Cultural Conflict Between the Mothers and Daughters

The thematic concern in Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club is the quest for identity that based on culture. The novel is about four immigrant Chinese mothers (who have migrated from China to America for different reasons) and their Americanized daughters. Each of the eight main characters faces internal conflict taken with their own culture because the daughters are born and raised in America and their mothers are from China.

However, in this novel we find some inequality in the mothers and daughters understanding of each other native culture.

Though the mothers have some knowledge of American culture and thought but the daughters have only fragmented and second-hand knowledge about their mother’s culture. Lack of proper cultural knowledge creates misunderstanding between mothers and daughters. In this novel Tan emphasis on Chinese culture rather than American culture.

Language has a close relation with culture and it is most probably the main object that create gap between the mothers and daughters in Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club.

Both the Chinese and American culture is exhibited in the family. Though mothers English is imperfect but, they try to speak to make understand their daughters which is mixture of fractured English, subject, articles, verbs, prepositions are often missing.

But the mothers often speak Chinese because they feel comfortable in it. On the other hand, the daughters speak in English perfectly as the native American uses. Both mothers and daughters try to communicate with each other, but sometimes misunderstanding happens because of linguistic differences.

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We see in the opening scene that Jing-Mei talked to her mother Suyuan in English and her mother answered in

“We translated each other’s meanings and I seemed to hear less than what was said, while my mother heard more.” (p.37).

The daughters inability to understand the culture behind their mothers’ words when they are trying to teach their children the Chinese culture and shows their love in a different way but, the daughters respond it in a negative manner. There is a lack of communication between the mothers and daughters due to language.

The mothers are settled in America but, still they value the culture which they had inherited from their parents. All the mothers want to raise their children in the traditional Chinese way. For this reason the mothers try to implant the Chinese culture’s features and qualities in the daughters.

It also should be noted that in Chinese culture there are something which have no English meaning such as (chaunwang chibang) and (nengkan). These words seem unknown to the daughters so, it’s normal for them as an Asian-American to do not understand these types of Chinese culture. According to Chinese belief, the spirit of the mother fuses with the spirit of daughter.

It also one of the reasons for the mothers’ torments about their daughters’ spirit because mothers need to make amends for that. Having migrated from a country where most of the daughters are told to obey their parents because they are elder and they have experience, they have no freedom to take decision. In China most of the mother daughter relationship based on this idea. But in America obedience is not important everyone have the opportunity to educate themselves and climb the social stair: “You could be anything you wanted to be in America” (p.132).

According to Chinese belief which is presented in the Joy Luck Club a person’s birth year, hour, minute gives enough information about that person’s fate, destiny, and personality. There are people whose work is based on fate and birthdates and they are called matchmaker. For example in one of stories: “the village matchmaker came to (one of the characters’) family when (she) was two years old and told her who she would marry” (p. 50).

The girl of the family believes in what the matchmaker says turn to be true because this is the truth. This is an example of one of those ideas where a person is told something, she does anything to make it happen because she take this as her destiny. Each year is connected with different animals as “the year of the dog”.

Following this when one is born he/she is destined as a tiger, a horse, a rabbit and so on. In Joy Luck Club Tan draws traditional Chinese belief through some characters. For example – Lindo Jong born in 1918, is a Horse: “destines to be obstinate and frank to the point of tactlessness” (p. 167).

Proving her identity as a Horse, Lindo thinks that she has all qualities that a Horse has. Her first husband is selected by her birth year and she takes him as her appropriate partner. The matchmaker tells her mother and mother-in-law that: “An earth house for an earth shape. This is the best marriage combination” (p. 50).

Suyuan Woo, born in 1915, is a Rabbit and Joy Luck aunties said that: “she died just like a rabbit: quickly and with unfinished business left behind” (p. 19). It is also to be noticed that Rose-Hsu tells that her mother An-Mei had a superstition that: “children were predisposed to certain dangers on certain days, all depending on their Chinese birthdate.

It was explained in a little Chinese book called The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates” (p.124). When An-Mei migrated from China to America she faces problem taken with calendar’s dates because in China calendar was based on moon cycle. Later on her friends ensure her that May 11, 1918 is her birthdate in America.

Tan shows astrology’s effect in Ying-Ying life who is born in the year of the Tiger: “a very bad year to be born, a very bad year to be a Tiger.” (p.248). Like tiger she is wild and vain in her teenage age but, when her Amah tells her that girls should be polite and passive, Ying-Ying begins to lose her scense of independence.

From her early age she believes in fate and that make her indifference. Always listening to older’s advice she never paid attention to her inner feelings. Because she believed that she was destined to marry a bad man. Though, she know that whom she is going to marry is not a good man but, she do nothing to prevent the marriage even she began to love her husband and try to please him.

When her first husband died she is allowed to marry American Cillford St. Clair because she felt that he is her destiny. After marriage he gives his wife a new name Betty St. Clair and birth date on her immigrant papers. As Ying ying’s daughter Lena puts it, “With the sweep of a pen, my mother lost her name and became a Dragon instead of a Tiger (p.104).

Ying-ying realizes that her daughter needs to have her own ‘tiger spirit’ and develop her inner violence so that she will not be a ‘ghost’ like her mother and does not remain trapped in a marriage to a man who does not give her importance. She also tells the story to Lena for the first time, hopping that she may learn from her mother’s failure and can take proper decision in life.

Lena too, is born in the year of the Tiger. She explains a conflict between her and her daughter: “She will fight me, because this is the nature of two tigers. But I will win and give her my spirit, because this the way a mother loves her daughter” (p.252).

