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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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What is Amy Tan's point of view about marriage in The Joy Luck Club?

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In Amy Tan's novel The Joy Luck Club, the institution of marriage plays a significant role in a woman's identity, whether the woman is from China or of Chinese origin born in America. Though marriage is not necessarily an institution that brings all wives joy or pleasure, it is intrinsic to the family units that host all of the mother-daughter relationships in the novel.

For many of the mothers in the novel, marriage in China means that women are bound to their husbands and to their in-laws; for the daughters, marriage in America may be less rigid, but it is not much more satisfying than marriage in their mothers' country. The marriages of The Joy Luck Club are important to a reader's understanding of themes like family, identity, and sex, especially when gender roles and sexism provide a filter through which a reader can understand the events of the plot and the relationships between various characters.

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In my opinion, Amy Tan puts forward a rather cynical interpretation of marriage. While this may be realistic in certain cases and and in particular cultures, her views of marriage certainly err towards the negative.

For example, after An-mei's mother was compelled to enter a dishonorable second marriage, she ended up in such depths of despair that she killed herself. Later, An-Mei's daughter's husband ends up cheating on her and divorcing her.

Ying-ying marries an unkind, brash man who leaves her when she falls pregnant. She later marries another man, who she doesn't even love. Her daughter Lena, in turn, marries a man who is unkind and takes advantage of her.

From dishonor and divorce to infidelity, The Joy Luk Club does not portray a positive view of marriage.

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In Tan's The Joy Luck Club, marriage can clearly cause unhappiness, and women in both traditional and modern marriages are subject to sexism. For example, An-mei Hsu describes the marriage of her mother to a man who already has a wife and two concubines. Her mother is forced to marry because the man rapes her, but she is judged harshly by her own mother for marrying, as her mother thinks that An-mei should spend the rest of her life grieving for her first husband, who dies. An-mei says of her mother, "she married Wu Tsing to exchange one unhappiness for another" (page 48). Because of the sexism of traditional Chinese society, her mother's marriages are unhappy and only bring her unfairness and suffering.

Women in modern American marriages also suffer from sexism. Rose Hsu Jordan describes her marriage to Ted as one in which she was passive and he was the decision-maker. When he pushes her to be the person who makes decisions, she finds the role alien, and when they argue, she describes it as "two people standing apart on separate mountain peaks, recklessly leaning forward to throw stones at one another, unaware of the dangerous chasm that separated us" (page 120). Ted has liked her because she is alien, someone his mother did not approve of, and passive. In the end, however, he rejects her for these qualities.

Similarly, Lena St. Clair suffers in her marriage to Harold. He expects everything to be equal and even divides their expenses, but he does not really treat her equally. Instead, he expects her to play a subservient role in their marriage. Lena accepts this role to be a peacemaker, much as she was during her parents' marriage. Her mother spoke Chinese, and her father did not. They could not communicate well, and neither can Lena and her husband. In her marriage, Lena is what her mother calls a "ghost," a presence that has little power and little say. Her marriage, like that of the other characters, is one in which women are treated as lesser.

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