything . . .” (31). The mothers cannot understand this perspective, and An-mei insists, “. . . Your mother is in your bones!” (31). Jing-Mei comes through, saying, “I will tell them everything” (31). This affirmation is a substantial part of the relationship’s conclusion and fulfills her mother’s wish of finding her lost daughters. This promise sharply contrasts with the experiences of Lena, the daughter of Ying-Ying, who must translate her mother’s words to her father, Clifford. Acting as translator, she must alter the words to seem conventional to her father’s American ways. The St. Clair family dynamic is restrictive and burdening, which leaves the reader appreciating Jing-Mei’s honesty concerning the details of her mother’s life. Jing-Mei’s truthfulness is derived from her understanding of “life’s importance,” delivered through a jade pendant gifted by her mother. Along with this endowment, Suyuan has transferred the character trait of selflessness. This is displayed when Jing-Mei selects the crab that was dead before it was cooked. She is unlike Waverly, who picks the best of everything without regard for others. This prideful perspective prevents Lindo from repairing her relationship and retains Suyuan and Jing-Mei’s status of maintaining the most repaired relationship. Suyuan says, “Everybody else want best quality. You thinking different” (234). This quote refers to Waverly’s desires for the top quality material goods while Jing-Mei is humble. Waverly’s appraisal of Jing-Mei’s writing seeks to humiliate her in front of family and friends. This public encounter exhibits Waverly’s snobbish attitude and provides reasoning for the less resolved relationship with her mother, Lindo. Jing-Mei contrasts Waverly’s selfish attitude by listening to the story of how her mother lost the twins. Her mother had contracted dysentery, a disease spread through contaminated food and water. This revelation improved Jing-Mei’s contextual understanding of the circumstances leading to the abandonment of the twins. This surprising information is comparative to An-Mei’s prediction of Ted cheating on her daughter, Rose. She upsets her daughter by saying, “He is doing monkey business with someone else” (209). Serving to foster Rose’s hostility toward An-mei, this quote tears at her reality and blinds her circumstantial clarity. This statement weakens the resolution of An-Mei and Rose while heightening Jing-Mei’s grasp of her mother’s meaning. Jing-Mei’s final perspective is acceptance and appreciation of her Chinese culture. Possession of the jade necklace and the piano symbolize her fulfillment with herself. Suyuan has resolved the relationship by offering these gifts that mask deeper meanings. She evolved away from shouting, “Then I wish I’d never been born! I wish I were dead! Like them!” (153). Jing-Mei now understands the conditions surrounding the twins and makes fewer uneducated judgment calls. The proof is in her words: “I know we all see it: Together we look like our mother. Her same eyes, her same mouth, open in surprise to see, at last, her long-cherished wish” (332). This closing viewpoint is hopeful, balanced, and mostly resolved in the midst of the other chaotic relationships. Jing-Mei finally finds meaning through meeting the half sisters and obtaining the details of her mother’s life. She honors her mother by fulfilling her last wishes of finding her daughters. The fact that Jing-Mei speaks for both herself and her mother expresses the peace that has finally arrived. Although the American way is corrupting Chinese cultural identities, Jing-Mei overcomes this trend by listening and learning about her mother’s life – by evolving into greater and more compassionate womanhood.

Ying-Ying St. Clair’s Narrative Journey

According to Joseph Campbell, the hero’s journey is comprised of many different stages that test the hero’s ability to overcome obstacles, as well as find their sense of identity along the way. In the book The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, Ying-Ying St. Clair, one of the four members of the Joy Luck Club, undergoes many challenges that shape her personal hero’s journey. Ying-Ying’s life goes through the three main stages of the journey, starting with the comfortable ordinary world, traveling to the special world, and ending with the return to the ordinary world as a changed person. As Ying-Ying experiences each stage, her perspective of life changes as her experiences help her mature and become stronger in order to endure the many challenges thrown her way.

