Connection I

The connection or lack of connection between the mothers and daughters is often expressed physically and has different meanings.

Physical resemblance. When June just mentions that she and Suyuen have similar mannerisms, her mother becomes angry, "You don't even know little percent of me! How can you be me?" (p. 15). As is typical of their relationship, they are discussing different things. For Suyuen, the physical connection expressions an emotional bond, a similar identity, and an unspoken shared knowing. But since June doesn't really know her mother and is not in harmony with her, the mother rejects the idea of a resemblance.

Physical resemblance and identity. In contrast, An-mei recognizes herself in her mother's features, "I saw my own face looking back at me. Eyes that stayed wide open and saw too much" (p. 37). In the physical resemblance, she also sees a shared character trait, seeing too much. The physical resemblance expresses a bond of knowledge between An-mei and her mother. She knows her mother was forced to leave and is unhappy. An-mei's connection with her mother also enables her to understand herself after observing her mother make the soup, "Here is how I came to love my mother. How I saw in her my own true nature. What was beneath my skin. Inside my bones" (p. 40). This is an important realization in An-mei's life, when she begins to know herself. Does this insight affect her decision to leave with her mother?

The other mothers also see the close relationship or identification of mother and daughter in physical terms. They tell June that her mother "is in your bones!" (p. 31). June is to tell her sisters "stories she told you, lessons she taught, what you know about her mind that has become your mind" (p. 31). What they are describing is the process of internalizing values and information in a high context culture. A daughter has the same mind as her mother because she internalizes the values and information her mother taught her.

Expressing filial respect. Shou, or filial respect, is shown physically by An-mei's mother. To save the dying grandmother, An-mei's mother cuts flesh from her arm and makes broth, which she feeds her mother. An-mei comments,

          This is how a daughter honors her mother. It is shou so deep it is in your bones. The pain of the flesh is nothing. The pain you must forget. Because sometimes that is the only way to remember what is in your bones. You must peel off your skin, and that of your mother, and her mother before her. Until there is nothing. No scar, no skin, no flesh (p. 41).
Mothers and daughters are connected in a continuous chain of generations; they share an essential knowledge and values.
Connection II

This transfer or imposition of values and attitudes occurs in other relationships as well, because of social pressures (context). Lindo's internalization of the Huangs' view of her is expressed similarly in physical terms,

Can you see how the Huangs almost washed their thinking into my skin? I came to think of Tyan-yu as a god, someone whose opinions were worth much more than my own life. I came to think of Huang Taitai as my real mother, someone I wanted to please, someone I should follow and obey without question (p. 51).
How would Lindo's relationship with her own loved mother encourage her submission to the Huangs and her obeying her mother-in-law? Would the way her family treated her after her engagement encourage her submission? What alternatives or choices did she have?

Jing-Mei Woo's story, "The Joy Luck Club"

Why are the aunties upset when June says she doesn't know her mother?

Why does Suyuen found the Joy Luck Club in Kweilin and then resurrect it in San francisco?

An-mei's story, "Scar"

Why did An-mei's mother become a ghost to her family (ghost=a non-being, someone who no longer exists)?

Why did she have no choice after the rape?

Why is this story called "Scar"? Why is An-mei's memory of her mother connected with her scar? Why do her forgotten memories of her mother come back? How did Popo manipulate her to live? Is there such a thing as physical memory, that is, memory buried in the body and forgotten by the mind?

Lindo Jong's story, "The Red Candle"

Lindo starts her story, "I once sacrificed my life to keep my parents' promise" (p. 42). What is the sacrifice? What is the promise? What motivates her to sacrifice herself?

How much choice does Lindo have in determining her future? When Lindo arrives at the home of her betrothed, she knows, "I had finally arrived where my life said I belonged" (p. 40). She does choose, out of filial respect, not to dishonor her family or to cause them to lose face.

On the day of her wedding she wonders why she "should have an unhappy life so someone else could have a happy one" (p. 53). She notices the power of the wind, which is invisible. Then she looks in the mirror and sees her essential self, "I was strong. I was pure. I had genuine thoughts inside that no one could see, that no one could ever take away from me. I was like the wind" (p. 53).This is a defining moment in Lindo's life. She has a sense of her identity, which is hidden. Being in touch with her essential self enables her to blow out the candle and later to end the marriage honorably.

