Joy luck club

CHINESE-AMERICAN WOMEN IN AMERICAN CULTURE
In Amy Tan’s novel, The Joy Luck Club, there is one episode, “Waiting Between the Trees,” illustrating major concerns facing Chinese-American women. Living with their traditional culture in American society, Chinese-American women suffer the problems of culture conflicts. While their American spouses are active and assertive, they are passive and place their happiness entirely on the goodness of their husbands. At one time, this passiveness can be seen as a virtue; at other time, it is a vice or a weakness. In studying the lives of two personalities, Ying-Ying and Lena St. Clair, a Chinese mother and a half-Chinese daughter, one can see these conflicts more clearly and determine why they exist.


Ying-Ying St. Clair was born into a rich family. She was very pretty when she was a young girl. She was educated like every Chinese woman used to be: To be obedient, to honor one’s parents, one’s husband and to try to please him and his family. Ying-Ying was not expected to have her own will and make her own way through life.

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The result of this education was a disaster. She was married to a bad man who left her after a short time to follow other women. Her love for him turned to hate, and she killed her unborn baby. This act gave her remorse for all her life since she considered it a murder. Tortured by this incident, she had a mental breakdown, for a period of time, when her second son — with her second husband, St. Clair — died at birth. She saw it as a punishment for her previous behavior.


After leaving her first husband’s house and returning home, she abandoned herself to whatever life offered her. She lived like a shadow, letting other people or events to decide for her. When she met St. Clair, she passively let him believe that she was from a poor family. Ying-Ying also let him think that he married her to save her from some catastrophe, since she seemed to be in a desperate state of mind when she married him. She could not tell her husband, and later, her daughter Lena, that the catastrophe they imagined was only the news of the death of her bad and unloving former husband, and the emptiness she felt after hearing that news. She let St. Clair make all decisions for her, since she wanted to give up her “chi” — her spirit or her strong will — because the only time she exerted it was to do a bad thing in her eyes: killing her unborn first son. Ying-Ying did not want to let her husband and daughter know more about herself, since it would mean she had to confess her shameful secret. Both her husband and daughter did not know about her first marriage.


Lena St. Clair, on the other hand, was born in America and lives like an American girl, “But when she was born, she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and had been swimming away ever since” (p. 274). Lena knew that her mother kept a secret and could not share it. She saw her mother as a weaken-minded woman who needed her help. She learned American ways and thought of herself as more suitable than her mother to American life. However, conversely, her mother saw the fragility of Lena’s marriage and happiness.


For all her life, Ying-Ying lived on a superficial level with St. Clair, her husband. Lena inherited this attitude from her mother. In St. Clair’s family, they never had real communication. They only tried to be good to each other. The daughter and her father never knew who Ying-Ying really was, and what past she carried to America with her. Lena chose American ways, not realizing that her Chinese family education and tradition are really important to her happiness as well. Children learn to act as their parents do before them. The relationship between Ying-Ying and St. Clair was superficial, so is that of Lena and Harold, her husband. Lena never questioned her mother about Chinese tradition, or about her parents’ relationship.


Despite the exterior resemblance between the two marriages, Harold is very different from his father-in-law. While St. Clair was an honest man who courted Ying-Ying for four years before marrying her, and he did not abandon her when she had her breakdown, Harold seems to be more egotistical and uncaring. For instance, he never paid attention to the fact that his wife never ate ice cream, and continued to let her pay for his. He also exploited her, paid her a very low wage compared to his, regardless of all the success she brought to him by inspiring him with her creative ideas. Lena knew all about it, but she did not question his behavior, because of her Chinese heritage, although she was not conscious of it.


Chinese traditional culture was based partly on Confucius’s teachings, partly on Taoism and Buddhism. Confucius taught that every woman had to follow three persons during her whole life: At home, she had to follow her father; married, she had to follow her husband; and when her husband died, she had to follow her son. Normally, in the case of Ying-Ying, she had to give birth to her first son and stay forever in her in-law’s house, waiting for her husband to come back. Ying-Ying went against tradition by doing what she did. She chose not to stay in her husband’s house, and to do every possible thing to return to her father’s house.


On the other hand, Lao-Tzu said that “the wise man is like water or like a springy twig; he is soft and flexible. The soft one wins over the hard one, and the weak one wins over the strong one.” From that principle sprang Tai Chi, Judo and Aikido. The art to use this principe is the art to rule over people. However, in order to be a good leader, one has to learn other rules also. For example, one need to meditate to have intuition, to make decision accurately, to inspire people to make the most of themselves and aspire to goodness. Tao is not merely an attitude of “laissez-faire” like it is misunderstood sometimes, or a fatalistic way of thinking that induces people not to save a situation when there is still time. Lena was very peaceful when she lived with Harold. She let him do whatever he wanted to do, but he did not become the best of himself in this relationship, since she did not communicate to him all of her true feelings.


The third source of inspiration for Chinese culture is Buddhism. The Buddha taught that one has to detach from one’s richness to earn Nirvana, or peace of mind. One has to get rid of one’s desire and greed to be happy. Without knowing the teaching of the Buddha, and by the example of her mother only, Lena let Harold have his ways. Lena thought she was right in doing this, until her mother brought up his miserly ways toward their money. Now she sees that there is something wrong with her marriage, and its foundation is not as solid as she thought. This money accounting between them is like proof of lack of love, sharing and trust. It says that they could leave each other any time, without worrying about dividing their fortune. This was not the case for St. Clair and Ying-Ying.


