The Joy Luck Club is a tale of four mothers and their four daughters struggling to try to understand the issue of gender identity. In finding their identities they discover one another, almost losing their sense of self and what they mean to one another. Throughout the book each of the mothers works hard at teaching their daughters the virtues of Chinese wisdom while allowing the opportunities of American life. They try passing on a piece of themselves despite the great barriers that are built between the women. Each of the stories gives a wonderful glimpse into the Chinese culture and heritage that the mothers are trying to reveal to their daughters through the use of past experiences of life in China, and conflicts between Chinese cultures and American cultures, and language barriers.
Amy Tan examines how first generation Chinese mothers and their daughters communicate affection in her novel, The Joy Luck Club. The study explores how affection is voiced within the background of the Chinese American mother-daughter relationship (Crisp). Women in early Chinese culture were excepted to keep their heads down and basically do what they were told. Some families arranged marriages for their children to improve their status. For instance, Ying-ying St. Clair had to deal with many hardships when she was young in China. She married a man who she thought was good man but immediately was unfaithful to her and out of rage aborted her unborn baby. Her experiences of these taught her that life is full of pain. Ying-Ying’s daughter Lena would probably not understand her mother’s sufferings due to the fact being marrying in teenage years is seldom done in America (Tan). Suyuan Woo is forced because of a war to abandon her twin daughters on the side of the road, because of these Suyuan tries to force her daughter June to be a prodigy, the best at playing piano. June starts to resent her mother for this. An-mei Hsu learns at an early age to swallow her tears, a lesson in severe love from her grandmother, Popo, and from her mother. An-mei is taught to conceal her pain, and to distrust others. Eventually she learns to speak up for herself, she fears that she has handed down this passive behavior to her daughter, Rose. Lindo Jong was forced to marry a young emperor who was no older than herself when she was 12 years of age. She learned invisible strength, holding on a plan created in her mind until the right moment. She deviated out of her marriage by saying a servant girl was pregnant with his child. These mothers wanted more for their daughters, “So this is what I will do. 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 in my hand until it becomes hard and shiny, more clear. And then my fierceness can come back, my golden side, my black side. I will use this sharp pain to penetrate my daughter’s tough skin and cut her tiger spirit loose. She will fight me, because this is the nature of two tigers. But I will win and giver her my spirit, because this is the way a mother loves her daughter (Tan).” They did not want their daughters having to experience the hardships in life that they were faced with. Wanting a better life for their daughters, the mother’s raise their daughters in American. But raising a Chinese child in America, Chinese culture can be easily lost.
Chinese cultures are different than American’s cultures. Chinese believe there is good and evil in everything, a ying and yang. In Ildikó Limpár ‘s article he explains how the Chinese mothers would tell their daughters to stand straight because this builds a solid wood in their character. The importance of the Chinese culture can be as simple as picking the right time and day for a wedding according to Chinese astrology (Limpár). In Chinese culture you work for and take proud in the things you have in life. In America somethings are handed to you without the challenging work, where is the proud in that. In this quote, Lindo Jong tries to explain to her daughter, Waverly the importance of earning, not being given, opportunities, “American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these two things do not mix? I taught her how American circumstances work. If you are born poor here, it’s no lasting shame. You are first in line for a scholarship. If the roof crashes on your head, no need to cry over this bad luck. You can sue anybody, make the landlord fix it. You do not have to sit like a Buddha under a tree letting pigeons drop their dirty business on your head. You can buy an umbrella. Or go inside a Catholic church. In America, nobody says you have to keep the circumstances somebody else gives you. She learned these things, but I couldn’t teach her Chinses 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 easy things are not worth pursuing. How to know your own worth and polish it, never flashing it around like a cheap ring. Why Chinese thinking is best (Tan 254).” Lindo feels it is important for her daughter to see the value in working hard and achieving your goals. Everything for the simplest things as planning a wedding, food to cook, and strategies my not just a game but in life are important to Chinese cultures. American culture we just pick a date for our weddings hoping everything works out that day, cook anything as long as it looks good, and make things up in life to get by. American cultures teach us to use grammar, in societies’ standards, correctly and broken English is not acceptable. It is looked at as being uneducated and not proper. Is causes problems between the mothers and daughter in The Joy Luck Club.
The mothers’ stories are intended to implant fear, happiness, a sense of who one is. They depend on this to explain all about life to their daughters, yet their daughters because of their American heritage, do not understand this form of communication and it is not always effective. A Chinese mother say follow, listen, you do not need to understand so don’t ask questions, it is rude. Mothers and daughters born and bred in China would not found this challenging but being cross cultural it becomes extremely difficult. Mothers being frustrated at daughters, daughters frustrated at mothers, each thinking their communication is useless or impossible (Wood). That they will never understand each other. One generation having faith in the stories and the other having so little understanding of the stories causing them to be lost or worse their meanings being misunderstood in this American generation.
In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they have brought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. They see that joy and luck do not mean the same to their daughters, that to these closed American-born minds “joy luck” is not a word, it does not exist. They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation.”
In the end the daughters start to understand the lessons their mothers were trying to explain, even after the death of one of the mothers. Together the daughters and mothers create a satisfying wholeness from generation to generation, what started out as unbalanced, finally ends with a positive balance.