The Moon Lady Summary and Analysis
Amah: Ying-ying’s nanny
Chang-o, the Moon Lady: in Chinese tradition, wife of the Master Archer
Hou Yi, the Master Archer: husband of Chang-o, associated with the sun
The Queen Mother of the Western Skies: also called Syi Wang Mu, associated with the yin principle
Mama and Baba: Ying-ying’s parents
Number Two and Number Three: Ying-ying’s younger half sisters
The family on the fishing boat: they rescue Ying-ying
Ying-ying, the narrator, speaks of her daughter, Lena, who does not hear or see Ying-ying because Ying-ying has kept her “true nature” hidden, “running along like a small shadow so nobody could catch me.” She says that both she and Lena are lost, “unseen and not seeing, unheard and not hearing, unknown by others.”
The story flashes back to 1918, when Ying-ying is four, and her family is preparing to celebrate the Moon Festival. They have rented a large boat on Tai Lake for the day, and a special ceremony will take place in the evening. Part of the ceremony is when Chang-o, the Moon Lady, grants a secret wish.
Ying-ying chases a dragonfly. Amah becomes upset that Ying-ying’s clothes and hair are a mess. Her mother tells her that boys can be active and run, but girls must be still, so the dragonfly will seek their shadow. Ying-ying had not noticed her shadow before; captivated, she plays with it until the family leaves for the lake.
The boat the family has rented is a floating pavilion with elaborate furnishings and decorations. Alone at the back of the boat at sunset, Ying-ying dangles her legs over the side and looks at her reflection. Noticing the large full moon, she twists around to tell the Moon Lady her secret wish and falls into the lake.
By chance a fishing boat catches her in its net. Her rescuers leave her on shore, expecting her family to find her there.
Ying-ying hides in some bushes until she hears music and an announcement that a play dramatizing the Moon Lady’s story is about to begin. The Moon Lady in silhouette tells her story from behind a screen that represents the moon. As the play ends, one of the actors tells the audience that the Moon Lady will grant one secret wish to each person for a small fee. The audience breaks up, and no one notices Ying-ying leave the bushes and run forward with her wish.
She runs all the way to the other side to talk to the Moon Lady, who has left the stage. The actor removes both costume and wig, and Ying-ying sees, just as she is stating her wish, that the Moon Lady is a man.
The story returns to the present, and Ying-ying says that for many years she couldn’t remember what she wished for that night or how her family found her. She is certain that the entire experience changed her. But as she has grown older, some of the memories of the day have returned, and today, once again the Moon Festival, she has finally remembered her wish: to be found.
In “The Joy Luck Club,” when Jing-mei states she won’t know what to tell her half sisters about their mother, Ying-ying suggests telling them “what you know about her mind that has become your mind.” The theme of the mother’s way of thinking strongly influencing the daughter’s way of thinking is suggested at the beginning of this story; it becomes quite striking when all four of the stories about Ying-ying are put together. In this first story we see most clearly two motifs and the initial development of Ying-ying’s character.
The first motif, alluded to in “The Joy Luck Club ,” is the Daoist concept of seeking balance: the yin and the yang. This motif dominates the novel. The Moon Lady sadly states, “For woman is yin, the darkness within, where untempered passions lie. And man is yang, bright truth lighting our minds.” The yin, or female principle, refers to emotion, passivity, chaos, wetness, and the body; the yang, or male principle, is logic, action, discipline, dryness, and the mind. Combined, they produce life. Out of balance, they bring misery, as the story of...
(The entire section is 1,294 words.)