In the beginning of the story, Ying-Ying is a lively, headstrong young girl living with her parents under her Amah’s meticulous care. At this point, Ying-Ying is oblivious in regards to reality’s true nature and lives life the way she wants to, as an outgoing young girl who tends to pay little attention to others’ feelings as long as she herself is satisfied. Later, at her youngest aunt’s wedding, Ying-Ying meets her future husband, whom she predicts that she will marry. This call to adventure is vehemently refused by Ying-Ying, who, at the time, believed that no one was worthy enough to become her husband. Ying-Ying had no mentor except for her own mind, thinking, “I fought his eyes with mine… I pushed so hard to keep him from my thoughts that I fell into a marriage bed with him” (Tan, 140). Ying-Ying may have been against the marriage, but she did not physically do anything to try to stop this from happening. Instead, she continued to believe that this was to be her fate, so she just let things play out the way she thought it would without doing anything to alter the events. Although she later comes to terms with her marriage once she has left home to live with her new husband, Ying-Ying is still unaware of the drastic changes that will come into her once comfortable life, and even if she did know, she still would not have done anything to help herself.

After crossing the threshold of her husband’s house, Ying-Ying starts her new life away from her childhood home. In the beginning, Ying-Ying is hesitant and unsure of her feelings, but she later comes to love her husband in her own way. After this change of heart, Ying-Ying no longer tries to push her husband away, but instead changes her once headstrong ways to become obedient and servile, constantly doing everything she can to please her husband. Ying-Ying recalls, “If I put slippers on my feet, it was to choose a pair that I knew would please him” (Tan, 141). Ying-Ying succeeded in persuading herself that she truly loves this man who thought so little of her, and she continued to live her facade of a life until her husband abandons her with an unborn son. After his abandonment, she becomes full of hate and anger, provoking her to kill her son out of spite. Ying-Ying chooses to live a life full of resentment and hatred towards her husband, since he abandoned her like she was worth nothing, when in the past, she saw herself as above everyone else. This major event in Ying-Ying’s life has changed her perspective on life forever, because for the first time in her life, she will not live the comfortable, innocent life she once knew. Ying-Ying then leaves to live with some relatives in the country, where she spends ten years deciding how she wants to live the rest of her life. Then Ying-Ying decides to return to normal civilization and work as a shop girl. There, she meets Mr. St. Clair, a man who waits for four years before Ying-Ying allows him to marry her and take her to America. Ying-Ying feels that this may be the start of a new life away from past sorrows, but she still continues to live a quiet, restrained life. Ying-Ying may feel all-knowing since she can predict things before they happen, but by not doing anything about her predictions, she does not take things into her own hands in order to improve her own life. As a result, Ying-Ying continues living like a ghost that does not have any actual feelings and does not want to talk or interact much with anyone else, only with her own thoughts. This shows how Ying-Ying’s past has affected her view on life and how she now feels that life is worth nothing when she feels no more alive than being dead.

After marrying Mr. St. Clair, Ying-Ying has a daughter, Lena, who seems to suffer a similar fate as Ying-Ying, since Lena has married a “bad man”, just like Ying-Ying did in the past. Ying-Ying continues to quietly observe, but she still does not do anything because Ying-Ying still clings onto the belief that she is like a ghost with no real existence in the real world. As Ying-Ying witnesses Lena’s suffering, she then contemplates her own past and how her past actions has affected her current life now. Through her daughter’s suffering, Ying-Ying realizes that she must not let history repeat itself by regaining her own spirit to pass on to Lena so her daughter can have the confidence to fix her current situation. Ying-Ying decides, “I will gather together my past and look. I will see a thing that has already happened. The pain that cut my spirit loose. I will hold that pain until it becomes hard and shiny… I will use this sharp pain to… cut her [Lena] tiger spirit loose” (Tan, 144). Throughout this whole process, Ying-Ying recalls her painful past, with which she finally has the courage to confront in her memories. This shows how Ying-Ying has come to the point in her life where she can no longer avoid her past mistakes, or else her daughter will continue to suffer unhappiness in her current marriage. Ying-Ying chooses to express her love for her daughter by passing on her tiger spirit so her daughter will have the strength to fix her marriage. This decision shows that Ying-Ying has spent enough time waiting, and now, she has reached the most important milestone in her life where she will no longer be the ghost that she believed she was before now. Ying-Ying has acquired the strength to overcome her past fears in order to pass on her strength so Lena can avoid the mistakes that Ying-Ying had committed before.

