Joy Luck Club as America as Chinatown Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1700 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 4  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

Joy Luck Club

As America as Chinatown, Conflicted Identities and Mom's chow mein -- Mothers and Daughters in Amy Tan's the Joy Luck Club

By understanding her mother, a daughter better understands her own soul. By understanding her mother's Chinese identity, a daughter better understands her Chinese-American sense of identity. By understanding the past, one can move on into the future. This last truth is not only true for the prodigal daughter Jing-mei (also known as June) Woo of Amy Tan's autobiographical novel the Joy Luck Club, but also of her mother. Until she reconciles with the children she thought were lost back in China, Suyuan Woo cannot be at peace with her past and her Chinese-American girl. Only by coming to terms with the twins she abandoned as a young woman, does the woman attain a sense of forgiveness for her unavoidable actions. Only by meeting these Chinese twins in China does her American daughter June gain her full sense of identity as someone who could "also see what part of me is Chinese." (Tan, 1989, p.331) the book suggests that modern identities are multiple and multi-faceted, but always must be reconciled for the suffering woman to exhibit a full sense of psychological healing, whether the woman is a mother, a daughter, a granddaughter -- or all three.

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This book's stress upon the need for mothers and daughters to reconcile their presents with the past to be able to move on and create a sense of identity that is Chinese and American, Tan has stated, has secure roots in her own past history. She stated in one 1995 interview, during the book tour for the follow-up to the Joy Luck Club that "stories from my mother came more naturally," than those that came from her father. She said she would "listen as she [my mother] and my aunts sat a table covered with newspapers, shelling fava beans or chopping vegetables and gossiping about the family, and going on for hours and hours about some little detail that they found disgusting in some relative or friend." (Giles, 1995)

TOPIC: Term Paper on Joy Luck Club as America as Chinatown, Assignment

Although Tan related such anecdotes to the MetroActive reporter "with a laugh" she also admitted to the difficulties in her own life of reconciling past and present, saying that her history, was one of "Conflicts. Tragedies in life, difficulties. A mother who was depressed...being the only Chinese girl in a school. Moving every year. Graduating from a private school in Switzerland among rich people and not being rich...you know, those are the things that make you either psychotic or a fiction writer." (Giles, 1995)

One way Tan came to terms with this was embracing multiple perspectives and dual identities, Chinese and American. "I think that the other reason that I've become a storyteller is that I was raised with so many different conflicting ideas that it posed many questions for me in life, and those questions became a filter for looking at all my experiences and seeing them from different angles. That's what I think that a storyteller does, and underneath the surface of the story is a question or a perspective or a nagging little emotion, and then it grows." (Giles, 1995) the multi-layered narrative structure of the Joy Luck Club generated by this upbringing is striking, as it alternates past and present, between the different perspectives of the members of the club and their daughters.

There is no omniscient narrator in the novel's framework, however, unless one counts the nameless woman of Chapter 1. Afterwards, all of the perspectives of the different chapters are in the first person. This seems deliberate on Tan's part, for it shows how little the daughters often understand of their mother's past lives in China. The alternating perspectives often clash, or are poorly informed of one another's historical and emotional truths.

Because the older women do not all speak English as fluently as their daughters, or have the same emotional command of the language, the understanding between the two generations is made even more difficult, not simply because of the differences of past geography and generational conflict between the older and younger women. At the end, June must physically return to China to become Chinese -- she cannot become Chinese merely linguistically, because her mother's perspective and her own are torn and sundered in the limits of language and first-person conflicts of perspective.

The Chinese-American milieu in a San Francisco neighborhood furnishes the main contingent of characters in Amy Tan's the Joy Luck Club," but all the women have varied and different unknown pasts in China, as child abandoners, mothers, murderers, or divorced and cast-off barren wives. All are different. "What the four families in that book, the Woos, Jongs, Hsus, and St. Clairs, have in common is mother-daughter relations. The mothers are all first generation immigrants from mainland China, speaking very little English and remaining cultural aliens in their new world. The daughters are all born and educated in America, some even married to foreigners," that is to native-born American men. (Xu, 1994, p1.)

Within the microcultural structure of family, the only means available for mothers to ensure ethnic continuity is to recollect the past and to tell tales of what is remembered." (Xu, 1994, p1.) but this recollection occurs within themselves, and is seldom directed in a comphrehensible or coherent way to their daughter's generation, much less their daughter's children such as Waverly's little girl.

In one public lecture regarding her work, Amy Tan recounted how the Joy Luck Club came to be. Tan said: "My mother said to me, 'I think you know little percent of me'. I realized I didn't know anything about who my mother was, what her dreams were as a child or as a woman." Thus the book emerged, through the power of storytelling, as a semi-autobiographical effort to connect with her mother's apparently inaccessible past. The inclusion of other figures emphasized the collective nature of Chinese storytelling as a product of a culture, and also of her desire to connect with her community in addition to the specificity of her mother's struggle. But ultimately, the book was an attempt to connect with Tan's mother, the lost mother of the past, the girl and Chinese woman Tan never new, only as an American with an imperfect command of the language.

The lack of understanding between mother and daughter is not Tan's fault entirely. It is one of the great strengths of the book, that neither pair of mothers or daughters as a group is perfectly wise or perfect. June, Tan's most obvious literary stand-in, when compelled to play the piano, is clearly pushed to the utmost when she says she wishes she were dead, like the abandoned twins, after being forced to exhibit her less than stellar musical ability before all of the Chinese-American community of Chinatown. But later, the adult June realizes the two compositions that haunted her were one, that the "Pleading Child" who is "Perfectly Contented" is two different but interrelated movements of the same piece. (Tan, 1989, p.155)

This is symbolic of the girl's unity with the China of past and present, the China of her mother and also the reunited status of herself and the twins later on. It also seems a gentle refutation of her mother's assertion that there are only two kinds of daughters, obedient and disobedient -- for Jing-Mei Woo is both, as are all the girl children of the Joy Luck Club -- they learn from and defy their mothers. Their mothers castigate their children's choices, but still love them dearly and fiercely. Tan dedicates the book to her mother, stating "you asked me what I would remember -- this and much more." (Tan, 1984, p.i)

The duality of the Suyuan Woo's twins would seem to be an ideal symbolic literary construction of the fissures between the generations and the different lands -- if it were not for the fact that the incident is mirrored in Tan's own mother's life. Yet fragmentation of the self is rife, despite the truth of the twin's dual existence -- within the women between their pasts and present in China and America, and their daughters. "Because of its decentered, multi-perspectival form, the Joy Luck Club invites analysis from critical perspectives that theorize and valorize fragmented, discontinuous texts and the possibilities of connection across segments." (Soulis, 1994, p.1)

The piano composition is split, the narratives are split, and the women's personal pasts and presents are split to mirror a truth of identity that is healed only when June goes to China. The women help support the trip, not simply because June is the daughter of a friend, but also to symbolically journey back to their lost selves, nad to reuinte with their daughters in China in a way they cannot in their life in America.

Ironically, the interlocking stories of the Joy Luck cohere in ways the mothers nad daughters do not. "mothers who bemoan the distance to their daughters but who had good… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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