How are Ying-ying and Lena reconciled with each other in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club?

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, it is not clear as to whether the two actually are reconciled, but in Ying-ying's last chapter, she is planning to fix things for her daughter—difficulties in her daughter's life that Ying-ying feels responsible for.

Ying-ying always seemed to have a way to tell the future. She was aware of this, and later, so was her daughter, Lena. In China Ying-ying married a vulgar, unfaithful man—she knew they would marry, and she knew he was bad for her. Eventually he ran away with an opera singer when Ying-ying was pregnant, so she aborted the baby because she hated the father so much. Feeling disgraced, Ying-ying moved away, changed her hair and clothes to give herself a more modern look. Taking a job as a sales clerk, she eventually met Clifford St. Clair. She let him woo her for four years until she learned of her first husband's death. Then they married and St. Clair took her to America. Ying-ying lost herself in pain then—and she became a "ghost:" a woman with no power.

Ying-ying gives birth to Lena. When Lena is a child, Ying-ying frightens her with stories of evil men lurking everywhere, ready to hurt her. (Ying-ying does this because of her own sense of powerlessness.) And so Lena grows up expecting bad things to happen. She even believes that by making a wish not to marry a nasty neighbor named Arnold, that she is responsible for his death.

Lena eventually grows up and marries Harold. Their relationship was first founded on being co-workers, but after they marry and start Harold's company, they are never equal. He is her boss but she doesn't get paid well; she is gifted and has helped their company to grow, but receives no credit or reward; and, everything is tallied on a paper attached to the refrigerator—who pays for the steaks, who buys the ice cream.

Lena's mother sees the list and asks her daughter why they do it. Lena is not sure, and her mother is troubled. Ying-ying believes that when she married St. Clair, she lost her spirit:

I let myself become a wounded animal. I let the anger come to me and turn me into a tiger ghost. I willingly gave up my chi, the spirit that caused me so much pain.

Ying-ying believes she has passed on her passivity and fear to Lena, and that is why Lena has no power in her marriage. When Ying-ying sees this, she first challenges her daughter. When Ying-ying breaks a vase...

"It doesn't matter," I say..."I knew it would happen."

Her mother asks her: "Then why you don't stop it?" (This is a double entendre. She not only asks why Lena didn't stop the vase from breaking, but is really asking why Lena lets things in her marriage continue, doing nothing.)

Ying-ying believes that when she lost her chi, she became an "unseen spirit." But now her daughter needs her mother's chi and so Ying-ying plans to take hold of it again, regardless of the pain—like holding broken glass in her hands. Once she regains her power—her chi—she will give it to Lena, so she can discover her own identity, and find strength in her marriage:

She will fight me, because this is the nature of two tigers. But I will win and give her my spirit, because this is the way a mother loves her daughter.

In this way, Ying-ying reconciles herself to her daughter, though Lena would not understand the gesture.

Throughout the stories presented in The Joy Luck Club runs the common thread of mother-daughter connectedness and its influence on a daughter's identity formation.

 

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