The struggle for independence is woven into many of the memories revealed by the characters in The Joy Luck Club. The following anecdotes from various chapters of the novel demonstrate a desire for and seizing of independence.
In "The Red Candle," Lindo Jong describes her arranged marriage with Tyan-yu Huang, made miserable by the blame he and his abrasive mother attribute to her for not bearing children, despite Tyan-yu's refusal to consummate the marriage. Envious of a kind servant girl's freedom and aiming to protect Tyan-yu's honor, Lindo devises a plan to escape by having the Huangs declare the marriage contract invalid. This assertion of her independence concludes perfectly, Lindo noting that
Huang Taitai got her grandson. I got my clothes, a rail ticket to Peking, and enough money to go to America . . . But I'll never forget . . . I remember the day when I finally knew a genuine thought and could follow where it went.
In "Without Wood," Rose Hsu Jordan is confused and hurt when Ted abandons their marriage. After a lifetime of listening to others rather than thinking for herself, she is overwhelmed with the decisions that must be made, and she debates how best to respond to Ted's betrayal, desertion, and audacious plan to divorce her and keep the house she loves. The chapter concludes when Rose finally expresses her own desires to Ted, noting the fear in his eyes upon learning her plan to stay in the house and serve him with divorce papers. "You can't just pull me out of your life and throw me away," she announces, at last finding and using her own voice.
In "Waiting Between the Trees," Ying-Ying St. Clair describes her brief marriage in China to "a man so bad that even today I cannot speak his name." After the marriage fails, she spends years quietly waiting and watching for the right opportunity to begin anew, and turns a stint as a shopgirl into a new life with Clifford St. Clair. Although she is full of shame, listlessly accepting new American ways and hiding much of herself, her strong inner spirit persists. Ying-Ying is revitalized at last by the desire to protect her daughter, and is determined to push and fight for Lena to take control and assert independence.