The Joy Luck Club is a story of a monthly mah-jong gathering whose members consists of four Chinese mothers with American-born daughters. The novel is narrated by the four mothers and their daughters. At these meetings, the mothers share their concern of the growing rift between their daughters and Chinese customs. Each mother shares her story of her life in China and each daughter tells her story about her life in America. In The Joy Luck Club, the consistent conflict is formulated from the cultural and ideological clash between the mothers and daughters.
Tensions arise out of the struggle to adapt to the American way of life when old customs are expected to be honored. Communications between both sides are limited, and from this, they all struggle with the expectations that they have for each other. Amy Tan’s novel provides the reader the perspectives from two vastly different worlds – the conflicts the mothers faced and how the Chinese values conflict with American values in the lives of the daughters. In Amy Tan’s novel, the mother is shown struggling with adapting to the American way of life, while the daughters try and honor the old Chinese customs.
The mothers constantly criticize their daughters and always expect their daughters to respect and honor their choice. The mothers relate their past to their daughter, so that they may realize the struggle they had faced. The mother’s wish for the daughter to live a better life than the one she had back in China is revealed in the conversation between the Chinese woman and her swan on her journey to America in the novels first prologue. Her wish: “In America I will have a daughter just like me. But over there nobody will say her worth is measured by the loudness of her husband’s belch.
Over there nobody will look down on her, because I will make her speak only perfect English. And over there she will always be too full to swallow any sorrow! ” this shows that the mother only wishes for her daughter to have a promising and not face any hardships (The Joy Luck Club, 17). The mother’s prospects for her daughter are the very reason that tension arises between the mother and daughter. The Chinese way consists of not expressing one’s desires, not speaking up, and not making choices. The American way consists of exercising choices and speaking up for oneself.
This Chinese custom was vigorously expressed throughout the novel as the mothers told their stories about forced marriage, war experience, the love and longing for a mother, and sacrifice. All these were causes of not speaking up for themselves and making their lives the way they wanted. Shame was also another tradition that had to be followed. Control of the children (in Chinese and Japanese families) was maintained by nurturing feelings of shame and guilt. The mothers tried to teach their daughters of these ways and the culture of the Chinese people but resulted in a different manner than expected.
The daughters see their lives in a different perspective. Regardless of shame and surrounding, the daughters would openly disrespect their mother and feel justified for doing so. They try and follow the American society, while struggling to maintain their Chinese heritage, through the heavy influence of their mothers. The daughters do not realize why their mothers pressure them so much. They feel that their mothers never look up to them or respect their choices. The American daughters are alien to Chinese culture as much as they are to their mother`s uncanny, Chinese ways of thinking.
Part of that society would be a Language barrier, which causes restriction of the mother understanding her daughter and vice versa. While the daughters, all born in America, entirely adapt to the customs and language of the new land, the immigrant mothers still hold onto those of China. The mothers capability of speaking English is limited to that of their daughters. The daughters assume that the mothers are not as educated as they are, for their inability to speak and express themselves in English.
The Joy Luck Club mothers can feel their daughter’s impression on them when they see their daughters growing impatient every time they speak Chinese; they think their daughters perceive them as being stupid because of their incapability of speaking fluent English. The language barrier that existed between them was such that both mother and daughter imperfectly translated each other words and meanings. The mothers attempted to communicate by taking classes, hand gestures and sometimes even asking their daughter to translate on their behalf. Lena St.
Clair’s mother has trouble expressing herself in English. She married an English speaking man, but he expected her to learn English, while he himself put no effort in learning Chinese. In her desperate attempt, she would use hand gestures and expressed her emotions through exerting them. Most of the time the husband would not understand her and would assume what she would say but the daughter was capable of translating but could not speak the language. Because of this, Lena defines her mother as a “displaced person“ who has difficulties expressing herself in English.
In this dilemma the mothers were not capable of teaching their daughters why “Chinese thinking is best“. Stress and frustration would accumulate from the misunderstanding and failure of understanding one another. The mother always expected the daughter to know what she was trying to get across but the mothers could not put their thoughts into words. As a result, the daughters often felt justified in believing that their mothers had nothing worthwhile to say. When the mother talks about the American ways, the daughter is willing to listen; when the mother shows her Chinese ways, the daughter ignores her.
