Music as a Motif in The Joy Luck Club

April 22, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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