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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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What lesson did the parable "Feathers of a Thousand Li Away" in The Joy Luck Club teach us?

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The parable of "Feathers from a Thousand Li Away" is about hope. It also contains lessons about the difficulties of cultural and communication gaps. The parable is used to illustrate the difficulties between the mothers and the daughters in The Joy Luck Club.

The parable is about a Chinese woman who buys a unique bird. The seller tells her the bird was once a duck, but it exceeded its own expectations by stretching out its neck and becoming a swan. The story resonates with the woman, who dreams of leaving China and raising a daughter in the United States.

The swan symbolizes her dreams for her future daughter. The mother has great hopes for the United States. She believes her daughter will have endless opportunities and will not face the oppression Chinese women endure. An American girl will be judged on her own merits, not those of her husband. The mother hopes she can give the best parts of her Chinese heritage and new American opportunities to her future child.

Immigration officials take the swan when the mother arrives, but she keeps a single feather. She hopes to give it to her daughter and tell her the story of the swan and how it symbolized her hopes. She doesn’t tell the story to her daughter for a long time. Building a life in a new country isn’t easy. Although her daughter fulfills her mother’s dreams in some ways, the daughter reflects a very different culture. The daughter is American and doesn’t understand her mother’s hopes and sacrifices. The mother feels her daughter doesn’t understand Chinese cultural traditions or what she has had to endure, and she is afraid her daughter won’t understand the significance of the feather.

The story of the swan symbolizes the relationships among the mothers and daughters in The Joy Luck Club. The mothers sacrifice a great deal to build lives in a new country. They’ve endured a great deal of pain but have raised their daughters in a much more hopeful environment. The daughters don’t face the oppression women in China face; they can easily become “swans.” Thus, the mothers expect a great deal from their children. The daughters feel they are incapable of pleasing their mothers or understanding them. There is a communication gap between the generations, which leads to complicated emotional relationships.

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"Feathers from a Thousand Li Away" teaches a lesson of cultural separation, sacrifice, and hope. A Chinese woman wants to immigrate to America. Before she does, she purchases a swan. The vendor says that a duck wanted to be a goose so it stretched its neck out and magically became a swan. The woman takes it as a symbol, for she is stretching her neck out to give her daughter a better life in America.

As soon as the woman enters America, officials take away her swan and leave her only with a feather. After much hardship, her daughter grows up speaking perfect English like the woman wanted, and yet it seems the daughter cannot understand the mother's sacrifice. The mother maintains hope, however. She is waiting for the day she can give the feather to her daughter and explain, for she will only do it when she can explain in perfect English.

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The parable "Feathers from a Thousand Li Away" is intended to teach the reader about the power of hope.  In the parable,  the mother carries a swan feather overseas with her, hoping that one day she can give her daughter the feather and tell her about all the struggles that the family endured trying to make a better life for themselves.  However, the cultural divide between the mother and daughter is wide, and the mother feels like the daughter has grown up without an understanding of the family's past.  In spite of this, there is still the hope that the two can come together and bridge the distance between them.  This parable paves the way for the story to come which is about mothers and daughters reconciling their cultural differences to gain an understanding of each other.

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