What did the daughters in The Joy Luck Club teach their mothers?

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While the Joy Luck mothers’s goal is to teach their daughters about life, they also end up learning something important: their daughters are just like them.

The mothers want the best for their daughters, and it is difficult sometimes for them to step back and watch their children be taken...

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While the Joy Luck mothers’s goal is to teach their daughters about life, they also end up learning something important: their daughters are just like them.

The mothers want the best for their daughters, and it is difficult sometimes for them to step back and watch their children be taken advantage of. However, this is exactly what the Joy Luck mothers witness—and they are partly to blame.

For instance, An-Mei learned to be quiet from her own mother, who was pushed around in a relationship with a man she did not love but who repeatedly shamed her. Her mother told An-Mei: “Do you see how I have no position?” as Fourth Wife to Wu Tsing. After enduring rape, losing her family and honor, having her child taken away from her, and receiving constant disrespect from her husband, she takes drastic action to teach An-Mei to be powerful and have a voice.

An-Mei realizes she has not taught that lesson to Rose, who has allowed her husband to dominate her. Now that they are divorcing, Rose still does not speak up to tell him that she wants to keep the house. Instead, she wallows in self-pity and avoids confrontation. An-Mei is pained to see her daughter in such a position and realizes that, although she tried to teach Rose to be true to herself, An-Mei is the one who trained her to be meek. She has tried to teach Rose the Chinese way, but Rose has refused it in favor of the American way. “All of us are like stairs, one step after another, going up and down, but all going the same way.”

Ying-Ying and Lena are another example of a mother and daughter who are alike. Ying-Ying has spent her life “waiting between the trees.” Her attempts to teach Lena Chinese ways has also failed, as Lena is very Americanized. She and Harold split the cost of every expense, so their lives are one big balance sheet—and Lena is on the losing side.

Ying-Ying is upset to see her daughter being taken advantage of and even more upset that Lena allows it to happen. Her epiphany comes when she sees ice cream on the itemized list of expenses the couple will split. She knows her daughter cannot eat ice cream and questions why Lena still pays for it. The ice cream incident is symbolic of Lena and Harold’s relationship. Lena is not honest with him about her feelings and as a result is taken advantage of.

Ying-Ying realizes she has taught Lena to hide her true feelings, just as she was taught by her mother that “A boy can run and chase dragonflies, because that is his nature ... But a girl should stand still.” Young Ying-Ying learns to stand still, and discovers her shadow as a result. But later she lives as a shadow, never speaking up and allowing events to happen to her. Lena mentions that Ying-Ying looked “displaced” in photographs and that she acted strangely when Lena was growing up. Now, Lena has learned to also be displaced, despite her mother’s attempts to teach her strength.

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In The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan highlights the universal difficulties of mother-daughter relationships while simultaneously adding complexity through the situational issues of the book. These issues include traditional Chinese upbringings, immigration, and daughters who long to feel "Americanized" yet struggle to connect with their culture. The daughters in the novel also struggle with how their mothers treat them. They feel like they are being suppressed or criticized despite their mothers feeling like they have each daughter's best interest in mind.

As the complexities of the novel begin to work themselves out, both the mothers and the daughters learn much about each other and themselves. Through the thoughts and actions of their daughters, the mothers learn how their own pasts have affected their daughters' futures. For example, Ying-ying discusses how she remained meek and quiet throughout her life as a coping mechanism and a way to stay safe. In return, she taught her daughter Lena to do the same thing. In the novel, she realizes that giving up her own free will was a form of weakness, and through Lena's heartbreak, Ying-ying vows to learn from her own mistakes and become strong, hoping that Lena will follow suit.

As each daughter comes to terms with her mother's past and her own future, each mother learns the ways in which their own choices determined the women that their daughters became. In return, they become closer with each other, finally understanding that the sacrifices, missteps, and conflict all stemmed from unconditional love.

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The four daughters in The Joy Luck Club become a filter for their mothers' American experiences. The mothers learn the challenges of becoming Americanized from their daughters, as the latter struggle to make sense of two cultures and languages. The independent nature of most of the daughters contrasts with the more passive, traditional, and often overbearing behaviors of their mothers. There is a bond between the generations, despite the differences in attitudes. The daughters are able to show their mothers that being American is not "wrong." For example, Waverley's American husband, Rich, is clumsy and does not understand Chinese ways, but Waverley's mother, Lindo, learns to accept him and thereby learn firsthand the cultural differences. All the mothers endured terrible events and relationships, which they believe they are impossible to forget or recover from (e.g., Jing-Mei's mother's life as a concubine, or Ying-Ying's abandonment of her baby). However, watching their daughters experience obstacles and trials helps them see that they are not alone in their suffering. They, too, can grow from—and not give in to—their troubled pasts.

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I think that the daughters taught several elements to their mothers.  One of the most basic elements taught is the idea that there are certain "universalities" in being a woman.  While the conditions and circumstances might change, there are some constants that have to be grasped.  The assertion of voice, the ability to live with choices made and consequences received, all help to highlight this basic idea.  At the same time, the daughters teach their mothers that the choices that the previous generation of women made were the right ones.  When Ying-Ying sees Lena endure the same silencing of voice that she underwent, she recognizes that the choices she made were the rights ones, however painful they were, and that her daughter must make similar choices.  At the same time, I think that the daughters teach the mothers that there is a strength in displaying solidarity.  The mothers learn from the daughters that there is a value in being able to validate one's voice and the voices of others through collectivity and being able to relay these experiences to others.  One gets the impression that the daughters have demonstrated to the mothers that what has been formed with The Joy Luck Club is something that has to be transmitted to the daughters' children, the mothers' grandchildren.

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