English Paper Joy Luck Club

9 September 2016

A Look at the Concept of Double-Life Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club is a narrative mosaic made up of the lives of four Chinese women and their Chinese American daughters. Because of its structure, the book can only loosely be called a novel. It is composed of sixteen stories and four vignettes, but like many novels, it has central characters who develop through the course of the plot. The daughters struggle with the complexities of modern life, including identity crises and troubled relationships, while the mothers reflect on past actions that were dictated by culture and circumstance.

The lives of the older women are bound together through their similar situations as immigrants and their monthly mah-jongg games at Joy Luck Club meetings. Each of the stories is a first-person narration by one of the Joy Luck Club’s three mothers or four daughters. Each narrator tells two stories about her own life, except for Jing-mei (June) Woo, who stands in for her deceased mother, telling a total of four stories. The tales are arranged in four groups, with a vignette preceding each group. The first group is told by mothers (plus June), the second and third groups by daughters, and the fourth by mothers.

English Paper Joy Luck Club Essay Example

Jing-mei’s final story, in which she learns her mother’s history, concludes the book. “The Joy Luck Club” is the title of both the novel and this story. Author Amy Tan introduces and explains the concept of “joy luck” by showing two different Joy Luck Clubs in action. The first Joy Luck Club, in Kweilin, shielded the women’s spirits against the harsh living conditions and constant threat of war. Suyuan had dreamed of visiting Kweilin, a place of great natural beauty, where she thought she would be perfectly happy.

Instead, she and the other refugees lived with bad food, disease, overcrowding, and uncertainty. To combat their fear, the women played mah jong once a week. “Each week we could hope to be lucky. That hope was our only joy. And that’s how we came to call our little parties Joy Luck” (Tan 25). The second Joy Luck Club, in San Francisco, offered hope to women with a common bond. Jing-mei says: “My mother could sense that the women of these families also had unspeakable tragedies they had left behind in China and hopes they couldn’t begin to express in their fragile English”(Tan 20).

The second Joy Luck Club becomes an investment group and social gathering by the time Jing-mei is an adult, and the women have formed strong friendships. “Joy luck” then becomes a concept the women would like to pass on to their American-born daughters, who do not understand the tragedies their mothers experienced. The mothers are afraid they will have “grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation” (Tan 31). Accordingly, Tan uses the device of the Joy Luck Club meeting to introduce the mothers and the daughters.

She offers initial insight into the mothers’ characters by giving Suyuan’s opinion of them and develops the characters of Jing-mei (June) and Suyuan. The conversation about black sesame-seed soup in the first few paragraphs reveals that Jing-mei understands some Chinese, but imperfectly. Her statement, “I can never remember things I didn’t understand in the first place,” begins the development of two conflicts. In the first, Jing-mei struggles with understanding her Chinese heritage. Not until the final pages does she come to terms with it.

The second conflict, overcoming language problems, affects all the characters to greater and lesser degrees. Later in the story, Jing-mei states she felt as though “my mother and I spoke two different languages, which we did. I talked to her in English, she answered back in Chinese” (Tan 23). Mothers and daughters struggle with their imperfect understandings of one another, seeking reconciliation. In addition to this, this story also introduces a continuing motif, the idea of seeking balance.

Suyuan’s criticism runs along the lines of “Something was always missing. Something always needed improving. Something was not in balance” (Tan 31). Auntie Lindo explains that Jing-mei will take her mother’s place at mah jong because without her the women are “like a table with three legs, no balance” (Tan 33). These are minor examples of what will be a significant concept in the novel. Surely, in The Joy Luck Club, Tan intermingles the thematic treatment of intercultural conflict with that of intergenerational conflict.

The mothers who immigrated to the United States from China still have very strong cultural ties to their old home and want to raise their children in the traditional Chinese way. Their Chinese American daughters, however, feel that they are trapped in the conflict between traditional Chinese culture and mainstream American society, between their aspirations for individual freedom and their sense of familial and social obligations, and between their false and their true identities. Paradoxically, the conflict is both frustrating and constructive.

The daughters are eventually led to conclude that they must embrace what they cannot culturally reject, and that they are as American as they are Chinese. Thus, The Joy Luck Club highlights the influence of culture on gender roles. The Chinese mothers in the book, all born in the 1910’s, grew up in a hierarchical society in which a woman’s worth was measured by her husband’s status and his family’s wealth. When they were young, the women were taught to repress their own desires so that they would learn to preserve the family honor and obey their husbands.

The difficulties in marriage encountered by Lindo and Ying-ying as well as by An-mei’s mother emphasize how few options were open to women in a tightly structured society in which their economic security and social standing were completely dependent on men. Consequently, when the mothers immigrate to the United States, they want their daughters to retain their Chinese character but take advantage of the more flexible roles offered to women by American culture. The postwar baby-boomer daughters, however, are overwhelmed by having too many choices available.

They struggle to balance multiple roles as career women, wives or girlfriends, and daughters. The materialistic focus of American culture makes it difficult for the daughters to internalize their mothers’ values, particularly the self-sacrifice, determination, and family integrity that traditional Chinese culture stresses. In addition to gender roles, mother-daughter relationships are an important focus of the book. Mothers are shown to have profound influence over their daughters’ development, yet their influence is constrained by the surrounding culture.

As girls, the Chinese women wanted to be like their mothers, whereas the American-born daughters are estranged from their mothers. This contrast is consistent with a difference between cultures: Americans expect their children to rebel against parental authority, while the Chinese promote obedience and conformity. The daughters in The Joy Luck Club think that their mothers are odd because they speak broken English and miss the subtleties of American culture pertaining to dress and social behavior.

They also tend to see their mothers as pushy. Waverly and June rebel against their mothers’ expectations without understanding that Lindo and Suyuan are trying to give their daughters the opportunities that they never had themselves. As adults, Waverly and June struggle with the conflicting desires of pleasing their mothers and developing their own individuality. Because they perceive their mothers’ guidance as criticism, they are slow to understand the depth of their mothers’ love and sacrifice for them.

Indeed, Peter Tavernise in “Fasting of the Heart: Mother-Tradition and Sacred Systems in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club” asserts that “just as in the Confucian ritual system, very little of the mother-tradition in the text is told explicitly from mother to daughter: ritual actions are supposed to be observed, absorbed, read, and understood in order to be transformed, preserved and handed down in turn. ” All in all, despite such generational and cultural gaps, the author suggests that daughters resemble their mothers in character as well as in appearance.

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