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My Interpretation of The Joy Luck Club

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Amy Tan’s book The Joy Luck Club explores the relationships between four Chinese American daughters and their often-misunderstood, more traditional Chinese mothers. By sharing quotations from the book, Fawn, the author of this literary analysis, intends to show how, as they grew up, the daughters came to understand, respect, and appreciate their mothers more.

My Interpretation of The Joy Luck Club

Children, as they become adults, become more appreciative of their parents. In The Joy Luck Club, the attitudes of four daughters toward their mothers change as the girls mature and come to realize that their mothers aren’t so different after all.

As children, the daughters in this book are ashamed of their mothers and don’t take them very seriously, dismissing them as quirky and odd. “I could never tell my father . . . How could I tell him my mother was crazy?” (p. 117). This dismissive attitude prevents them from comprehending their own culture, which is a big part of understanding their traditional Chinese mothers. On page 6, one of the daughters states, “I can never remember things I don’t understand in the first place,” referring to Chinese expressions her mother used. When their mothers show pride in them, the girls only show their embarrassment. One daughter shows her shame when she says to her mother, “I wish you wouldn’t do that, telling everyone I’m your daughter” (p. 101). The girls cannot relate to their mothers because they were raised in a different world. No matter how much the mothers care for them or how much they sacrifice to make their girls’ lives better, the daughters are blind to their mothers’ pain and feelings.

All four of the Joy Luck mothers need their daughters to understand them, pass on their spirit after they are gone, and understand what they have gone through for their girls. One mother dreams of doing this on her trip to a new life: “In America I will have a daughter just like me . . . over there nobody will look down on her . . . and she will always be too full to swallow any sorrow! She will know my meaning because I will give her this swan . . . it carries with it all my good intentions” (pp. 3-4). She sees her daughter as an extension of herself.

Another mother plans how she will give her daughter this perception:

She [my daughter] has no chi . . . How can I leave the world without leaving her my spirit? So this is what I will do. I will gather together my past and . . . see a thing that has already happened. The pain that cut my spirit loose. I will hold that pain in my hand until it becomes hard and shiny, more clear. And then my fierceness can come back . . . I will use this 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 why a mother loves a daughter. (p. 286)

Things don’t exactly turn out the way the mothers hope, though. Their hopes and dreams are shattered when they realize their daughters’ misconceptions of them. On page 282, a mother laments, “When my daughter looks at me, she sees a small, old lady. If she had chuming [inside knowledge of things] she would see a tiger lady.” One daughter sees the fear of the remaining mothers after she tells them that she doesn’t know anything about her dead mother that she can pass on:

They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they have brought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English . . . They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation. (p. 31)

This fear does not persist, however. As the daughters mature, the two generations discover that they aren’t so different after all. One mother says, “She puts her face next to mine, side by side, and we look at each other in the mirror . . . these two faces, I think, so much the same! The same happiness, the same sadness, the same good fortune, the same faults” (p. 292). They have become reflections of each other, separated only by time.

One daughter, after her mother’s death, sits down to play the piano that she had refused to touch before to defy her mother. Amy Tan uses the metaphor of two piano pieces to compare the mother to this daughter: “The piece I had played for the recital . . . was on the left-hand side of the page . . . and for the first time . . . I noticed the piece on the right-hand side . . . It had a lighter melody but the same flowing rhythm [as the recital piece and] . . . was longer but faster. And after I played them both . . . I realized they were two halves of the same song” (p. 155). The music represents mother and daughter, more alike than different.

The daughters, as they grow to be adults, become more appreciative of their mothers. Their attitudes change over time to create an understanding and respect that hadn’t been there before:

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. (pp. 203-204)

In conclusion, as children, the daughters didn’t understand their mothers or their culture. The daughters were being raised in a different world. Their perceptions of their mothers changed, though, as they grew up and realized that they weren’t so different from them after all. They finally understood and respected their traditional Chinese mothers.

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