What does Ying-Ying St. Clair learn about the Moon Lady in Joy Luck Club?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In a story filled abundantly filled with symbolism, Ying-Ying discovers that the Moon Lady is not what she seems to be.  An ethereal woman with beautiful long hair on stage, the Moon Lady out of costume is in reality a man, with "shrunken cheeks, a broad oily nose, large flaring teeth, and red-stained eyes".

Growing up in China during the early 1900s, Ying-Ying is a lively, impetuous child who chafes under the restrictions placed upon women in her society.  Her Amah tells her that "a boy can run and chase dragonflies, because that is his nature...but a girl should stand still".  For a woman to recognize and assert her own needs is considered to be selfish; there is only one occasion when a woman can express her desires - at the Moon Festival, where she is allowed to appeal to the Moon Lady, and have one secret wish fulfilled.

When the day of the Moon Festival finally arrives, Ying-Ying approaches the Moon Lady with hope, only to find that the Moon Lady is a fake, and a corrupt one at that, casting doubt upon the veracity of her grandmother's caution about a woman's desires as well.  Significantly, Ying-Ying's wish - "to be found" - will not be granted by the false Moon Lady.  Forced by Chinese tradition to suppress her own desires and deny her inclinations, Ying-Ying spends her life in a futile search for her true identity.

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The Joy Luck Club

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