The Joy Luck Club
Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club provides a realistic depiction of Chinese mothers and their Chinese-American daughters struggling in relationships strained by tragedy, lack of communication, and unreasonable expectations. Tan criticizes mothers who intend to instill Chinese values while supplying American opportunities. The result is daughters becoming too Americanized and materialistic. Living in America demands a particular way of life that dictates the rules of success socially and professionally. These concerns show in the daughters’ embarrassment of their mothers’ traditional Chinese behavior and appearance. Each relationship progresses, though Jing-Mei and Suyuan show the greatest development. Jing-Mei narrates the mother and daughter chapters and possesses an elevated comprehension of forgiveness even after her mother’s death. She is constantly trying to prove her worth while Suyuan has found that her daughter is endowed with selflessness, considered a “best quality.” Compared to the others, their relationship is most resolved because Jing-Mei meets her half sisters and defines herself in the process.
The first example of improvement is Jing-Mei’s reaction to her mother’s death in terms of participating in the Joy Luck Club. She questions whether she can adequately complete her mother’s duties. While Suyuan was living, Jing-Mei suggests, “There’s a school of thought that parents shouldn’t criticize children… When you criticize, it just means you’re expecting failure” (20). She was referencing Western thought, and her mother replies, “That’s the trouble. You never rise. Lazy to get up. Lazy to rise to expectations” (20). These words feed Jing-Mei’s feelings of incompetence while displaying Suyuan’s genuine interest in her daughter’s success. By contrast, Waverly’s mother completely relinquishes support after her daughter throws a temper tantrum. This reaction is unnecessary, and different from the reaction of Suyuan to her daughter dropping out of college. Suyuan encourages her daughter to finish school but provides needed positive endorsement. Jing-Mei supports this by guessing, “No doubt she told Auntie Lin I was going back to school to get a doctorate” (27). A doctorate, an academic degree of the highest level, is a prestigious endeavor, and Suyuan’s faith in her daughter’s intelligence is complimentary.
Suyuan also shows confidence in Jing-Mei by attempting to force her to become a prodigy. Suyuan’s words, “You can be best anything,” (141) are inspiring but used for ammunition against Lindo. Jing-Mei does not comprehend her mother’s objective and exclaims, “Why don’t you like me the way I am? I’m not a genius! I can’t play the piano . . .” (146). Even after this argument, she keeps playing the piano and disappoints her mother during a recital. Comparatively, Waverly completely quits chess due to the games she believes her mother is playing. The significance lies in Jing-Mei’s continuation of her piano practice knowing that she is not and will not ever become a prodigy. Suyuan offers the piano as a kind gesture, but Jing-Mei originally refuses this gift. The piano serves as a symbol of her mother’s forgiveness and represents a longtime conflict with Waverly.
This musical instrument epitomizes Jing-Mei’s shortcomings as a child, which add to her rejection of the present. Refusing to accept this gift alludes to her assumed bitterness. She eventually accepts the piano, but it is too late. Her mother’s words, “You have natural talent. You could been genius if you want to” (154), show the compassion that Suyuan possessed toward Jing-Mei. Jing-Mei further identifies herself by finding her mother’s “long cherished wish” (332). The issue is not about her mother’s death, but concerns Jing-Mei’s ability to individualize her existence. She has continuous problems with this effort (piano ability, evicted from apartment, dropping out of college) but learns to respect her mother’s willpower.
This motherly love is accented by Jing-Mei’s agreement to meet her half-sisters in China and inform them of their mother’s death. Jing-Mei wonders, “What will I say? What can I tell them about my mother? I don’t know anything . . .” (31). The mothers cannot understand this perspective, and An-mei insists, “. . . Your mother is in your bones!” (31). Jing-Mei comes through, saying, “I will tell them everything” (31). This affirmation is a substantial part of the relationship’s conclusion and fulfills her mother’s wish of finding her lost daughters. This promise sharply contrasts with the experiences of Lena, the daughter of Ying-Ying, who must translate her mother’s words to her father, Clifford. Acting as translator, she must alter the words to seem conventional to her father’s American ways. The St. Clair family dynamic is restrictive and burdening, which leaves the reader appreciating Jing-Mei’s honesty concerning the details of her mother’s life.
Jing-Mei’s truthfulness is derived from her understanding of “life’s importance,” delivered through a jade pendant gifted by her mother. Along with this endowment, Suyuan has transferred the character trait of selflessness. This is displayed when Jing-Mei selects the crab that was dead before it was cooked. She is unlike Waverly, who picks the best of everything without regard for others. This prideful perspective prevents Lindo from repairing her relationship and retains Suyuan and Jing-Mei’s status of maintaining the most repaired relationship. Suyuan says, “Everybody else want best quality. You thinking different” (234). This quote refers to Waverly’s desires for the top quality material goods while Jing-Mei is humble. Waverly’s appraisal of Jing-Mei’s writing seeks to humiliate her in front of family and friends. This public encounter exhibits Waverly’s snobbish attitude and provides reasoning for the less resolved relationship with her mother, Lindo.
Jing-Mei contrasts Waverly’s selfish attitude by listening to the story of how her mother lost the twins. Her mother had contracted dysentery, a disease spread through contaminated food and water. This revelation improved Jing-Mei’s contextual understanding of the circumstances leading to the abandonment of the twins. This surprising information is comparative to An-Mei’s prediction of Ted cheating on her daughter, Rose. She upsets her daughter by saying, “He is doing monkey business with someone else” (209). Serving to foster Rose’s hostility toward An-mei, this quote tears at her reality and blinds her circumstantial clarity. This statement weakens the resolution of An-Mei and Rose while heightening Jing-Mei’s grasp of her mother’s meaning.
Jing-Mei’s final perspective is acceptance and appreciation of her Chinese culture. Possession of the jade necklace and the piano symbolize her fulfillment with herself. Suyuan has resolved the relationship by offering these gifts that mask deeper meanings. She evolved away from shouting, “Then I wish I’d never been born! I wish I were dead! Like them!” (153). Jing-Mei now understands the conditions surrounding the twins and makes fewer uneducated judgment calls. The proof is in her words: “I know we all see it: Together we look like our mother. Her same eyes, her same mouth, open in surprise to see, at last, her long-cherished wish” (332). This closing viewpoint is hopeful, balanced, and mostly resolved in the midst of the other chaotic relationships.
Jing-Mei finally finds meaning through meeting the half sisters and obtaining the details of her mother’s life. She honors her mother by fulfilling her last wishes of finding her daughters. The fact that Jing-Mei speaks for both herself and her mother expresses the peace that has finally arrived. Although the American way is corrupting Chinese cultural identities, Jing-Mei overcomes this trend by listening and learning about her mother’s life – by evolving into greater and more compassionate womanhood.