Queen Mother of the Western
An-mei Hsu, "Magpies," pp. 241-
An-mei's life and character are transformed--and determined--by her
mother. At first, An-mei and her mother identify themselves as passive
sufferers, but the mother's suicide is an act of assertiveness and of
for An-mei that changes An-mei's character and future.
The story which the mother tells of the turtle living at the
of the pond expresses their suffering passivity. Her mother compares
two of them to the turtle; because its tears feed the joy of the
she warns, "And that is why you must learn to swallow your own tears"
244). Despite her warning, An-mei's mother is crying and An-mei, also
crying, realizes, "this was our fate, to live like two turtles seeing
watery world together from the bottom of the little pond" (p. 244).
Although she has not seen her mother for years, An-mei sees her nature
and fate as the same as her mother's; their connection makes her
recognize her mother immediately, "I could feel her pain" (p. 242).
Because of their connection, An-mei chooses to leave with her mother.
The high premium placed on boys and her mother's loss of face or status
make it impossible for An-mei's mother to reclaim her son. In China, a
woman married not for love, but for position. As a concubine, her
has "the worst" position (p. 256). Particularly unfortunate is her
the fourth "wife"; sz, the word for fourth in Chinese,
sounds like to die if it is pronounced angrily.
An-mei sees the connection between mother and daughter and
natures as inevitable and unbreakable. She regrets the effect of this
connection on her daughter, who is another turtle, suffering
And even though I
taught my daughter
the opposite, still she came out the same way! Maybe it is because she
was born to me and she was born a girl. And I was born to my mother and
I was born a girl. All of us are like stairs, one step after another,
going up and down, but all going the same way (p. 241).
The life of An-mei's mother illustrates women's lack of
An-mei several times refers to the fact that her mother had no choice,
thereby stressing this point. Raped by a wealthy merchant, her mother
is powerless against him and the malicious lies his second wife spreads
about her. She is forced by circumstances to become his mistress or
fourth wife; this causes her to be rejected by her family and to lose
status in society.
An-mei learns to distinguish the true from the false, the
from the reality, after Second Wife gives her a fake pearl necklace .
Her mother crushes a glass bead underfoot and makes An-mei wear the
restrung necklace for a week, to learn the lesson of "how easy it is to
lose myself to something false" (p. 261) (the lesson rubs into her skin
or is internalized). Then her mother gives her a ring with a real
sapphire, to recognize the true nature of things.
Humiliated by her position and losing all hope of release, the
commits suicide as a weapon against the merchant and as an expression
love for her daughter. Through her suicide, she insures An-mei a secure
future. The Chinese believe that a wife who commits suicide can gain
revenge by coming back as a ghost and destroying the husband's fortune;
to avoid her ghost's wrath, the merchant agrees to raise An-mei as his
own legitimate child. Also, the mother whispers to An-mei, "she would
rather kill her own weak spirit so she could give me a stronger one"
271). She wants her spirit to pass to An-mei and combine with hers to
make her strong. And it does. While her mother is dying, An-mei cries
like the turtle, her tears filling the joy of Second wife. On the day
her mother dies, she is transformed. She defiantly crushes the fake
pearl necklace in front of second wife. "And on that day, I learned to
shout" (p. 272). She has become strong, able to assert herself. (A
historical note: Tan, who researches her novels, uncovered the
statistic that 25% of concubines committed suicide.)
An-mei believes China has also changed. When she was growing
Chinese way was "to desire nothing, to swallow other people's misery,
eat my own bitterness" (p. 241). But now, the Chinese people have
learned assertiveness and act against misfortune, as the story about
peasant rebellion against the magpies illustrates. Like An-mei, the
peasants have learned to shout. An-mei wants her daughter to assert
herself, to act rather than to cry and suffer passively. Her daughter
believes she has no choice. An-mei thinks, "She doesn't know. If she
doesn't speak, she is making a choice. If she doesn't try, she can lose
her chance forever" (p. 241).
Ying-ying St. Clair, "Waiting between the
Trees," pp. 274-287
Ying-ying is the only Joy Luck mother who loses her sense of identity
a time, and Rose is the only daughter who, as a child, sees her
mother's weakness and
wants to save her.
Sitting in the guest room of her daughter's house, Ying-ying
on her love for her daughter and their relationship,
She and I have shared the same body. There is a part
mind that is part of mine. But when she was born, she sprang from me
like a slippery fish, and has been swimming away ever since. All her
life, I have watched her as though from another shore. And now I must
tell her everything about my past. It is the only way to penetrate her
skin and pull her to where she can be saved (p. 275).
By telling her daughter about herself, Ying-ying expects to activate
(tiger) nature and the thoughts she inherited from her mother. She
believes, "thoughts are of two kinds. Some are seeds that are planted
when you are born, placed there by your father and mother and their
ancestors before them. And some thoughts are planted by others" (p.
279). American thoughts have separated Lena from her mother; American
thoughts and Ying-ying's withdrawal into herself have separated Lena
her tiger nature. Ying-ying plans to tell her daughter "That she is the
daughter of a ghost. She has no chi [spirit]. This is my
greatest shame. How can I leave this world without leaving her my
spirit?" (p. 286). She foresees a struggle but expects to win and to
"give her my spirit, because this is the way a mother loves her
Following the pattern that was established when she fell in
Ying-ying loses her identity in her first marriage, "I became a
to myself" (p. 280). All her efforts and desires are directed to
pleasing her husband. When he leaves her, she withdraws into herself
cuts herself off from her family, by living with poor distant relatives
and later by working as a sales clerk. Her second marriage erodes her
identity in a different way; she reacts similarly to the loss of her
baby--she withdraws from her family into herself.
