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There are several themes in Amy Tan's chapter entitled "The Moon Lady," from The Joy Luck Club. The overall theme seems to relate to finding one's place in the world.
The speaker in this chapter is Ying-ying St. Clair, Lena's mother. Ying-ying believes that her daughter has lost sight of what is important because Ying-ying has lost sight.
The disconnect between Ying-ying and Lena is strongly stated at the beginning of the chapter:
...because I remained silent for so long now my daughter does not hear me...All these years I have kept my true nature hidden, running along like a small shadow so nobody could catch me. And because I moved so secretly now my daughter does not see me...And I want to tell her this: We are lost, she and I, unseen and not seeing, unheard and not hearing, unknown by others.
Ying-ying believes that she has lost herself because she has forgotten who she was as a child, lost her faith in the world—and has become distanced from the experiences that changed her then. Because of these things, she has failed to allow her daughter to see and hear her.
At the age of four, during the Moon Festival, Ying-ying falls into the water and is separated from her family. Taken to the shore to wait for someone to come for her, Ying-ying sees a play about the Moon Lady—told behind screens—showing only shadows. At the end of the play, when Ying-ying goes to share her wish, she realizes that the Moon Lady was not what she appeared to be, but really a man in a costume—not a "wish granter."
During her lifetime, Ying-ying has also felt like a shadow: not a whole person. She fears she may have passed her lack of identity onto her daughter. Over time, memories of that day have returned to her, and Ying-ying recalls that the wish she carried up to the Moon Lady was a wish to be found. In a real sense—as an adult—Ying-ying again seems to have the same wish: to be found—to know herself. After she became lost, she was filled with doubt...To Ying-ying, the world became a place that could not be trusted. And Ying-ying still feels the changes of that night:
I never believed my family found the same girl.
Another central theme reflects the Chinese belief in the importance of connection and communication between child and parent. How can Ying-ying pass on what she is and knows—to her daughter—when she does not communicate with her?
One source notes that...
The mothers in The Joy Luck Club expect their daughters to obey their elders and so learn by obedience, by observation and by imitation, as they did in China.
However, the children in America have not learned how to communicate with their mothers as their mothers learned to communicate with their elders in China. Life in America is nothing like China. This puts both mothers and daughters at a distinct disadvantage. In this, Ying-ying and Lena do not communicate well because they don't know how—and so they cannot understand each other.
The themes in this chapter are about change, balance, the importance of communication, and—above all—a desire to be found...this time by Lena and—most especially—Ying-ying herself. In this way, the two can know and "recognize" each other. When Ying-ying finds herself, she will find balance, too, and her other problems will fade so she can trust the world and be at peace.
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