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Amy Tan’s complexly structured novel The Joy Luck Club presents four pairs consisting of a mother and a daughter. Each of the daughters is somewhat estranged, for different reasons, from each of the mothers. By the end of the novel, reconciliation of some sort and to some degree has occurred within each mother-daughter pairing. These reconciliations might be described as follows:
- An-Mei Hsu’s daughter Rose learns from hearing about her mother’s youthful experiences in China that she can survive without her own disappointing husband, Ted.
- Ying-Ying St. Clair’s daughter Lena realizes the significance of Ying-Ying’s life to Lena’s own disappointing marriage to her husband Harold.
- Waverly Jong ultimately learns to appreciate the complicated affection of her sometimes overbearing mother, Lindo Jong.
- Jing-Mei Woo learns to appreciate the complexity of her recently deceased mother’s youthful life in China and the depth of her mother’s suffering and compassion.
In all four cases, then, there are reconciliations, or at least there is greater understanding, involving the daughters coming to see the relevance of their mothers’ experiences (and experience) to the daughters’ own lives. Thus the reconciliations involve not simply eight individual persons but also two different generations and also, to a great degree, at least two different cultures.
The final sentence of the novel emphasizes multiple kinds of reconciliation. When Jing-Mei finally is able to meet her long-lost sisters at an airport in China (sisters whose existence she has only recently discovered), she sees (in a picture of all three of them taken by someone else) reflections of their recently deceased mother:
Together we look like our mother: her same eyes, her same mouth, open in surprise to see, at last, her long-cherished wish.
This sentence implies a union among the three sisters, a union of the sisters with their mother, a union between the past and the present, a union between America and China, and a union of the living with the dead.
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