The Joy Luck Club Essay Essay, Research Paper
The Joy Luck Club Essay
The Generation Gap in The Joy Luck Club
“Hey, Ben, are you Japanese or Chinese?” I asked. His reply, as it seems to be for a lot of minority groups, was, “Neither, I’m Chinese-American.” So, besides his American accent and a hyphenated ending on his answer to the SAT questionnaire about his ethnic background, what’s the difference? In Amy Tan’s captivating novel, The Joy Luck Club, I found out the answer to that question. Through the relationships and experiences of four Chinese mothers and four Chinese-American daughters, I was able to see a massive difference between their corresponding lifestyles. The generation gap of the women born during the first quarter of the century in China, and their daughters born in the American atmosphere of California, is a quality that doesn’t exactly take a scientist to see.
From the beginning of the novel, we hear Suyuan Woo tell the story of “The Joy Luck Club,” a group started by some Chinese women during World War II, where “we feasted, we laughed, we played games, lost and won, we told the best stories. And each week, we could hope to be lucky. That hope was our only joy.” (p. 12) Really, this was their only joy. The mothers grew up during perilous times in China. They all were taught “to desire nothing, to swallow other people’s misery, to eat [their] own bitterness.” (p. 241) Though not many of them grew up terribly poor, they all had a certain respect for their elders, and for life itself. These Chinese mothers were all taught to be honorable, to the point of sacrificing their own lives to keep any family members’ promise. Instead of their daughters, who “can promise to come to dinner, but if she wants to watch a favorite movie on TV, she no longer has a promise” (p. 42), “To Chinese people, fourteen carats isn’t real gold . . . [my bracelets] must be twenty-four carats, pure inside and out.” (p. 42)
Just as they believed that gold was not real unless it was 24 carat, Ying-Ying St. Clair did not believe that a marriage was real unless it was full and without any strings attached. When Ying-Ying found that Lena’s marriage was filled with everything but her own visions, she was quite disappointed. She saw the list of items to be split fifty-fifty on the refrigerator, and immediately thought their marriage did not have the purity and honor that it should have contained. Lena’s ideas of “eliminating false dependencies, being equals, and love without obligation”(p.176) were far from the views that her mother took on marriage. It was quite easy for Ying-Ying to see how times had changed, and how the lifestyle of American born citizens widely contrasted that of her home country.
Toward the end of the book, there is a definite line between the differences of the two generations. Lindo Jong, whose daughter, Waverly, didn’t even know four Chinese words, described the complete difference and incompatibility of the two worlds she tried to connect for her daughter; American circumstances and Chinese character. She explained that there was no lasting shame in being born in America, and that as a minority, you were the first in line for scholarships. Most importantly, she noted that, “In America, nobody says you have to keep the circumstances somebody else gives you.” (p. 289) For a girl who was raised in America, it was easy for Waverly to accept American circumstances, to grow up as any other American citizen.
As a Chinese mother, though, she also wanted her daughter to learn the importance of Chinese character. She tried to teach her Chinese-American daughter “How to obey parents and listen to your mother’s mind. How not to show your own thoughts, to put your feelings behind your face so you can take advantage of hidden opportunities . . . How to know your own worth and polish it, never flashing it around like a cheap ring.” (p. 289) The American-born daughters never grasped on to these traits, and as the book showed, they became completely different from their purely Chinese parents. They never gained a sense of real respect for their elders, or for their Chinese background, and in the end were completely different from what their parents planned them to be.
By the stories and information given by each individual in The Joy Luck Club, it was clear to me just how different a Chinese-American person is from their parents or older relatives. I found that the fascinating trials and experiences that these Chinese mothers went through, are a testament to their enduring nature, and constant devotion to their elders. Their daughters, on the other hand, showed that pure Chinese blood could be changed completely through just one generation. They have become American not only in their speech, but also in their thoughts, actions and lifestyles. This novel has not only given great insight into the Chinese way of thinking and living, but it has shown the great contrast that occurs from generation to generation, in the passing on of ideas and traditions.