Illustration of the profiles of a young woman and an older woman facting away from each other

The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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The Moon Lady Summary

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Ying-ying St. Clair says that she has always kept her “mouth closed so selfish desires would not fall out.” She now feels lost, “unseen and not seeing, unheard and not hearing, unknown by others,” and her daughter is the same. Ying-ying has lost herself only over time, and she tells the story of her secret wish to the Moon Lady.

In 1918, Ying-ying was four years old, and it was the Moon Festival. The autumn was especially hot, and Ying-ying woke up to a smell that her Amah told her was the burning of the Five Evils. It was really a coil meant to keep the flies and mosquitoes away.

Amah dressed Ying-ying in new tiger clothes and warned the little girl that she must behave properly for the ceremony. Amah told her that she could tell her secret wish to the Moon Lady, and her wish would come true. Ying-ying listened to her family’s conversation at breakfast, played with her sisters, and discovered her shadow. Her mother admonished her that girls must stand still, and Amah told her to go slowly.

The family had rented a boat for the day, and Ying-ying rode to the lake with her mother. On the boat, she and her sisters played and ran around, wanting to see everything at once. They looked in on the peasants preparing the food. During the midday nap, Ying-ying got up and watched some boys at the back of the boat. They were using a bird to fish. Then a woman cleaned the fish and killed a snapping turtle. Ying-ying realized that she had blood and mud and other debris all over her new clothes, and for some reason, she covered herself in turtle’s blood. Amah found her and scolded her. Ying-ying was left sitting at the back of the boat in her undergarments.

Suddenly, Ying-ying heard firecrackers and fell into the water. She was pulled out by poor people and deposited on shore when they could not find her family. Ying-ying watched the play of the Moon Lady with great fascination, learning how the Moon Lady betrayed her husband by eating the peach of eternal life. Ying-ying went behind the stage to tell the Moon Lady her secret wish but was surprised to find a male actor. Years later she recalls that she wished to be found, and indeed, her family found her later that evening.

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