The mother is thus unable to teach her daughter the Chinese ways of obeying parents, of listening to the mother`s mind, of hiding her thoughts, of knowing her own worth without becoming vain. On the other hand, the daughters would always feel that their mothers were trying hard to make them another version of themselves. The mothers failed to realize that the daughters did put exceptional work into trying to understand their mothers. The daughters would listen and try to emotionally attach themselves through conversations with their mothers but the mothers, took matter into their own hands and tried to show their superiority.
When the story is being told from a daughter’s point of view, the mother always speaks in incorrect English. This highlights the distance between the younger and older generations, as the mothers and daughters frequently misinterpret or misunderstand each other. A prime example is when Waverly confuses Taiyuan, her mother’s birthplace, with Taiwan, which is a different place altogether. The mother loudly corrects her, causing any chance of communication between her and her daughter to halt because Waverly upset with her mother’s lack of recognizing the attempt that her daughter had put in to try and relate to her.
The daughters realize and acknowledge to themselves, the fact that they lack any solid communication with their mothers and realize that this is what is causing them to drift apart from their roots. They also see this as to why their mothers are always trying so hard to compromise for their daughters by talking to them in English so that they may grasp at least the basics of the Chinese customs. The mothers influence is shown as a force that drives the daughter to always live her life in the approval of her mother and state of constantly trying to please.
The mother demands for her daughter to obey her, and the mothers always have a response or answer for every situation her daughter faces. The mothers in the novel, struggle to keep their daughters to rise to expectations. They always wanted their daughters to be the best and strived toward their excellence. The Chinese mothers were taught that regardless of the circumstance, the mothers’ wishes must always be fulfilled. As with Jing-Mei’s mother wanted her to become any form of child prodigy, like Waverly, but Jing-Mei failed to rise to her mother’s expectation, even after all the dedication and tests her mother prepares for her.
In the mothers’ childhood, there was no talking back to your mother, in an essences, the daughter was to soon be like her mother (a reflection of her mother). They tried to teach this to their daughter but also involving the American standards, which did not mix to well. The American way was of freedom and choice, which the mothers wanted but to accomplish that, the daughters would have to move away from the Chinese standards, since choice was not permitted. The mothers only wanted the best quality life for her daughter and for her daughter to grow in an environment of less hardship. I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these things do not mix? ” (The Joy Luck Club, 254). The mother’s influence cast a shadow on their daughter’s life. The daughters always felt that their mother would not approve and therefore, felt they were a disappointment to their mothers. In some cases, the daughter would openly tell her mother that the mother had wished for another daughter.
In Waverly’s situation, she felt her mother always put a black spot where there was once white. Her life was not according to her mother’s teachings. She was divorced and had a child. She was now dating a man, not of Chinese decent. As a token of love he had given her a fur coat that she loved so dearly. “Looking at the coat in the mirror, I couldn’t fend off the strength of her will anymore, her ability to make me see black where there was once white, white where there was once black. The coat looked shabby, an imitation of romance. (The Joy Luck Club, 169).
The daughters only wanted their mother to see what they saw and to understand that Chinese customs, superstitions and culture, was not easily accepted in America. Jing-Mei, the daughter of a deceased mother, could not please her mother when she was alive because of her reluctance in becoming someone she was not. She tried her best, when her mother arranged special tests, to see where her daughter’s strengths were and potential areas of Jing-Mei could become a prodigy in.
All Jing-Mei had left to say was, “that parents shouldn’t criticize children. They should encourage instead. You know, people rise to other people’s expectations. And when you criticize, it just means you’re expecting failure. ” “”That’s the trouble,” my mother said. “You never rise. Lazy to get up. Lazy to rise to expectations. “” (The Joy Luck Club, 31). Because the there is a distance between the mother and daughter, the daughters try to push away from their mother clutch and become their own woman.
The daughters want to grab the traditional son’s position, to move out of the home and into the workplace, to climb the ladder of success. The daughters, by the end of the novel come to realize that no matter how hard they try to avoid their mothers, they all contain a heavy portion of their Chinese heritage; alongside they discover that they are very much like their mothers. Amy Tan’s novel has a sense of truth about mother/daughter relationships, when the daughter is born of another country and the mother of another.
They grieve as they discuss how their daughters are unwilling to take their Chinese heritage, have forgotten the roots of their culture and language, and have changed their family structures. However, the daughters only wish that their mothers would not suppress them and see their side of the story. In the end, the mothers could not change their values to those of America and the daughters could not change their values to those of China, and in trying to do so, they created a clash and conflict in their relationships.