In the past, Ying-Ying was only familiar with a pampered lifestyle where she was able to have anything she wished for, but after experiencing life’s challenges, she has changed from a stubborn, innocent girl to a mature, thoughtful woman. Throughout her journey, she has had to endure many challenges similar to the stages that a hero must experience on the hero’s journey. Ying-Ying’s personal journey has helped to shape her viewpoint on life so that she can learn how to overcome the many obstacles in her way. Ying-Ying becomes more mature and strong as she finds ways to resolve the many problems that arise in her life. In the book The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, Ying-Ying’s perspective of life is altered as she embarks on the hero’s journey, as described by Joseph Campbell, and becomes stronger as she endures life’s challenges.

Amy Tan’s Use of Prologues to Bridge the Gap Between Chinese and American Culture

Cultural divides are difficult to overcome in storytelling, because readers must both re-orient their largest cultural assumptions and understand the ideas of specific, unique characters. However, in The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan effectively makes much of Chinese culture comprehensible to American readers. In describing a culture that is exceedingly different from the American way of life, Tan presents both cultures side by side in order to draw attention to their differences. One way she accomplishes this task is through the use of prologues that frame each of the four sections of the book. Each prologue gives the reader a cultural perspective, which allows for better interpretations of the book’s sections. These prologues unite the short story sections and as the prologues themselves come together to form one story, they bring the collection together as a whole to form an in-depth look at Chinese culture’s survival in American society. Amy Tan uses section prologues to establish viewpoints from which to observe and interpret each section while establishing general conflicts facing the characters in the short story collection; the prologues progress from identifying the problem to suggesting the continuance of cultural heritage, they help to bridge the cultural gap between the mothers and daughters in the story.

The prologue for “Feathers from a Thousand Li Away” depicts the relocation of a woman to a new country and the resulting cultural problems this type of relocation entails, which turns out to be the main conflict of Tan’s short story collection. The story in the first prologue recounts a woman’s immigration from China to America. She voices her optimism about America and the wonderful life it will give her daughter. The swan she is traveling with symbolizes both her life in China and the hope she has for her daughter in the New World. However, the swan is taken from her as she goes through customs, leaving her with only a feather to pass on to her daughter. This exhibits the loss of culture that takes place during relocation and identifies the reality facing the Chinese mothers in the book: “Tan’s structural narrative opening marks the way ‘America’ strips the woman of her past, her idealized hopes for the future in the United States, and excludes her from an ‘American’ national identity” (Romagnolo 270). This prologue enlightens an American audience on the dilemmas faced by immigrants in order to garner sympathy for the mothers in the story who could be misinterpreted without this background information. In the end of the story, the woman is left with only a feather to pass on to her daughter, which calls the reader’s attention to the feeble connection between Chinese-born parents and American-born children. This insufficient connection or inability to pass on culture and history to their daughters is what the mothers of the story fear. In this sense, the prologue establishes the stereotypical Chinese-born mother and the following set of four chapters elaborates on this model by illustrating both the fear of the mothers for their daughters and their troubled pasts that have led them to pursue better lives for their daughters.

With the prologue’s depiction of a mother’s fear of cultural disconnect, the chapters comprising “Feathers from a Thousand Li Away” confirm the existence of such fear among the mothers, which in turn establishes the mothers as sympathetic characters and gives an emotional curve by which the reader can judge them. In this section, as Jing-mei comes to terms with the death of her mother, she consequently realizes how far removed she is from her culture and heritage. After her mother’s death, Jing-mei is expected to take her place at the Joy Luck Club, and she realizes she is ill equipped to do so. On top of feeling distanced from the other women, she feels she cannot take her mother’s place in the family. She is told about her mother’s quest to find her daughters and that she must carry on this duty and educate them on who their mother was to which Jing-mei replies, “What can I tell them about my mother? I don’t know anything. She was my mother” (Tan 31). This admission conveys Jing-mei’s disconnect from her culture and appalls the other mothers because they fear the same attitude is present in their own daughters. An-mei exclaims, “Not know your own mother? … How can you say? Your mother is in your bones!” (Tan 31). This passage “articulates the anguish of the forgotten and obliterated, of not having progeny who would look back at ancestral ties with the past. All the mothers, Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, Ying-ying St. Clair, fear this genealogical obliteration” (Zenobia 254). This section illustrates the generational disconnect predicted in the prologue and establishes the main conflict of the collection: the cultural gap between Chinese-born mothers and American-born daughters.

