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The Tao of the Joy Luck Club

Aug 20, 2001 1329 Words
Taoism has been a major influence in China throughout much of its history and The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, reflects this influence through its infusion of Taoist principals. One of the fundamental concepts within Taoism is that of Wu-hsing. Wu-hsing is a way of understanding a matter by dividing it into five and is often represented by five phases, elements of directions. This is an unfamiliar concept to a western perspective, which tends to divide things into four. Understanding this fifth additional element, however, is essential to understanding The Joy Luck Club.

This fifth component is most clearly represented in The Joy Luck Club through the directional aspect, which is clearly represented at the Mah Jong table, which the women gather around at the Joy Luck Club meetings. Each of the women represent the direction which they sir at on the table and the center of the Mah Jong table represents the fifth direction. In Taoism this fifth direction is the harmonious center where the traditional four directions meet and from which they originate, it is their beginning and their end. In the book the Joy Luck Club meetings serve as this fifth dimension.

It is in this fifth direction, the center of the women and the Mah Jong table where the game and story of the Hoy Luck Club is played out. As the game begins the women first "wash" the tiles in a chaotic mixing motion and then work together to structure these game tiles into an orderly creation in the center of the board (Tan 22). This is the effect of the fifth direction in the women's lives as well. As the members of the Joy Luck Club bring the chaos of their lives and find peace through the combined effect of their relationships with each other.

This process of bringing peace from the midst of chaos is first seen when the first Joy Luck Club is created in Kweilin. In Kweilin Suyun finds herself in an extremely chaotic and violent environment, which is the result of the refugee-camp-like city, and the frequent bombings, which it comes under. Suyun creates the club here as a source of peace in the midst of their troubles. The meetings become a place where the women do not discuss the eminent danger that surrounds them or their relatives and lives, which they have lost. Instead they focus on food and happy stories. The club provides a source of joy and hope for the women. The dashed hopes which Suyuan had for Kweilin being a place where, "If you slipped, you would only fall into a bed of soft moss and laugh," are replaced by the hope that she will be lucky in the Mah Jong games (Tan 7), This hope and joy serves as a center and balancing point for the women who would gave otherwise been completely surrounded in chaos.

It is helpful when trying to understand this fifth direction to think of the four women, each holding the end of a rope. All of these four ropes are bound together at a central point. When the women pull away from each other in their opposing directions the bond of this central point has no directional movement and holds them peacefully in place. Imagine that this bond were to break, the women would be launched into their respective directions flying away of falling to the ground. They would be thrown drastically out of balance. It is in this way that the five directions are all interdependent upon each other. An additional element of the five directions, which is important to consider within relation to The Joy Luck Club, is the effect of one of the directions being out of balance. TO continue on with the analogy, if one of the four women began pulling with an uneven force or in an inconsistent direction, the fifth directing of the dynamic center would be thrown out of it's previous harmonious state. In this case the center still serves to hold it's directions together but they would flail about unbalanced.

Within the book we see such an imbalance created when Jing-mei sits in the Easterly direction of the Mah Jobg table to take up her Mother's position. This imbalance is created both by Jing-mei's feelings of inadequacy to replace her mother and by the imbalance of her two lost sisters which has "cast a shadow" into the Woo family so severe that Mister Woo feels it was the cause of Suyuan's death (Tan 7). Jing-mei expresses her feelings of inadequacy when she remembers her mother saying, "You don't even know little percent of me! How can you be me?" (Tan 15). Reflecting on this Jing-Mei feels that her mother was right and asks herself, "How can I be my Mother at Joy Luck?" (Tan 15).

As is the proper role of the other three direction's the other women at the table, An-mei, Lindo and Ying-ying take action to pull this Eastern direction into alignment and restore the balance of the central direction. This in emphasized by the variation of the order in which the four families stories are presented in each chapter, emphasizing the movement which all of their directions make in attempt to maintain a balanced center. They accomplish this task by facilitating Jing-mei's reunification with her two half-sisters. We see the progress of this balancing effect through the last story of the book where Jing-Mei travels to China. As Jing-mei spends time in China, traveling towards where she will meet her sisters she begins to feel that she is "becoming Chinese" (Tan 306). She recalls her Mother saying, "someday you will see," (Tan 306). And realizes that as she begins to recognize the Chinese spirit in herself she is finally able to see what her mother always meant. She is able to embrace it's spirit in her trip to China because she is able to see that she is Chinese not in the garishly awkward ways that she saw in her mother and found embarrassing, such as "haggling with store owners, pecking her mouth with a toothpick in public," or wearing colors that didn't match, but in a deeper and more spiritual way.

Jing-mei's ability to finally accept her own Chineseness allows her to see her mother in a way she could not have before and appreciate her mother's spirit and strength instead of being blocked by the misunderstandings of her mother's ethnicity. This is why, when in the hotel, with her Father, she listens intently to the story of her mother's flight from Chilean and of the sacrifices, which her mother had made. She has heard this story before but never was able to fully appreciate it. As she hears the familiar story now she sees that there was no shame in what her mother did and that she had acted correctly in the situation.

We see the full effect of this struggle's resolution at the same time we see the imbalance of the lost sisters resolved. When Jing-mei gets of the plane and meets her two sisters resolved. When Jing-mei gets off the plane and meets here two sisters, the three embrace and embody their Mother's spirit calling, "Mama, Mama," as they feel that their mothers spirit is there in their midst's as her life time dream is realized (Tan 331). At this moment both the internal imbalance of Jing-mei's difficulty in understanding her mother and the multigenerational imbalance of the lost sisters are resolved. This resolution develops in the form of a Polaroid picture. As the three watches their picture develops Jing-mei is able to see that her mother really is inside of her, as she is in her sisters and all is balanced at last.

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