Based on a book of the same name published by Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club tells the stories of four Chinese women and their daughters who were raised in America. While the film focuses a great deal on the relationships between the mothers and daughters and how their stories intertwine, as well as the history of each person and the trials they went through both in China and America, it also showcases some Chinese cultural and religious beliefs.
Religion, folktales, culture, and superstition were all prevalent in much of the daily lives of the women, shaping how they interacted with and raised their individual children as well as how they viewed themselves. In this paper, I will be focusing on how the different beliefs and customs were displayed in the film and how their lives were formed around and changes by them. Some of the major stylistic elements of the movie were the presence of jade jewelry on most of the women and the bright red color that was frequently worn on clothes or decorating rooms.
Red stands as a symbol of fortune and joy in China, and is fitting for The Joy Luck Club, and reflects the ingrained superstition in the society. Jade in Chinese culture has a long history dating back to 5000 B. C. Confucius claimed that there are eleven virtues in jade, and that “The wise have likened jade to virtue. For them, its polish and brilliancy represent the whole of purity; its perfect compactness and extreme hardness represent the sureness of intelligence; its angles, which do not cut, although they seem sharp, represent justice; the pure and prolonged sound, which it gives forth when one strikes it, represents music.
Its color represents loyalty; its interior flaws, always showing themselves through the transparency, call to mind sincerity; its iridescent brightness represents heaven; its admirable substance, born of mountain and of water, represents the earth. Used alone without ornamentation it represents chastity. The price that the entire world attaches to it represents the truth. To support these comparisons, the Book of Verse says: “When I think of a wise man, his merits appear to be like jade. ”
In addition, there is a Chinese saying that states “Gold has a value; jade is invaluable. ” Jade also symbolizes purity, grace, and beauty, and sometimes denoted power in historical times as well as being the title for the Jade Emperor, who was the Supreme Deity of Taoism. In a pivotal moment of the movie, daughter June is given a jade necklace that has been passed down generations by her mother Suyuan. This symbolizes both her mother’s love and belief in her and shows how highly valued familial ties are in Chinese culture.
The ties that bind family together in Chinese society can be seen very strongly throughout The Joy Luck Club. There were some conflicting values seen between the women raised in China and their daughters raised in America. This dichotomy helped to show how even though they were in America, the mothers expected the girls to understand and obey them following the rules of Chinese requirements. For example, as a child Waverly gets into an argument with her mother in which her mother states, “There are only two kinds of children: those who are obedient, and those with own mind.
And only one kind of child live in this house. Obedient kind. ” Waverly sees this as an unfair imposition upon who she is as an individual, while her mother simply accepts this as a fact of how life and family is. Even through the disagreements and understandings, the girls exhibit strong traits of their mothers’, which are not just hinged on how they are raised. Rather than just focusing on the nurture aspect, the mothers believed powerfully in spirits and curses, and their daughters followed them to some extent.
Waverly believes that words her mother said to her cursed her as a child because she allowed them to undermine her own individual beliefs in herself. This is something that I found very interesting, as the majority of the Western world would explain that away with psychology while the East appeared to believe that she might actually be cursed, but the curse wasn’t permanent. In another case, Ying-Ying believes that her daughter is emotionally weak because she had no spirit of her own to give Lena when she was born, and this leads her to make many of the mistakes that Ying-Ying did.
This belief also seen in An-Mei’s mother, who committed suicide to protect her daughter and believed that the remnants of her own weak soul would pass to her daughter and make her stronger. The superstitions of the family she was wed into were detailed, as the husband believed that An-Mei’s mother may return to haunt him, and thus An-Mei was protected by her ancestors. I found the parallels between Western and Chinese culture here to be very interesting, as the younger girls tried to separate themselves and integrate their upbringing with their mothers’ expectations.
Tradition and ancestor veneration was clearly represented in several cases, the most obvious of which being the case of Lindo’s marriage. Trapped and unable to properly conceive a child, she tricks her husband’s family into believing that the matchmaker had made a mistake by assaying that the ancestor appeared to her and threatened her because another girl in the household was pregnant with his “spiritual” child, and was fated by the ancestors to marry Lindo’s own husband. Through the arousal of duty to the ancestors, Lindo is able to escape her marriage.
An-Mei’s mother fell subject to the belief of tradition – she tried to save her own mother in turn by feeding her soup with her own flesh in it, because in the cultural context sacrificing the “pain of her flesh” was the honorable thing to do, even though she had been disowned by her family. This scene made me wonder why the sense of duty only seemed to run from the current generation to their own ancestors, rather than from the older family towards the younger generations.
The importance of tradition led the mothers to try and teach their children to “desire nothing…swallow pain and eat [their] bowl of bitterness”, even as they attempted to provide their daughters with the means to break out of the cycle while still honoring beliefs. There was so much amazing symbolism and cultural representation, both Chinese and American, in The Joy Luck Club. The hopes that each of the women had resting on their children, the religious and cultural beliefs that they carried with them, and the strength exhibited by each of the women astounded me, and I hope to learn more about Chinese faith in the future.
Courtney from Study Moose
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