After the establishment of the story’s main conflict, the prologue to the “Twenty-Six Malignant Gates” section shows the nature and extent of the cultural gap between Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters while garnering sympathy for the daughters in the story. The mother attempts to instruct the daughter by interpreting a Chinese book titled Twenty-Six Malignant Gates. The use of a Chinese text to justify a strict parenting style reveals the typical mothering technique among Chinese mothers, which could appear a bit overbearing to an American reader. This is an important cultural difference to address because “an American reader is less likely to grant those mothers their due without understanding that Asian mothers normally behave in a more heavy-handed manner than their American counterparts” (Souris 137). However, the effect of this prologue is twofold. The overbearing nature of the mother also establishes the view from which to examine the daughter’s attitude and actions, which translates to the examination of each daughter in the main narrative: “If the first preface prepares us to be sympathetic towards the mothers, this second preface prepares us to be sympathetic towards the daughters as we read each monologue against that preface as a backdrop” (Souris 129). As the prologue prepares the reader for the stories of the daughters, it establishes a tangible cultural gap rather than the anticipated one referenced in the first prologue, which cements the rising conflict. The next anticipatory action is at the end of the second prologue when the daughter goes against the mother’s warnings and ends up falling. This foreshadows the negative consequences this gap between the two generations will have for the daughters in the story.

The sympathy garnered for the daughters in the story aides the interpretation of the “Twenty-Six Malignant Gates” section, where the daughters assume control of the narrative and exhibit both their disregard for the wisdom of their mothers as they deal with hardships. Rose mentions the book referenced in the prologue and claims that the book shows “that children were predisposed to certain dangers on certain days, all depending on their Chinese birthdate… And even though the birthdates corresponded to only one danger, my mother worried about them all” (Tan 131-132). Rose is using this observation to establish her mother’s overbearing nature. However, in the same way that the prologue’s effect is twofold, Rose’s observation both criticizes her mother’s parenting strategy and reveals the cultural roots for such a parenting method. With the mention of the Chinese book, An-mei’s overbearing nature as a mother is tied to her Chinese culture, which paints children as prone to danger and in need of strong parental guidance. With this distinction, Rose’s observation of her mother reveals her parenting method to be more protective than oppressive. This realization is aided by both preceding prologues because the first one garners sympathy for the mothers, which causes an American audience to look beyond the overbearing Chinese mother, and the second prologue garners sympathy for the daughters in the story, which causes the reader to understand the attitudes of the daughters. This type of misunderstanding is the root problem of the short story collection: “The story is a tragedy of incomprehension resulting from a clash of cultural values and generational divide. The mother belongs to the old world order and believes in the inalienable right of the mother to regulate and run the life of the daughter” (Priya).

