Over the past years, the novel “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan has been attracting attention of scholars and researchers interested in cultural studies. A number of scholarly works have been dedicated to the analysis of this novel; the researchers explored such aspects of the novel as mother-and-daughter relations, cultural differences, ethnic identities, narrative beginnings in the story, etc. Most of the researchers agree that “a central theme of Tan’s stories is the conflict faced by Chinese Americans who find themselves alienated both from their American milieu and from their Chinese parents and heritage.” (Stein 2) The biggest value of the novel “The Joy Luck Club” consists in its turning attention to cultural traditions of Chinese society; this is connected with the fact that the author tried to depict her own life experience in the novel.
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Amy Tan, the author of the novel, was born in 1952 and was a middle child in the Chinese family. Her family moved from China to the United States, namely to Santa Clara, California. Amy lost her father at the age of fifteen; the loss of husband made her mother move to Switzerland where the children were enrolled in local schools, but in 1969 they had to move back to California (Stein 3) Tan’s parents wanted her to become a piano player or a physician but after taking a premedical course, Amy “switched to English and linguistics, much to her mother’s dismay” (Stein 3) Amy worked as a reporter, managing editor, and language consultant but with time she still turned to fiction writing. Her career of a writer started with the story “Rules of the Game” which was published in a small literary magazine. After writing several other stories, her agent encouraged her to start writing a book, which Amy agreed to do. G.P. Putnam’s Sons accepted her proposal and the world saw the first book written by Amy Tan.
Amy Tan’s novel “The Joy Luck Club” was published in 1989. Writing of this novel was intended to help the author to understand the nature of her own relations with her mother. Chinese people respect and value their traditions above all. Disobeying to parents is inadmissible and Tan’s own life experience shows that almost always the parents make all the important decisions for their children. However, the story presents a slightly different perspective on Chinese traditional values: “The traditional role of a Chinese mother has been greatly curtailed in America. If formerly she represented an automatic authority, now she is unsure of herself, defensive, hesitant to impose her own standards on the young” (Xu 3).
The novel “The Joy Luck Club” shows the vivid contrast between Chinese and American cultures. The conflict of the story consists in “the relationship between the four Chinese immigrant mothers, who have formed a majoring group called the Joy Luck Club and cherished ideologies of old China, and their four American-born daughters who believe in modern American individuality and independence” (Zeng 3). Apart from the generation gap, the characters of the novel have to face the necessity to preserve Chinese cultural values in American society. Tan tried to organize these two challenges into one single conflict using “the contrast between the mothers’ and daughters’ beliefs and values to show the difficulties first-generation immigrants face in transmitting their native culture to their offspring.” (Hamilton 125). “The Joy Luck Club” reflects the conflict between Tan and her mother with the novel showing how difficult it is for Chinese immigrants to adapt to the society with has different beliefs and values and how much respect and appreciation the people who have undergone this adaptation deserve.
“The Joy Luck Club” consists of several vignettes two of which are “Best Quality” and “A Pair of Tickets”. These two stories are of the greatest importance for perceiving the whole idea of the novel. The narrator of these stories is Jing-Mei Woo but she is referred to in the text as June. The events this girl goes through in the story let the reader believe that this is the author herself. Jing-Mei has never been able to understand her mother, and it is through this character that Tan tries to analyze and understand the relations with her mother. “Best Quality” depicts the times when Jing-Mei and her mother lived together; it is a description of a New Year dinner and a conflict which took place in the course of it. “A Pair of Tickets”, in its turn, presents the issue of identity with Jing-Mei’s trying not to lose her identity in Chinese society. It shows her fear to assimilate with the society and become like everybody else; this fear resulted from the misconception she had about Chinese culture. In the “Joy Luck Club,” particularly in “Best Quality” and “A Pair of Tickets,” Amy Tan tried to portray the difference between Chinese and American cultures and to show the importance of preserving original values and traditions of Chinese people. The use of narrative elements in these two stories helps to authentically represent Chinese cultural identity; Tan uses the conflict between mother and daughter as her response to the imposition of Chinese traditional values on her; by her novel, she invites the readers to authentically experience Chinese culture and dispel any misconceptions regarding it.
