The Joy Luck Club By Amy Tan: Conflict At The Hands Of Assimilation
Assimilation, for the most part, means that, over the course of generations, you lose your own culture in exchange for the culture of the land that you have moved to. This very process is a major theme in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.
Throughout the book, language is a clear indicator of how detached someone can be from their heritage, and can display the process in which assimilation occurs. Over the generations, the native tongue is lost and is replaced with English. The resulting language barrier between generations within a Chinese-American family creates conflict because the children barely know Mandarin, and the parents barely know English. The language barrier is especially prominent in the chapter titled “The Voice from the Wall”. In this chapter, Lena St. Clair is the child of Chinese Ying-ying and Irish Clifford, and acts as the family’s translator since Clifford doesn’t know Mandarin and Ying-ying cannot speak good English. This means that Ying-ying communicates to Clifford in gestures and motions because they do not share a language in common, and it means that Clifford and Ying-ying aren’t as close as a husband and wife should be because they constantly require someone like Lena St. Claire for translation.
Assimilation can also lead to an identity struggle of sorts for the children of the immigrants. Their parents insist that they cling to their Chinese ancestry in an American environment, leaving the children to have to make a choice between their heritage and their new home, which means that they either stick to Chinese culture and struggle to live in America, or they assimilate and be resented by the family for not continuing tradition. It seems to be a catch 22 for the second generation immigrants, as expressed by the characters in The Joy Luck Club. The characters choose to identify with american culture and say that their family’s traditions are out of date and do not hold them to the same reverence that their families do.
The process of assimilation is further sped up when Chinese immigrant children mary and/or date non Chinese people, as all of the narrators in the book have done. This can cause the chinese family to be bitter about their daughter dating/marrying a white man and further divides the already large generational gap between the first generation and second generation immigrants. These generational gaps is a trademark sign of assimilation at work because as the family divides, culture and tradition is lost either because family members are bitter or do not want to force their children to make the same choice between family and functionality that they had to make.
The theme of assimilation is spread throughout nearly every page of The Joy Luck Club, from children being translators to family issues over Chinese traditions, and Amy Tan captures what it really is like to be a second generation immigrant.
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Assimilation, for the most part, means that, over the course of generations, you lose your own culture in exchange for the culture of the land that you have moved to. […]