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Mother-Daughter Relationships in the Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

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Novels and plays often depict characters caught between colliding cultures-- National regional, ethnic religious, institutional. Such collisions can call a character’s sense of identity into question. Select a novel or play in which a character responds to such a cultural collision. Then write a well-organized essay in which you describe the characters response and explain its relevance to the work as a whole.

Past culture and ways of life mold future generations in different ways. Culture contributes an extraordinary amount as revealed in the novel, “The Joy Luck Club”, by Amy Tan. The main relationships that the novel focuses on, are the interconnection between mother and daughter. Within the novel there are 4 families, each family’s mother and daughter tells a story of how the past shapes the future. Each family clashes culturally to portray the differences between generations.

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The Woo Family, Jing Mei, the daughter and Suyuan, the mother are one of the families Tan uses to manifest the result of how cultural experiences of one generation affects the next. Tan communicates Suyuan's story through Jing Mei. The stories that Jing Mei tells about her mother’s past establish how it directly affects and forms their relationship. Suyuan life was greatly affected when the Japanese invaded. This horrifying major event in her life, developed her desire for success. Suyuan says, “Of course you can be prodigy, too (Tan 132)”, symbolizing that she wants an accomplished child. Suyuan grasped at everything in attempts to find brilliance in Jing Mei. This unrelentless search brought along an unhealthy relationship between the mother and daughter. The two rarely saw each other’s point of view, while Jing Mei believed her mother’s constant inquiry for some hidden ability was due to her dissatisfaction of her, thus always trying to improve her as though she was not good enough. Jing Mei states,”That parents shouldn’t criticize children. They should encourage instead. You know, people rise to other people’s expectations and when you criticize, it just mean you're expecting failure (11)”. Suyuan raises Jing Mei by using the culture she knows best and how she was raised. However, Suyuan”s technique to help make her daughter a successful person may not be interpreted positively by Jing Mei, as Suyuan yells, “You never rise. Lazy to get up. Lazy to rise to expectations (11)”. This type of interaction lowered Jing Mei’s self-esteem because she did not think that she could ever make her mother proud. Jing Mei is failing to rise up and become the prodigy her mother sees in her. Jing Mei may fear abandonment from her mother because of her failure, and how she did not inherit her mother's culture.

The Jong’s are another family in The Joy Luck Club, Waverly is the daughter and Lindo is the mother. Their relationship has many layers, one being built from the fact that Lindo parents married her off in an arranged marriage at an early age. She had no part in the decision, and was very resentful and sad. “After awhile I didn't think it was a terrible life, no, not really. After a while I hurt so much I didn't feel any difference (27)”. Lindo never wanted Waverly to experience such lack control over her life. Another example of freedom is when Lindo states, “It was not like my first marriage, where everything was arranged. I had a choice. I could choose to marry your father, or I could choose not to marry him and go back to China(150)”, this quote shows Lindo pointing out the importance of choices. As Lindo raise Waverly, she is very careful to have her make her own decisions, however, Waverly needs and wants approval and guidance. This is evident when she, a chess genius, quits chess. Waverly didn’t truly want to stop playing, but she crave for her mother’s input. This need for approval is again evident later in life when she desperately seeks confirmation of her decision for a husband. Their relationship exemplifies how culture affects the style of upbringing. Lindo’s goal was for Waverly to live a completely different life than her, Lindo wanted Waverly to have a life full of personal choices.

The Hsu Family, with daughter Rose, and mother An-Mei are another family in this novel. Their mother and daughter relationship is built heavily on An-Mei’s past. An Mei’s mother married a wealthy man and becomes 1 of his 4 wives, this decision lead to her parents disownment, and an unhappy life that ultimately lead to her ending her own life and leaving behind her only child, An-Mei. “Do you see how shameful my life is? She cried, do you see how I have no position? (Tan 229)”, this quote exemplifies how terrifying it is to be a 4th wife in China. An-Mei’s mother's life decisions now molds An-Mei and Rose's relationship. An-Mei shows to be very condemning of Rose’s husband, because she fears that her daughter is not treated well and or fairly. She is afraid Rose may be suffer through a horrible marriage.

Finally, the St. Clair family. The two important characters are Ying Ying, the mother and Lena, the daughter. For Lena’s entire life, Ying Ying role modeled her submissiveness as a wife. She always resigned to all her husbands wishes and never spoke her mind. Ying Ying believed this is how a respectable wife behaves. This emotional bullying is shown when Ying Ying fails to correct her husband when he constantly paraphrase her words to benefit himself. “For all these years I kept my mouth closed so selfish desires would not fall out (Tan 67)”. This constructed Lena into not voicing her opinion, especially when she saw something wrong. Lena’s submissive behavior regarding her husband embodies her parents relationship.

Cultural Collision was shown in each of the mother and daughter relationships in this novel. Suyuan believes that to be successful and accepted by society, she must help Jing Mei find her exceptional quality. Jing Mei saw her mother's efforts as a constant disapproval. Lindo, unlike her own fate, wants Waverly to have the chance to make her own decisions. Waverly on the other hand wants and needs guidance and acceptance from her mother. An-Mei wants her daughter to be in a happy relationship and equality is the route to happiness. But, An-Mei’s constant disapproval of Roses’ husband puts many doubt in Roses’ mind. The power of modeling was shown between Ying Ying and Lena. After a lifetime of watching her mother’s submissiveness to her husband, Lena knew no other way. So, although Ying Ying didn’t want this for Lena, Lena naturally followed her mother’s way.

There are reasons for every action. In this novel “The Joy Luck Club”, Tan displays four families with different challenges in their past. She shows how these difficulties work on molding the next generation. These past experiences often stir up cultural conflicts that can affect the bond between family members.

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