The narrative elements of these two short stories help the whole novel to authentically represent cultural identity and to show how false and stereotypical certain conceptions about Chinese culture are. Romagnolo keeps to an idea that “The Joy Luck Club” “is suggestive of a new way to look at narrative beginnings, one that emphasizes a destabilization of conceptions of history that exclude women, particularly those of non-European descent.” (Romagnolo 90) According to her, there are four categories of narrative beginnings, namely, structural narrative openings, chronological narrative beginnings, causal beginnings, and thematic origins. (Romagnolo 92) “The Joy Luck Club” in general contains a number of structural narrative openings with the narration being often disrupted, for instance, by Suyuan’s death: “Suyuan Woo’s absence through death interrupts the novel’s almost symmetrical structure of sixteen stories, by seven, not eight, narrators, in four parts divided more or less evenly between two generations.” (Adams 80) Nevertheless, the narrative’s structure of the novel “invites the reader to apprehend the daughters against the backdrop of mothers [and] gives the mothers the upper hand in the argument” (Souris and Bloom 70) regardless of how unreasonable they seem to be in imposing their views on daughters.
The story “Best Quality” may contain a chronological narrative beginning because it contains “chronologically earliest diegetic moments in a narrative.” (Romagnolo 92) Chronological narrative beginnings may also be characterized by their containing flashbacks to the past. Romagnolo believes that these flashbacks are characteristic for “The Joy Luck Club”:
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The numerous flashbacks and concurrent narratives that characterize the chronological organization of The Joy Luck Club challenge the idea of history as linear and objectively knowable. Each section of the text is narrated from a different perspective, many of the incidents occurring simultaneously. (Romagnolo 99)
“Best Quality” contains chronological narrative beginning because the story itself is a flashback to the past. It depicts the events of a Chinese New Year dinner which takes place in Jing-Mei and her mother’s house. However, the story ends with Jing-Mei’s cooking dinner to her father; this part of the story depicts the period of time after Jing-Mei’s mother’s death. “Best Quality” gives a perfect idea about Chinese cultural identity and presents it in an authentic way providing examples of certain Chinese beliefs and traditions (for instance, when Jing-Mei’s mother states that a maimed crab cooked for a New Year dinner brings misfortune; the mother indeed dies shortly after cooking such a crab).
“A Pair of Tickets” contains a thematic origin. Romagnolo states that thematic origins present “the topic of origins or beginnings when it is interrogated or explored by the characters, narrator, or by the author him/herself.” (Romagnolo 92) Throughout “A Pair of Tickets” Jing-Mei questions her origin; she grew up in an American society and has always rejected Chinese traditions and values, but at the end of the story the meeting with her sisters convinces her that the Chinese part of her is the belonging to a Chinese family; Chinese identity was in her blood and she finally appeased with this. “A Pair of Tickets” shows true Chinese cultural identity and why Chinese people are trying so hard to preserve it.
Mother and daughter relations, as presented in the “Joy Luck Club”, serve a dual purpose. Firstly, they depict mothers’ ardent desire to hand down cultural heritance to their daughters even in the society which does not support Chinese culture. This shows the devotion of Chinese people to their cultural values and traditions. The conflict between mothers and daughters reveals how difficult it was for Chinese mothers to arouse in their daughters a feeling of cultural commitment, while the latter were struggling with their American half and Chinese half. And secondly, these relations help to express Jing-Mei’s rejection of Chinese traditions and values which she never understood because of her mother’s prejudices and constant trying to make her strive for the best.
Jing-Mei’s unwillingness to accept her cultural identity may be traced in both “Best Quality” and “A Pair of Tickets.” Since the whole novel “The Joy Luck Club” reflects the life of its author, it may be stated that Tan tried to express her own unwillingness to observe Chinese traditions through Jing-Mei; the conflict between Tan and her mother was not only the struggle between two different generations but between two opposing cultures, which Tan tried to reflect in her novel. It was crucial for Tan to show why exactly she was trying to object to her Chinese identity; perhaps, this is why daughter and mother in the novel “are forever kept apart by the text’s daughterly perspective and signature: the mother is excluded from the discourse by the daughter who owns it” (Heung and Bloom 26). These two stories are written from Jing-Mei’s perspective and the reader can never tell for sure whether the narrator is right or wrong in her convictions for she presents the events in a way she herself sees them.
The story “Best Quality” shows that Jing-Mei was reluctant to observe Chinese traditions simply because she never understood them. Her mother tried to evoke in her certain commitment to their culture because she had “a fear that she will lose her connection with her daughter” otherwise (Xu and Harod 49). In this story, her mother gives her a pendant stating that it is of great significance for her. She never explains her daughter what exactly is so important about the pendant. Jing-Mei keeps it though she does not even like it. When some time passes, she meets a Chinese girl who wears a pendant quite similar to hers, but it turns out that this girl also does not know why it is important to keep this pendant and to pass it over to other generations. It is only over after the death of her mother that the pendant acquires certain importance for Jing-Mei, though she is still unable to understand its meaning. This inability to comprehend the traditions of her nation results in Jing-Mei’s denying them.