Following the juxtaposition of the Chinese opinions of the mothers and the conflicting American views of the daughters, Amy Tan sets the scene for the “American Translation” section by giving the reader a parable that identifies the details of the disconnect between the mothers and daughters. She does this by illustrating the difference between the American and the Chinese viewpoint. Harold Bloom illustrates the purpose of this prologue by observing, “The prologue sets the tone and the reasons for the tensions and conflicts in the mother-daughter relationship” (7). In the parable, the mother and the daughter gaze into a mirror. The mother, who symbolizes the Chinese way, exclaims, “In this mirror is my future grandchild, already sitting on my lap next spring” (Tan 159). Her eyes are set on the future and the continuation of her family. The daughter looks into the mirror and simply sees “her own reflection looking back at her” (Tan 159). This conveys the American worldview, which focuses on the present and the individual alone. Tan uses this mirror symbolism again when Lindo Jong is in the salon with her daughter. When she sees her daughter in the mirror, she sees herself and her own mother. With this reflection showing the past and the other story’s reflection showing the future, the Chinese worldview is illustrated in its entirety because it focuses on both the past and future with little regard for the present, which is the focus of the American worldview. This dynamic carries through the entire story as the mothers, who were raised the Chinese way, watch their daughters grow up in the American way. Ying-Ying describes this as a difficult way to raise a child by stating, “I raised a daughter, watching her from another shore. I accepted her American ways” (Tan 286). Their daughters grow up with a different focus in life and therefore become strange to their mothers because of the different worldviews. However, the recurring idea in the book is that “if you are Chinese you can never let go of China in your mind” (Tan 203). While this sentiment is confusing to the daughters in the beginning of the book, the mothers know it to be true, and the daughters slowly come to believe it as well.

After the establishment of the cultural gap and the stress it has on the mother-daughter relationship, the “American Translation” section of the book, which is narrated by the daughters, exemplifies the conflict between American and Chinese viewpoints and begins to move towards a solution through nature imagery. In “Without Wood,” Rose embodies this conflict. Ted takes advantage of Rose and makes her feel insignificant. After their separation, she goes out to view the garden in the yard and remembers how Ted would tend to the garden constantly and control every aspect of the planting and maintenance. He arranged them in different boxes, which allows plants to grow only under his controlling supervision. As she overlooks the overrun garden, Rose recalls something she read in a fortune cookie: “When a husband stops paying attention to the garden, he’s thinking of pulling up roots” (Tan 215). This is significant because with the way Ted gardened, with the plants in different and specific boxes, the root systems and the plants themselves would have been tame and easy to pull up. This is meant to convey the American way of life, which sees little connection with the past, making it easy to change and leave. However, Rose realizes this inconsistent way of life creates an unstable foundation on which to stand. As she views the overgrown garden with its strong, interconnected roots, she decides she prefers this to the well-kept garden because there is “no way to pull [the roots] out once they’ve buried themselves in the masonry; you’d end up pulling the whole building down” (Tan 218). With its interconnected and grounded roots, the garden symbolizes Rose’s Chinese heritage, which provides her a sound foundation on which to stand. With this newfound strength, she stands up to Ted and demands the house in the divorce rather than letting him simply throw her out. Because of the prologue, this event is classified as a return to her Chinese heritage or the Chinese mindset as her American view centered on the present is widened to include her past. This strengthens her because she realizes she has a strong Chinese identity and, as a result, obtains a new sense of self.

Once the specific conditions of disconnect between the two generations have been set down, the next preface illustrates a passing of the torch to the daughters in the story while voicing uncertainty for their preparedness for such a burden. In the prologue to “Queen Mother of the Western Skies,” a grandmother is seen voicing her parental uncertainties to her granddaughter. This prologue produces an effect similar to that of the first prologue: “Very sympathetic to the mother, this preface prepares us to organize the monologues we are about to encounter in a manner that is sympathetic to the mothers” (Souris 130). The grandmother claims she has raised her daughter the way she was raised in order to properly prepare her, but she questions whether or not this was correct or if it has truly prepared her daughter. The baby laughs at her musings, which causes the grandmother to scold her: “You say you are laughing because you have already lived forever, over and over again?” (Tan 239). She sees in her granddaughter another American-born child who will refuse to listen to her mother and will believe she knows better. The grandmother scolds her for this perceived insult. This questioning of her own parenting skills and seeing the future of her own daughter as a mother signifies the grandmother passing the torch to her daughter. It is now up to the daughter to raise her child and carry on tradition, no matter how ill-equipped the grandmother may think the daughter is at doing so. This torch carries with it a new level of responsibility for the daughter generation in the book.

