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.
Mothers and daughters are connected in a continuous chain of
generations; they share an essential
knowledge and values.
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
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
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
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"
How is Ying-ying influenced by Amah's distinction between a
secret wish and a selfish desire?
Waverly Jong's story, "Rules of the
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
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
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.)