The Joy Luck Club

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Amy Tan
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INTRODUCTION
Through the stories of The Joy Luck Club, we peer into the secret-laden lives of eight Chinese immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters. The daughters reject their mothers’ seemingly constant criticism of everything they choose, from husbands to hairdos. They view their mothers’ warnings as irrelevant, and their advice as intrusive. The daughters do not know what has inspired their warnings and advice: the hardships their mothers suffered in China before coming to America. Thus, as the mothers see it, their daughters are flailing in their modern American circumstances, unable to use what is “in their bones,” the family’s inheritance of pain that led to their determined strength for survival, which their mothers try to bequeath them. The mothers, meanwhile, watch with heartache as their daughters’ marriages fail, as they expect less and less and so accept less and less. They recall moments in their past when they were faced with similar circumstances but defied what they believed was bad fate in order to find their true worth. The book begins in the voice of June (Jing-mei) Woo, a woman in her thirties, who lives in San Francisco. Her mother, Suyuan, has died unexpectedly, and now her mother’s longtime friends in the Joy Luck Club have invited June to take her mother’s place at the mahjong table, where stories spanning seven decades are recalled above the din of swirling tiles. To these aunties, June confesses what every mother fears: that mother and daughter never understood each other. To the daughters, their mothers’ hopes translated into impossible expectations. Their warnings were backward superstitions. Their love was not embracing but suffocating. In interwoven voices, mothers and daughters privately recall pivotal moments from their past, as girls and as young women, when they failed their mothers in public and private ways, and thus built walls to protect themselves in the future. The individual stories are grouped into four sections, each tied together by emotional themes. The first section concerns sacrifice and loss, what is meant by giving of oneself and giving up. As recalled by June, Suyuan tells of giving up her life to save her twin babies during wartime, only to learn she has survived but her babies have been lost. An-mei recalls the pain of watching her mother sacrifice her own flesh to save the life of her own mother, who has already disowned her. Lindo recounts her submission to an arranged marriage but not to a fate handed to her by someone else. And Ying-Ying remembers a time when she could not stand still in another person’s shadow, as required of her, and by giving into her desire for the wrong things, she later gave up her spirit. In the next two sections, the daughters recall moments of uncertainty, anger, or fear in childhood. They are also stories of resistance and rebellion and the rejection of what they see as false beliefs their mothers have tried to instill. Waverly, a chess prodigy, thinks she has grown more clever than the mother who gave her “invisible strength.” Lena fears being drawn into her mother’s madness and consoles herself by imagining others having a life worse than hers. Rose, whose mother cannot let go of the memory of her son who drowned, now believes that by hoping for less, you aren’t as vulnerable to loss. And June believes it was her mother’s impossibly high expectations that make her feel that even today, she is a failure. The reverberations of these childhood lessons reveal themselves when the four grown daughters face marital conflicts, career setbacks, and the despair of never having found what mattered to them. They must now choose for the future yet do not know what to do. In the final section, the mothers’ and daughters’ stories intertwine and reveal how hope and love can transform sadness, anger,...
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