This passing of the torch and the effects of this new cultural responsibility bridges the gap between the two generations as symbolized at the end of the book by the jade pendant that Suyuan passed down to Jing-mei. Suyuan Woo gives her daughter a jade pendant and tells her, “I wore this on my skin, so when you put it on your skin, then you know my meaning. This is your life’s importance” (Tan 235). The necklace symbolizes her Chinese heritage, which is why Jing-mei does not wear the necklace until after her mother’s death. She lives the Americanized way of life until the death of her mother, after which she feels a need to understand and return to her Chinese roots. She recalls her mother’s words about the jade as she contemplates its meaning: “This is young jade. It is a very light color now, but if you wear it every day it will become more green” (Tan 235). This charge for her to wear the pendant every day is Suyan’s attempt to constantly remind Jing-mei about her heritage. Because of the prologue, the reader perceives this as a passing of the torch where it is now up to Jing-mei to carry on Chinese culture. In describing the process of darkening the jade with wear, Suyan is conveying that the future is just as important as the past. Jing-mei needs to remember the past and the heritage she stands on, but she also needs to darken the necklace, which symbolizes building upon her heritage in order to pass on a stronger foundation to her children. Therefore, Suyan’s description of the necklace as “life’s importance” bears the Chinese worldview, which is described in the third prologue as having the past and future as the main focus of everyone’s lives. The fact that Jing-mei chooses to wear the necklace after her mother’s death shows that, like Rose, she has returned to her heritage and the ways of her mother. With this decision, she quells the fears of the lady in the prologue, who seems unsure of her results as a parent and the resulting ability of her daughter to carry on her culture. In the end, Jing-mei returns to her heritage and understands her mother as well as she can.

Despite the changing viewpoints in her book, Amy Tan conveys these stories in sections with thematic explanations in the form of prologues, creating an in-depth view into both Chinese culture and the effect of immigration on it. Each prologue prepares the reader by establishing the situation of Chinese Americans, which is something that would be foreign to a wide range of readers. They also aid the reader in understanding Chinese culture as a whole, which otherwise could seem harsh to the average reader. It establishes a viewpoint from which to observe and judge each set of stories. It is important to have a cultural background for these stories in the same way that it is important for the daughters in the story to have their mothers’ cultural backgrounds to facilitate understanding: “Incomplete cultural knowledge impedes understanding on both sides, but it particularly inhibits the daughters from appreciating the delicate negotiations their mothers have performed to sustain their identities across two cultures” (Hamilton 196). The cultural gap between the reader and the characters in the story must first be closed in order to perceive the closing of the cultural gap within the story. Tan accomplishes this task with the four prologues. In the end, the prologues tie the stories together. When viewed chronologically, the prologues can be observed as one parable surrounding two characters: an immigrant mother and an American-born daughter. In the same way that the prologues can be joined as one story, the stories within the collection can be united in order to portray a multifaceted image of Chinese culture and the stresses that face immigrants attempting to find their identity somewhere between the two cultures.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations: The Joy Luck Club. Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2009. Bloom’s Modern Critical Interpretations.

Hamilton, Patricia L. “Critical Readings: Feng Shui, Astrology, and the Five Elements: Traditional Chinese Belief in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.” Critical Insights: The Joy Luck Club, Jan. 2010, pp. 196-222. EBSCOhost, b=lfh&AN=48267633&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Priya, Lakshmi. “Cultural Barrier through Communication – as Explained in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.” Language in India, vol. 12, no. 1, Jan. 2012, pp. 70-76. EBSCOhost,

Romagnolo, Catherine. “Critical Readings: Narrative Beginnings in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club: A Feminist Study.” Critical Insights: The Joy Luck Club, Jan. 2010, pp. 264-289. EBSCOhost,

Souris, Stephen. “CRITICAL READINGS: ‘Only Two Kinds of Daughters’: Inter-Monologue Dialogicity in The Joy Luck Club.” Critical Insights: The Joy Luck Club, Jan. 2010, pp. 113-144. EBSCOhost, b=lfh&AN=48267630&site=eds-live&scope=site.

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. Ivy Books, 1995.

