Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series The Joy Luck Club Analysis
The passage cited above is key to the novel. The sense that the daughters are reincarnations of their mothers is reinforced not only by June taking her dead mother’s place at the gaming table but also by the mirror imagery that recurs throughout the book. Each of the sections opens with a kind of parable that unites the four stories that follow, such as the one that precedes the section entitled “American Translation.” In this allegory, an anonymous mother, judging the mirrored armoire at the end of her married daughter’s bed a bad omen, cures the defect by placing an opposing mirror at the head of the bed. Glancing in the mirror now, the daughter sees not her own reflection, but a reflection of her reflection. This phenomenon her mother calls “peach blossom luck,” the happiness of seeing a seemingly endless parade of generations, each image a smaller version of the one that it reflects.
June, whose narrative voice dominates and unifies The Joy Luck Club, has lost her mother before the novel opens. Before her mother died, however, she revealed that June was not her only daughter. Indeed, June has two sisters, twins born of Suyuan’s first marriage in China. The sorrow of Suyuan’s life was that she was forced to abandon the infant girls along the roadside when, fleeing Kweilin as the Japanese invaded, she could no longer carry them. Suyuan never gave up hope of finding the twins, and shortly before her death, they were discovered to be alive and in China. She died, however, before receiving this news. Now, the aunties tell June, it is her job to travel to China to fulfill Suyuan’s dearest wish of being reunited with the twins and—because the aunties have perpetuated the twins’ belief that Suyuan still lives as a means of keeping her wish alive—to tell them of their mother’s death.
When June, whose Chinese name “Jing-mei” signifies that she is the essence of her older sisters, arrives in China and meets the twins for the first time, she sees in them a double reflection of Suyuan. The twins, for their part, recognize June by her own resemblance to Suyuan, as well as from a recent photograph that she has sent them. The three sisters embrace, all murmuring “Mama, Mama.” They celebrate the occasion by taking a joint Polaroid photograph, which instantly reveals a collective portrait of their mother: “Her same eyes, her same mouth, open in surprise to see, at last, her long-cherished dream.” Their shared blood, June discovers, is their common language. Thus is the novel brought full circle.
The failure of communication between the cultures and the generations is another important theme of The Joy Luck Club, which opens with a parable about a long-cherished swan’s feather that the Chinese mother harbors over the years, awaiting the day that she can relate its meaning to her American-born daughter in perfect English. June, who has fulfilled her mother’s wish by her reunion in China with the twins, is thereby empowered to tell her mother’s tale—in effect, to take her place not only at the mah-jongg table but in the narrative sweep of Amy Tan’s book as well.