In looking back on her life, Ying-Ying sees that it was broken up by the unhappiness of her first marriage and the things that ensued. She sees the gap in the education she received, and how she had rebelled against it. She also sees how it confused her and made her feel guilty for so long. Now she sees something else; she sees that instead of that feeling, she must feel guilty for not having a strong will, for wasting her life and her husband’s life, and giving a bad example for her daughter with her lack of vitality and self-confidence, and lack of communication with her family’s members. Ying-Ying decides to tell her daughter about her life and induce Lena to take responsibility for her own fate, not to rely on someone else, and not to live in the shadow of anybody.


In the episode “Waiting Between the Trees,” Amy Tan has exposed some of the major concerns Chinese-American women have to face, since the strong influence of their culture keeps them from becoming more self-confident, more ambitious, and better integrated into American society. Although they were born in America, they cannot assimilate American culture and sacrifice their own culture without harm to their happiness and their balance. They need to know about their original culture to understand themselves and to deal with their weaknesses and convert them to become their strengths.

Joy Luck Club

Every person comes to a point in their life when they begin to search for
themselves and their identity. Usually it is a long process and takes a long
time with many wrong turns along the way. Family, teachers, and friends all help
to develop a person into an individual and adult. Parents play the largest role
in evolving a person. Amy Tan, author of the Joy Luck Club, uses this theme in
her book. Four mothers have migrated to America from China because of their own
struggles. They all want their daughters to grow up successful and without any
of the hardships they went through. One mother, Suyuan, imparts her knowledge on
her daughter through stories. The American culture influences her daughter, Jing
Mei, to such a degree that it is hard for Jing Mei to understand her mother’s
culture and life lessons. Yet it is not until Jing Mei realizes that the key to
understanding who her mother was and who she is lies in understanding her
mother’s life. Jing Mei spends her American life trying to pull away from her
Chinese heritage, and therefore also ends up pulling away from her mother. Jing
Mei does not understand the culture and does not feel it is necessary to her
life. When she grows up it is not “fashionable” to be called by your
Chinese name (26). She doesnt use, understand, or remember the Chinese
expressions her mother did, claiming she “can never remember things she
didnt understand in the first place” (6). Jing Mei “begs” her
mother “to buy her a transistor radio”, but her mother refuses when
she remembers something from her past, asking her daughter “Why do you
think you are missing something you never had?” (13) Instead of viewing the
situation from her mother’s Chinese-influenced side, Jing Mei takes the American
materialistic viewpoint and “sulks in silence for an hour” (13). By
ignoring her mom and her mom’s advice, Jing Mei is also ignoring some of the
similarities between her and her mother. Suyuan has also rejected some of the
Chinese traditions. Suyuan rejects the women-repressive Chinese traditions when
she tells her daughter that she “believed you could be anything you want to
be in America” (141). Suyuan continually tells Jing Mei her “Kweilin
story” as a child, the story of the origins of the Joy Luck Club as well as
her mother’s past hardships. Yet despite the importance of the story and the
events constituting the story to Suyuan, Jing Mei “never thought her
mother’s Kweilin story was anything but a Chinese fairy tale” (12). The
story would have the same meaning to Jing Mei as if she were being told the
story of Sleeping Beauty, or some other American bedtime story. When Jing Mei
recognizes the similarities between her mother and herself she begins to
understand not only her mother but herself as well. There are subtle connections
and likenesses from the beginning between Jing Mei and her mother that Jing Mei
does not see. The book commences with Jing Mei taking her mother’s place at the
mah jong table, creating a similarity between them from the beginning. Suyuan
dies two months before the start of the book, and therefore is not able to tell
the stories. Jing Mei has learned and must tell her stories in her place,
forming another parallelism between mother and daughter. Because Suyuan is dead,
Jing Mei must act in place of her mother when she goes to meet her Chinese
sisters in China. Throughout the book Jing Mei takes the place of Suyuan,
showing she and her mother have a unique link even with the barrier of the
living world. Jing Mei finally begins to realize her identity and past when she
travels in place of her mother to China to meet her two twin sisters. Suyuan had
to make the hard decision to leave her twin babies on the side of the road in
hopes some kind stranger would take them in, that way she would not have to see
them die. Suyuan searches for her babies all through her life in America,
sending multitudes of letters; they finally get in touch with her two months
after she has died. Because her mother is not alive to meet her children, Jing
Mei takes her place and the trip enables her to finally recognize her Chinese
ancestry. The minute she enters China she “feels different” and can
realize that she is “becoming Chinese” (306). At fifteen Jing Mei
believed she was only as Chinese as her “Caucasian friends” (306). Yet
her mother counters thoughts, telling her: “Once you are born Chinese, you
cannot help but feel and think Chinese” (306). Once in China Jing Mei
decides her mother was right and she “has never really known what it meant
to be Chinese” (307). She has never understood her mother or her heritage.

This trip is the connecting link to understanding her life. She begins to feel
natural in China, thinking to herself on the train: “I am in China It
feels right” (312). Jing Mei sees the landscape, the people, the histories,
and the families in China and sees where her mother was speaking from all of
those years. She knows a “little percent” of her mother know (15). It
becomes “obvious” to Jing Mei to see what “part of her is
Chinese”; it is “in her family, in her blood” (331). Jing Mei
finally realizes herself when she travels to China, trying to connect with her
mother and searching for her identity. The longer she stays in China, the more
connected Jing Mei feels to her mother, the more she feels at home, and the more
she understands what her mother was trying to teach her. At last when Jing Mei
embraces her sisters for the first time at the airport, and they look at the
Polaroid so view their similarities, Jing Mei realizes the part of her that is
Chinese is her family. She must embrace the memory of her dead mother to grasp
that part of her identity.

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