Joy Luck Club Essay: How The East-West Conflict Affected June’s Relationship With Her Mother Essay, Research Paper
Joy Luck Club Essay:
How the East-West conflict affected June?s relationship with her mother
The dominant theme of The Joy Luck Club is the clash between Chinese, American cultures, and how it affects the relationship between mothers and daughters. All of the mothers in the book were born and raised in China. All of their daughters were born and raised in the United States. Because of the differences in family traditions and values between the way the mothers had been raised in China and the way their daughters were growing up in America, there was bound to be a clash between the two generations. Perhaps the most dramatic example of how East-West conflicting traditions and values affected a mother-daughter relationship was that of Suyuan Woo and her daughter, Jing-mei. When the book opens, Suyuan has been dead for two months. Her daughter, who prefers to call herself by the American name of ?June? rather than her Chinese name, has been asked by her father to take her dead mother?s place. She was to take Suyuan’s place in a club Suyuan started when she moved to America. June was to be the fourth member of this club, which was hosted at one of the member’s homes each session and the group played mahjong and provided strength for each other in their transition to becoming Americanized. Over the course of the next few months, through the conversations and stories told by her mother?s old friends at the mahjong table, June learns a great deal about her mother, and, ultimately, about herself as well.
One of the conflicts between East and West is clash between the hard work ethic of Asian parents and the easier-going standards that Western parents have for their children. Watching a little Chinese girl playing the piano on television, Suyuan was mesmerized by the performance but criticized the little girl for not being good enough: ? ?Play note right, but does not sound good! No singing sound,? complained my mother.? June defended the girl against her mother?s perfectionism: ? ?What are you picking on her for?? I said carelessly. ?She?s pretty good. Maybe she?s not the best, but she?s trying hard.?? The mother rejoins: ? ?Just like you,? she said. ?Not the best. Because you not trying.? ? (P.136)
The television show gave Suyuan a model for how June could excel and the mother worked cleaning house for a piano teacher to give June lessons and a second-hand piano for her to practice on. June is aghast at her mother?s plans for her. She thought she ?had been sent to hell. I whined and then kicked my foot a little when I couldn?t stand it anymore.? June asks, ?Why don?t you like me the way I am? I am not a genius! I cannot play the piano. And even if I could, I wouldn?t go on TV if you paid me a million dollars!? I cried.? Her mother is equally appalled by June?s insolence and disobedience. Disrespect for her elders and ingratitude for what her parents were providing in the way of opportunity was unknown in a daughter from the old China. Suyuan preserved and forced June to practice but June soon found ways to subvert the system and refuse to play as well as she might have.
The climax came during a talent show in a church hall. The mother invited all of her friends from the Joy Luck Club to witness her daughter?s first recital. June started okay but then found that she was playing the wrong notes. She was paralyzed to prevent herself from giving an awful recital. Suyuan was furious and shamed in front of her friends. June in turn felt the shame of her parents and was devastated by the standard she was somehow being held to, which seemed exasperatingly high.
In reaction to her mother?s unrealistic expectations, June went on to fall short many times. She did not get straight As. She did not become class president or go to Stanford. In fact, she dropped out of college. She did not marry a good Chinese man and have children early. She never married at all. Asserting her right to be an individual was a very American thing to do. Although, it did result in a clash between June and her mother that caused a serious breach between them.
June?s feelings for her mother changed once her mother died. From listening to the stories about her mother from the members of the Joy Luck Club, June learned that Suyuan had had more than a hard life in China. She had had an unbelievably (to an American?s mind) hard life. June had known of the existence of twin sisters born in China to Suyuan and left there. What she had not known and not aporeciated, was how deathly sick Suoyuan had been and unable to care for the babies. Suyuan?s sacrifice of her twin daughters was a cross she carried throughout her life in America. Guilt and worry over the fate of those twins had haunted Suyuan all her life. It had dictated her attempts to do all she had done (or thought she had done) for June. After Suyuan?s death, June travelled to China to meet those long-abandoned twin sisters. Meeting those sisters began a process of reconciliation for June with her mother. She suddenly udnersttod the passion with which Suyuan had attempted to improve her, to bring out the genius in her. Finally, June became reconciled with being Jing Mei. It made her no less American, but it gave her an appreciation for what it meant to also be Chinese.
First ?generation Americans often go through a period of wanting to disown their native heritage; to assimilate and become like their new countrymen. June and the other daughters of the Joy Luck Club were no different. They rejected the ceaseless quest for perfection and adherence with the old ways. They wanted to be more like their American counterparts than like their Chinese mothers? past. Yet it was only when they began to fully appreciate that past that the young Chinese-American women began to realize how much they owed their mothers. The struggles of Suyuan and her friends resulted in a freer, happier life for their daughters. It also resulted in a greater appreciation for their Chinese heritage and what that meant for them and the bonds that knit them to their mothers before them and their children ahead. ?Together we look like our mother. Her same yers, her same mouth, open in surprise to see, at last, her long-cherished wish.? (p.288)