The Voice From the Wall: Exploring Isolation in the Joy Luck Club

Role models influence our understanding of self, perception of reality, and personal growth. Parent’s are biologically programmed to serve as primary role models for their children, however some achieve more success than others. In her short story ‘The Voice From the Wall’ Amy Tan explores a child’s relationship with her mother and how it alters her understanding of the outside world. As Chinese-American citizens the narrator and her mother struggle to place themselves within Western culture. The narrator, Lena, watches her mother confront countless barriers due to her race and grows to resent it. Communication, the largest and most obvious barrier, brings stagnancy to Lena’s mother’s life which translates to the narrator’s perception and sense of self. Using race as a catalyst, Tan demonstrates isolation and the effect it has on the adolescent psyche.

Tan illustrates a mother who is trapped within the confines of her differences. By leaving China the Lena’s mother enters a world that does not attempt to listen to her, and the displacement and fear she demonstrates on her wedding day affirms this. Described as a “Westernized suit jacket” (Tan 308) the mother’s wedding dress symbolizes both her marriage and her stagnancy. ‘‘In this outfit she looks as if she were neither coming from nor going to someplace,” (Tan 308-309). The jacket represents the way her new role in society sits awkwardly on her shoulders. Although her new life may not harm her more than her life in China, she must observe the world with a closed mouth and a tape of bad memories running endlessly in her mind. Lena’s mother also wears an “Ankle-length Chinese dress with modest vents at the side,” (Tan 308) but this is not the item of clothing described as a wedding dress. Her ‘wedding dress’ was a gift from Lena’s father, one her mother would not likely have worn if given a choice. These dresses in their entirety represent the only family dynamic the narrator knows, with an isolated mother who can only speak when her husband “put[s] words in her mouth” (Tan 309).

Through violent imagery Lena suggests a negative tone towards her race. This attitude—although misguided—stems from the correlation between her mother’s isolation and her inability to communicate. “I often lied when I had to translate for her,” (Tan 310). When Lena watches her mother struggle to understand Western Culture she associates her discomfort with her race. Lena does not understand the “tragedy [her mother] could not speak about,” (Tan 308) in China or how this relates to her place in the world—she just knows that the Chinese aspects of her mother embarrass her. Lena expresses her embarrassment by widening her eyes, perceiving them “As if they were carved on a jack-o-lantern with two swift cuts of a short knife,” (Tan 308). When she walks around like this her father tells her that she looks scared, because in truth she is scared. Her fears emerge in the visions she experiences growing up. She describes “[Seeing] these things with my Chinese eyes, the part of me I got from my mother” (Tan 307). By relating her visions to the Chinese aspects of herself she challenges her ability to find comfort in her race or in her home, ultimately increasing the negative thought patterns that initially sparked her visions.

Lena’s mother uses fear to isolate her daughter from the negative outside world, inevitably rendering her unable to differentiate between truth and falsity. Lena bases her understanding of the world upon the word of her parents. “A man can grab you off the streets, sell you to someone else, make you have a baby. Then you’ll kill the baby,” (Tan 310). Lena’s mother knows nothing but this reality, and only wishes to protect her daughter from it. However, these concepts are larger than Lena’s ability to understand them. Children desire clarity, and require it to know their place in the world. Without a full understanding of her mother’s truth, the truth of these warnings becomes lost in translation. While the narrator “Could no longer see what was so scary… [she] could feel it,” (Tan 317). Just as her mother is disconnected from the outside world, Lena is disconnected from her mother. She can only feel the weight of the negativity around her, and this confuses her until she witnesses transparency in another family. “I heard them laughing and crying… shouting with love,” (Tan 318). She realizes that silence, muddled truth, and isolation feel worse than physical pain, and wishes that her family would see and hear each other the way the voices from the wall do.

Tan offers no concrete resolution at the end of ‘The Voice From the Wall’. Even after she understands the root of her pain Lena will continue living a life that tortures her. By writing this story Tan implies the importance of voice in a household. Parents must actively work to understand their children and vice versa. Without mutual understanding everyone is left incapable of growth and stagnancy is worse than the pain of a thousand cuts.