Ying-ying sees her alternating between having a headstrong
losing her spirit as an expression of her having a tiger nature. The
tiger is black and gold because
It has two ways. The gold side leaps with its fierce
heart. The black
side stands still with cunning, hiding its gold between trees, seeing
not being seen, waiting patiently for things to come. I did not learn
to use my black side until after the bad man left me (p. 282).
The "bad man" is her philandering first husband. To encourage St.
Clair's courtship, she deliberately weakens herself,
I let myself become
a wounded animal. I let the hunter come to me and turn me into a tiger
ghost. I willingly gave up my chi, the spirit that caused me so
In other words, she chooses to give up or lose her identity in her
marriage to St. Clair.
Now I was a tiger that neither
nor lay waiting between the trees. I became an unseen spirit (p. 285).
But she has regained her tiger spirit and sits waiting for her
daughter to come after the vase and table fall, a tiger-mother "waiting
between the trees" (p. 287) to save her daughter.
Lindo Jong, "Double Face," pp. 288-
Lindo's narrative focuses on the theme of Chinese versus American.
thinks about American circumstances and Chinese character (p. 289). At
the beauty salon, Lindo is humiliated because Waverly seems ashamed of
her. To hide her feelings, she assumes her "American face. That's the
face Americans think is Chinese, the one they cannot understand" (291).
Lindo's American face represents the lack of understanding between
Chinese immigrants and Americans. But when the hair stylist Mr. Rory
comments on how much alike Lindo and Waverly look, Lindo smiles with
Chinese face; she is expressing her true feelings and so assumes her
identity. The clash between the cultures makes it "hard to keep your
Chinese face in America" (p. 294). Lindo's statement makes the reader
of an implication for the Chinese daughters: if it is hard for an adult
steeped in Chinese culture to maintain her Chinese identity, how
difficult must it be for the daughters to develop a Chinese identity in
Noticing in the mirror Waverly's displeasure at Mr. Rory's
Lindo reflects on her relationship with her mother in China. Then Lindo
when her mother inventoried the features they had in common,
And even though she said we looked the same, I wanted
to look more the
same. If her eye went up and looked surprised, I wanted my eye to do
same. If her mouth fell down and was unhappy, I too wanted to feel
unhappy (p. 293).
Lindo wants to be so identified with her mother, so like her mother,
she feels exactly what her mother feels.
It is ironic and indicates the distance between them that she
not recognize Waverly's crooked nose as the same as her nose when they
in the mirror together. Their conversation shows that the two women
established a rapport; they are genuinely communicating with each
other. Waverly acknowledges the similarity in their characters; they
devious. Waverly sees deviousness as "good if you get what you want"
304). She defines deviousness for her mother as two-faced.
And of course two-faced is what all the mothers and daughters
the sense of being both Chinese and American. Waverly's remark causes
Lindo to think about the conflicts between the two, "I think about our
two faces. I think about my intentions. Which one is American? Which
is Chinese? Which one is better? If you show one, you must always
sacrifice the other" (p. 304). And she knows she has lost something
essential which made her Chinese; when she returned to China, the
treated her as a tourist, "They knew my face was not one hundred
Chinese. They still charged me high foreign prices" (p. 305).
Lindo's experience in China causes her to laugh at Waverly's
that she won't be allowed to leave China because she'll be seen as
Chinese. No, she mother replies, they'll know you're an outsider, "They
know just watching the way you walk, the way you carry your face" (p.
288). Displeasure makes Waverly get "a sour American look on her
face"(p. 288) since it is currently fashionable to be Chinese. Lindo
thinks, "Only her skin and her hair are Chinese. Inside--she is all
American-made" (p. 289).
Reflecting on her Chinese trip and no longer being all
wonders,"What did I lose? What I get back in return? I will ask my
daughter what she thinks" (p. 305). This is a novel about losses and
gains, which is one aspect of the immigrant experience. Her decision to
ask Waverly shows the closeness they have developed; they are now
of true communication with each other, at least occasionally.
One advantage of American culture which Lindo acknowledges is
freedom to make choices. As a recent immigrant, she has a choice to
marry or to go back to
China. She deliberately gives up Chinese attitudes when she accepts a
Cantonese man as a marriage prospect, and she actively solicits his
proposal with the fortune cookie.
Jing-mei Woo, "A Pair of Tickets," pages
Jing-mei is the one dauaghter who is identified both by an American
name (June) and
by a Chinese name. She also is the only daughter who speaks both for
herself and for her mother. These details show the doubleness (Chinese
versus American, mother versus daughter) as well as reconciliation of
opposites. With the trip to China, Jing-mei experiences herself as
Chinese and accepts her Chinese identity and heritage. She also
her mother's dream and expectation of being united with her lost
daughters. This is a significant change from her childhood, when she
disappointed her mother's expectations. Jing-mei finds and is
into her family in China.
Jing-mei discovers the truth of Suyuan's belief that "Once you
born Chinese, you cannot help but feel and think Chinese" (p. 306).
a matter of genetics; being Chinese is in the genes. In China, Jing-mei
knows she could not pass for true Chinese; this is exemplified in her
height. She is not Chinese only; she is Chinese-American, as are all
daughters. (Have the mothers changed into Americanized Chinese?) When
she meets her sisters, she sees no trace of their mother in her
"Yet they still look familiar. And now I also see what part of me is
Chinese. It is so obvious. It is my family. It is in our blood. After
all these years, it can finally be let go" (p. 331). Again the Chinese
mother has been proven right; Suyuan told Jing-mei that being Chinese
in your blood, waiting to be let go" (p. 306).
The novel ends on a note of hopeful acceptance. On a literal
the last line refers to a Polaroid snapshot Jing-mei's father takes,
sisters and I watch quietly together, eager to see what develops" (p.
331). The line has much more meaning, however; it refers to the
relationship of the sisters and to the Chinese identity of