How is Lindo like the wind? How is this resemblance related to her deviousness, a trait her daughter Waverly learns from her?

Ying-ying St. Clair's story, "The Moon Lady"

Ying-ying's story is about her loss of identity as a child.

An indulged, headstrong child, Ying-ying is being taught proper behavior for a girl. Amah teaches "it is wrong to think of your own needs. A girl can never ask, only listen" (p. 68). Her mother tells her boys can run and chase dragonflies, "But a little girl should stand still. If you are still for a very long time, a dragonfly will no longer see you. Then it will come to you and hide in the comfort of your shadow" (p. 70).

She tries her mother's advice and discovers her shadow, which she plays with. She loves her shadow, "this dark side of me that had my same restless nature" (p. 71). (Karl Jung calls our negative traits, i.e., our dark side, the shadow.) In Chinese culture, being active is unacceptable in a girl, so the shadow symbolizes her unacceptable traits. After her fall in the lake, her shadow is "shorter this time, shrunken and wild-looking" (p. 80). It is shorter because she has lost her connection with her essential self and wild-looking because she is panicked at being lost from her family and from her essential self. Ying-ying opens her tale by asserting she has hidden her true self, "running around like a small shadow so nobody could catch me" (p. 64). This is the diminished shadow after the fall in the lake, not the active, full shadow she plays with.

Though her family finds her, she "never believed my family found the same girl" (p. 83). Why does she lose her sense of identity? Another transformation occurs in her story; the Moon Lady changes into a man.

Ying-ying sees that her past and her loss of self have affected her daughter's identity and present life, "We are both lost, she and I, unseen and not seeing, unheard and not hearing, unknown by others" (p. 64).

How is Ying-ying influenced by Amah's distinction between a secret wish and a selfish desire?

Waverly Jong's story, "Rules of the Game"

Lindo teaches Waverly invisible strength, to withhold information or keep a secret, which is what Lindo did with her identity and her plan for escaping her marriage. Lindo associates invisible strength with the wind. Waverly uses the principle of invisible strength to win at chess, which she sees as "a game of secrets in which one must show and never tell" (p. 96). Waverly hears "the wind blowing" as she plays chess.

In her confrontation with her mother, Waverly thinks she knows the rules of their power struggle and plays various moves, but her mother's reactions are not what she expects. She does not know the rules of the game her mother is playing. As Waverly plans her strategy in their game/power struggle, she imagines her mother smiling triumphantly and speaking, "Strongest wind cannot be seen" (p. 103). Finally Waverly imagines her mother's wind or invisible strength sweeping her high into the sky; in other words, she feels her mother is winning, has more power.

Has Lindo won, or is Waverly defeating herself by seeing Lindo as such an all-powerful figure?

What is the cause of their conflict? How does it embody a clash of cultures? What miscommunication is involved?

Lena St. Clair's story, "The Voice from the Wall"

Lena is the only daughter who feels the need to save her mother, who is the only mother who has lost her sense of identity. When St. Clair changes her name and birthday, he further erodes her identity.

Ying-ying passes on to Lena her own terror of life. Lena sees these terrors with her Chinese eyes, which of course she inherits from her mother. Another manifestation of cultural difference in Lena's life is her translating her parents to each other. How does this responsibility affect Lena?

Lena hears the mother and daughter next door fighting and imagines the daughter being injured or beaten to death. Then she hears the Sorcis express love for each other and laugh together. What changes does this cause in Lena's attitude toward her mother and her own life? Why does this new information about the Sorcis change her view?

The death of a thousand cuts symbolizes the worst possible experience. Why does Lena imagine experiencing it would cause her mother to return to reality? (The death of a thousand cuts in this context would be the suffering Ying-ying has already undergone.)

Tan Syllabus

Introduction Tan, Online overview
Part I The Joy Luck Club, pp. 3-121
Part II Tan, pp. 122-238
Part III
Tan, pp. 239-332
**Supplemental Reading**
      The Other in The Joy Luck Club

Core Studies 6 Page || Syllabus