The most important concept is marriage in China. In cases, of marriage there are some differences between males and females. The mothers have experienced about this because they were born and raised in China. But their daughters do not know about this because in America everyone is equal. In China, behind marriage there are different reasons.

Men marry to show their wealth and power because who have more than one wife they are wealthier. There is no love between men and women in China. “Wu Tsing had asked her to be his concubine, not for love, but because ofthe prestige of owning what so many other men wanted.” (p.234).

Women marry because it is their job to give birth sons that will carry on family status and honour in absence of his father and also marry to serve their husbands. Therefore marriage in China is not for love but for identity which is based on family’s social status, whom you marry, which number of wife or concubine you are etc.

Women cannot remarry but, when someone wants to relief: “suicide is the only way a woman can escape a marriage.” (p.234). For example in China, marriage is based on a candle. Lindo Jong, one of the mothers, explains the idea behind candle: “The candle (is) a marriage bond that (is) worth more than a Catholic promise not to divorce. It (means a woman cannot) divorce and even remarry, even if the (husband) died.”(p.59).

In one of stories Lindo tells her daughter to finish her coffee and do not reject her blessing but Waverly replies: “Don’t be so old-fashioned, Ma. I’m my own person.” (p.254).

Waverly says that she can do whatever she wants, she is her own person and no one can control her. Hearing this Lindo began to think that her daughter is become so independent. Her independence connects to her American culture because this culture gives everyone freedom and in Chinese culture the children must obey their parents.

Jing-Mei talks about her mother, that she disappointed her so many times, she says, “I did not believe I could be anything I wanted to be. I could only be me.” (p.142). Since she is born and brought up is America, she does not take Chinese culture seriously and when her mother try to tell something or wants to share her past life she never listens her mother seriously because she finds no interest in it.

Jing Mei used to play piano, at her early age she take participation in a talent show but in that show she do not exposition her talent and give up the stage. When her mother wants to know the reason she says: “You want me to be someone that I’m not!” (p.142). She says that her mother is expected too much from her.

Her mother expects that Jing-Mei will be a piano player but Jing-Mei does not like piano. In Chinese culture parents expect their children to be successful and in the same work Jing-Mei’s mother is doing. After Jing-Mei says that, her mother shout: “Only two kinds of daughters, those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind!” (p.142).

Jing-Mei’s mother means that, there are only two types of children, those who listen and obey their parents and those who wants freedom and do whatever they want. Jing-Mei wants freedom, to be what she wants and does not want pressure from her mother’s side what her mother wants. Here we see some cultural differences between mother and daughter. According to Chinese culture mother wants to fix her daughter’s life what she will do in future but, Americanized daughter does not like this they wants freedom because it’s there culture.

In this novel, Amy Tan tells the stories of struggle between mothers and their daughters taken with their American and Chinese culture through some vignettes also shows their conflict to accept each other cultural values.

American and Chinese culture are totally different from each other. One culture gives freedom and believes in no superstitions, and the other culture trapped people specially girls in superstitions boundary. Amy Tan gives more emphasis on Chinese culture. The four mothers tries to teach their daughters Chinese cultural value because they are adapted to American culture.

But the daughters does not want to accept Chinese heritage. In my openion, everyone should keeping their own culture because it’s their right. But in this novel we see that the mothers wants to implant Chinese culture in the daughters. Since the mothers born and brought up in China so, Chinese culture mixed in their blood, they want that their daughters would be Chinese heritage like them.

If the mothers born and raised in America they also follow the same culture like their daughters. As the mothers and the daughters believes in each other culture the conflict arises here. According to me, each person should follow each culture.

Work Citation:

  • Hamilton, Patricia L. “Feng Shui, Astrology, and the Five Elements: Traditional Chinese Belief in Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club.” Oxford University Press. vol. 24, no. 2, Summer, 1999, pp. 125-145. JSTOR, Accessed March 1, 2018.
  • Heung, Marina, “Daughter-Text/Mother-Text: Matrilineage in Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club.” Feminist Studies, Inc. vol. 19, no. 3, Autumn, 1993, pp. 596- 616. JSTOR, Accessed March 1, 2018.
  • Singer, Marc, “Moving Forward to Reach the Past: The Dialogics of Time in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.” Journal of Narrative Theory. vol. 31, no. 3 Fall, 2001, pp. 324-352. JSTOR Accessed March 1, 2018.

Nandita Bala

Dr. Farzana Akhter
ENG 520

Title: Cultural conflict between the mothers and daughters
Working Thesis Statement: Culture depicts the mothers and daughters identity as American and Chinese.

In Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club the mothers and daugters developed different cultural identities and this different culture creates internal conflict between the characters. The mothers grow up in China, implanting their traditional Chinese culture, on the other hand the daughters born and raised in America, implanting their American ideals.

In this novel, the daughters position are a very mixed position. They grow up with mixed messages from their family and friends. All the Chinese mothers wants that their daughters would acquire this traditional culture from them (mothers) as they (mothers) had inherited from their parents and rise in chinese culture.

One of the daughters Jing-Mei changes her Chinese name and gives American name ‘June’. We see that, One of the major cultural conflict is language, due to linguistic difference there is a lack of communication between the mothers and daughters. According to American culture, the daughters want freedom and does not want pressure from their mothers’ side but in China children must obey their parents.

In this novel, Amy Tan tells the stories of struggle between mothers and their daughters taken with their American and Chinese culture through some vignettes also shows their conflict to accept each other cultural values.

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