In the story “A Pair of Tickets” Jing-Mei tries to run away from her cultural identity. When planning her visit to China, the only thing she is afraid of is absorbing some of Chinese traditions. She herself did not know for sure what to be a Chinese was all about and her ideas about this culture consisted of those stereotypical behaviors which her mother exhibited. (Mikolajczyk) She was brought up on this stereotypes and she was quite surprised to see that Chinese people were not all exactly like her mother. It seems that imposition of cultural values of the nation Jing-Mei never belonged to (for she grew in an American society) resulted in this fear of her own culture and unwillingness to admit her real origin. This is what Tan was trying to show by her novel; she believed that namely her mother’s imposition of Chinese traditions on her resulted in her reluctance to observe these traditions and, moreover, led to constant conflicts with her mother.
One of the main goals of “The Joy Luck Club” is to dispel the misconceptions most of people have about Chinese culture. The author makes it easy to admit that these misconceptions exist by presenting Jing-Mei as a person who also has certain stereotypes about Chinese culture. At this, “Best Quality” helps to understand what exactly these misconceptions are and why Jing-Mei has them. Their source is her mother, an older woman who got used to Communist China she left many years ago. She teaches her daughter the traditions which, as she believes, are still kept to in China. She brings up the fear of these traditions in her daughter who finds them inapplicable for the society she lives in, the American society. Breaking of her misconceptions about Chinese culture can be traced in “A Pair of Tickets.”
Amy Tan invites the readers to get rid of all the stereotypes regarding Chinese culture together with Jing-Mei. In “A Pair of Tickets” she depicts a modern China, not the Communist one where all the misconceptions come from. She shows how much surprised the heroine is at seeing that China is absolutely contrary to what her mother told her about it. The final breaking of misconceptions takes place when she dines with her sisters. She expected traditional Chinese feast which she has seen so often in the Joy Luck Club, but instead she saw French fries, hamburgers, and apple pie, the food she got used to, the American food. This leaves the readers in thoughts making them doubt whether they indeed have true conceptions about Chinese people and their culture.
The novel “The Joy Luck Club” is the reflection of Amy Tan’s life. Its vignettes, especially “Best Quality” and “A Pair of Tickets” help the author to authentically represent Chinese cultural identity, to find out the essence of the conflict between Chinese mothers and daughters who live in America, and to eliminate certain stereotypes people may have about Chinese culture. These two short stories reveal the traditions of Communist China and show that Jing-Mei rejected Chinese culture only because her mother imposed this culture on her. The story “Best Quality” depicts Chinese traditions which Jing-Mei’s mother was trying to preserve, while “A Pair of Tickets” shows that such traditions do not exist in modern China anymore, which breaks the misconceptions about Chinese culture.
Adams, Bella. “Identity In-Difference: Re-Generating Debate about International Relationships in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.” Studies in literary Imagination 39.2 (2006): 79-94. 2009. Web.
Hamilton, Patricia L. “Feng Shui, Astrology, and the Five Elements: Traditional Chinese Belief in Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club.” MELUS 24.2 (1999): 125. 2009. Web.
Heung, Marina and Bloom, Harold. “Daughter-Text/Mother-Text: Matrilineage in Amy Tan’s “Joy Luck Club.” Bloom’s Modern Critical Views (2003): 25-41. 2009. Web.
Mikolajczyk, Michael. “Literary analysis: A Pair of Tickets, by Amy Tan.” Top Article. 2005. Helium, Inc. 2009. Web.
Romagnolo, Catherine. Narrative Beginnings in Amy Tab’s The Joy Luck Club: A Feminist Study.” Studies in the Novel 35.1 (2003): 89-106. 2009. Web.
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Stein, Karen F. “Amy Tan”. Critical Survey of Short Fiction (2001). Web.
Stephen, Souris and Harold, Bloom. “Only two kinds of daughters”: Monologue Dialogicity in “The Joy Luck Club.” Bloom’s Modern critical Views: Amy Tan (2003): 59-81. Web.
Xu, Ben. “Memory and the Ethnic Self: Reading Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club”.” MELUS 19.1 (1994): 3. 2009. Web.
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