Joy Luck Club: Nationality


"Hey, Sabrina, are you Japanese or Chinese?" I asked. Her reply,
as it seems to be for a lot of minority groups, is, "Neither, I'm
Chinese-American." So, besides her American accent and a
hyphenated ending on her answer to the SAT questionnaire about her
ethnic background, what's the difference? In Amy Tan's enjoyable
novel, The Joy Luck Club, about the relationships and experiences
of four Chinese mothers and four Chinese-American daughters, I
found out the answer to this question. The difference in
upbringing of those women born during the first quarter of this
century in China, and their daughters born in the American
atmosphere of California, is a difference that doesn't exactly
take a scientist to see.

From the beginning of the novel, you 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)

Towards the end of the book, there is a definite line between the
differences of the two generations. Lindo Jong, whose daughter,
Waverly, doesn't even know four Chinese words, describes the
complete difference and incompatibility of the two worlds she
tried to connect for her daughter, American circumstances and
Chinese character. She explains that there is no lasting shame in
being born in America, and that as a minority you are the first in
line for scholarships. Most importantly, she notes that "In
America, nobody says you have to keep the circumstances somebody
else gives you." (p. 289) Living 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 grasp on to these traits, and as the
book shows, they became completely different from their purely
Chinese parents. They never gain a sense of real respect for
their elders, or for their Chinese background, and in the end are
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 is clear to me just how different a Chinese-American
person is from their parents or older relatives. I find 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,
show that pure Chinese blood can be changed completely through
just one generation. They have become American not only in their
speech, but 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.