Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club follows the lives of four pairs of Chinese-American mothers and daughters, and how they are trying to mend their broken and relationships, which are full of misunderstanding. The mothers attempt to pass down their experiences, wisdom and Chinese culture to their daughters, but the daughters do not want to understand their heritage and are more influenced by the American circumstances they grew up in. However, when some of the daughters are faced with marital and relationship issues, they draw wisdom from their mothers to help deal with the hardships in their lives.
The daughters’ unstable romantic relationships help them fix and strengthen their relationships with their mothers by allowing them to understand their mothers, as well as their guidance and/or who they really are. Waverly and Lindo Jong have an extremely unbalanced relationship because they both misinterpret each other. Waverly thought of her mother as oppressive and almost manipulative and believes that she and Lindo are enemies in a figurative chess battle which she thinks up whereas Lindo believes Waverly is too American and that she does not appreciate her.
Waverly believes that her mother disapproves of her fiance, Rich, and thinks he is uncultured. When Waverly sees that Lindo accepts her and Rich’s engagement, Waverly begins to understand her mother’s true self and intentions, because she is able to see past the controlling and harsh image of her mother that she created. When Waverly goes to confront her mother and tell her about her marriage, she mentions a time when Lindo judged Rich’s looks, she says: I saw what I had been fighting for: It was for me, a scared child, who had run away a long time ago to what I had imagined was a safer place.
And hiding in this place, behind my invisible barriers, I knew what lay on the other side: Her side attacks. Her secret weapons. Her uncanny ability to find my weakest spots. But in the brief instant that I had peered over the barriers I could finally see what was really there: an old woman, a wok for her armor, a knitting needle for her sword, getting a little crabby as she waited patiently for her daughter to invite her in. (183-184) From confronting her mother, Waverly sees through her own assumptions and misconceptions about her mother and discovers who Lindo truly is rather than the distorted image of the monster that Waverly presumed her to be. Realizing who her mother really is leads to Waverly’s newfound comprehension that her mother is Chinese, but also American and that she doesn’t have any ill intentions. Waverly had only seen her mother’s Chinese ways and flaws rather than Lindo’s love for her, and, with this realization, she finally sees how similar they both are, and that Lindo had always wanted the best for her.
By realizing that their relationship is full of misunderstanding, they can begin to accept each other and put aside their differences, allowing them to use these understandings while interacting with each other as well as other people. When Ying-Ying St. Clair was a little girl, she was carefree and curious, but a traumatic experience that left her lost and helpless caused her to begin to forever lose who she was and change her personality. Because of this, Ying-Ying becomes unassertive and yielding, and after a miscarriage, she becomes depressed and can be metaphorically likened to a living ghost.
When raising her daughter, Lena, Ying-Ying tries to encourage her to be the opposite of herself. However, Lena still ends up similar to her mother in the ways that matter. Lena is caught in a flawed and impractical marriage that is now only based off of a balance sheet and does not believe that she can do anything about it. However, Ying-Ying wants her to act upon her marriage, rather than standing still and letting it fall apart. Ying-Ying cannot let Lena stand by and watch her marriage fall apart, and as a result, she is finally able to pass on her spirit and wisdom in order to help Lena because she finally realizes how passive Lena has become, allowing Lena to understand her mother. When Ying-Ying hears Lena and Harold arguing, she narrates, I will gather together my past and look… I will hold that 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 give her my spirit, because this is the way a mother loves her daughter (252). By trying to cut her tiger spirit loose(252), Ying-Ying is trying to pass on her advice and former spirit to Lena so that she can realize that she has always had power and an ability to change things. Ying-Ying is only able to do this now because this is where she ultimately realizes how passive, yielding and spineless Lena has become. Lena can now also recognize aspects of her mother that she never saw before and can use her mother’s spirit to help herself and her marriage.
By understanding this piece of her mother, and therefore understanding her mother better, she has the possibility to change her ways and her life. When An-Mei Hsu was a child, she couldn’t make decisions and was taught not to attract attention or show her unhappiness. However, after her mother committed suicide to ensure that An-mei would live a better, happier life in her stepfather Wu Tsing’s household, she discovered that she could be strong and stand up for herself. An-mei tells her daughter Rose that she should grow like a straight and strong tree, rather than a crooked and weak tree that bends to listen to too many people.
However, Rose was still extremely indecisive, like An-mei was as a young girl, due to the loss of Rose’s brother, Bing, who died in a tragic and random incident at a very young age. Now, Rose’s husband Ted is fed up with how unassertive Rose is and wants a divorce so that he can marry another woman. Rose’s divorce helps her understand how to follow her mother’s advice to be strong, similar to a tree by standing her ground, and as a result, bring them closer. When Rose confronts Ted in front of his garden, she says, And then I saw the weeds: Some had sprouted in and out of the cracks in the patio. Others had anchored on the side of the house. No way to pull them out once they’ve buried themselves in the masonry; you’d end up pulling the whole building down(195).
Rose and Ted’s garden symbolizes their marriage, as at first in their relationship, Ted obsessively tended it but as their relationship goes through a crisis, leading to their divorce, the garden becomes neglected and full of weeds, as does their marriage in a metaphorical way. Ted is trying to uproot Rose from his life, but he does not realize that he cannot get rid of her without hurting himself. In their marriage, Ted is stifling Rose’s spirit and refusing to let it grow wild and free.
When Rose sees the weeds, she is reminded of her mother’s advice to never bend to listen to any other people (191) and to not be like weeds. However, when she is talking to Ted she sees the strength in weeds– they spread out, and no matter how often you try to trim them, they always come back– which allows her to find her own strength and discover her spirit. As a result, she and her mother can now connect to each other on a deeper level and Rose can implement her mother’s wisdom and her own spirit into her actions and stand up to Ted. By the end of The Joy Luck Club, each daughter can use their mother’s guidance to help with their romantic relationships as well as their relationships with their mothers.
When Waverly confronts her mother Lindo about her fiance Rich, they both can begin to understand why their lacking relationship is the way it is. They both can use this newfound knowledge to see each other clearer and develop the connections that they have not ever had. As Lena lets her marriage fall because she believes that she cannot stop it, Ying-Ying realizes that she has to pass on her spirit and her strength so that Lena can realize her capability and can understand her mother better. Lastly, Rose’s failing marriage allows her to use the advice her mother gave her as a child and find her spirit.
This also lets her apply her newfound identity to her mother’s advice, and connect to her mother more because she can understand An-mei better. The mothers have all passed down a piece of advice or part of themselves so that the daughters can understand the mothers better and learn to deal with struggles in their lives. Now, each mother-daughter pair can now keep mending their relationships, put their differences aside, and build a better understanding of each other’s cultures. The daughters can now apply the mothers’ wisdom and experiences to difficulties in their own lives, such as their marriages and relationships, and do things that the mothers did not have the opportunities to do.
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