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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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Discussion Topic

Life lessons and intergenerational learning in The Joy Luck Club

Summary:

The Joy Luck Club explores life lessons and intergenerational learning through the relationships between Chinese-American daughters and their immigrant mothers. The novel highlights the cultural and personal conflicts that arise, showing how understanding and empathy bridge generational gaps. The daughters learn resilience, identity, and heritage from their mothers, while the mothers gain insight into their daughters' American experiences.

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What are some life lessons taught in The Joy Luck Club?

Three lessons in The Joy Luck Club are you should not judge people because you can never understand their experiences, winning isn’t everything, and the American Dream is a myth.

One of the reasons you are having difficulty coming up with enough detail for your paper might be that you are not providing enough textual support.  Try providing examples of each lesson, with textual support from the book to back up what you are saying.  This will fully develop your ideas.  You will want to choose the quotes to support what you say, and then fully explain and describe them.

For the first example, you should not judge people because you can never understand their experiences, consider that this situation cuts both ways.  Each of the mother-daughter relationships involves misunderstanding and miscommunication between mothers and daughters, because they are each judging each other without understanding what the other went through.  Jing-mei/June considers her mother overbearing and forceful, because she tries to make her take piano lessons that June does not want to take.  It never occurs to June that her mother had to make an unthinkable choice and leave two of her own babies in China to come to America.  When June finally learns this, it is a shock to her.

I think about this.  My mother’s long-cherished wish.  Me, the younger sister who was supposed to be the essence of the others.  I feed myself with the old grief, wondering how disappointed she must have been. (A Pair of Tickets)

This incident demonstrates that you really never can know what is in a person’s heart.  There are so many reasons people do what they do, and they can be borne of deep-seated grief.  June hated those piano lessons, and her mother trying to turn her into a prodigy, but it was because she missed her other daughters, and she was trying to fill a void by making life good for the one she had.

Another daughter, Waverly, demonstrates that winning isn’t everything with her story.  Waverly becomes a chess prodigy not because she is pushed, but because she loves the game.  However, when her success becomes the source of ego for her mother and family, the game becomes less fun for Waverly.  She finally has enough of it and accosts her mother with a question that is bratty but pointed.

“Why do you have to use me to show off? If you want show off, then why don’t you learn to play chess?” (The Rules of the Game)

This incident humiliates her mother and drives a wedge between them, but demonstrates the problem with the situation.  For Waverly, chess used to be something that was hers.  It was something she was good at, and something she enjoyed.  By using it as something to brag about her, her mother co-opted it and effectively ruined it for her.  Young Waverly could not cope, and did not know how to explain to her mother that the pressure to win was ruining the game for her.

The myth of the American Dream is a common thread throughout all of the mothers’ stories.  They all came to America hoping for a better life for their families, and what they found was a hard life.  Even for the daughters as they get older and try to form families of their own, life is hard.  They find it difficult to have healthy relationships because of the scars left by the horrors their mothers faced in their struggles to get to America.

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What lessons did the daughters in The Joy Luck Club teach their mothers?

While the Joy Luck mothers’s goal is to teach their daughters about life, they also end up learning something important: their daughters are just like them.

The mothers want the best for their daughters, and it is difficult sometimes for them to step back and watch their children be taken advantage of. However, this is exactly what the Joy Luck mothers witness—and they are partly to blame.

For instance, An-Mei learned to be quiet from her own mother, who was pushed around in a relationship with a man she did not love but who repeatedly shamed her. Her mother told An-Mei: “Do you see how I have no position?” as Fourth Wife to Wu Tsing. After enduring rape, losing her family and honor, having her child taken away from her, and receiving constant disrespect from her husband, she takes drastic action to teach An-Mei to be powerful and have a voice.

An-Mei realizes she has not taught that lesson to Rose, who has allowed her husband to dominate her. Now that they are divorcing, Rose still does not speak up to tell him that she wants to keep the house. Instead, she wallows in self-pity and avoids confrontation. An-Mei is pained to see her daughter in such a position and realizes that, although she tried to teach Rose to be true to herself, An-Mei is the one who trained her to be meek. She has tried to teach Rose the Chinese way, but Rose has refused it in favor of the American way. “All of us are like stairs, one step after another, going up and down, but all going the same way.”

Ying-Ying and Lena are another example of a mother and daughter who are alike. Ying-Ying has spent her life “waiting between the trees.” Her attempts to teach Lena Chinese ways has also failed, as Lena is very Americanized. She and Harold split the cost of every expense, so their lives are one big balance sheet—and Lena is on the losing side.

Ying-Ying is upset to see her daughter being taken advantage of and even more upset that Lena allows it to happen. Her epiphany comes when she sees ice cream on the itemized list of expenses the couple will split. She knows her daughter cannot eat ice cream and questions why Lena still pays for it. The ice cream incident is symbolic of Lena and Harold’s relationship. Lena is not honest with him about her feelings and as a result is taken advantage of.

Ying-Ying realizes she has taught Lena to hide her true feelings, just as she was taught by her mother that “A boy can run and chase dragonflies, because that is his nature ... But a girl should stand still.” Young Ying-Ying learns to stand still, and discovers her shadow as a result. But later she lives as a shadow, never speaking up and allowing events to happen to her. Lena mentions that Ying-Ying looked “displaced” in photographs and that she acted strangely when Lena was growing up. Now, Lena has learned to also be displaced, despite her mother’s attempts to teach her strength.

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What lessons did the daughters in The Joy Luck Club teach their mothers?

In The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan highlights the universal difficulties of mother-daughter relationships while simultaneously adding complexity through the situational issues of the book. These issues include traditional Chinese upbringings, immigration, and daughters who long to feel "Americanized" yet struggle to connect with their culture. The daughters in the novel also struggle with how their mothers treat them. They feel like they are being suppressed or criticized despite their mothers feeling like they have each daughter's best interest in mind.

As the complexities of the novel begin to work themselves out, both the mothers and the daughters learn much about each other and themselves. Through the thoughts and actions of their daughters, the mothers learn how their own pasts have affected their daughters' futures. For example, Ying-ying discusses how she remained meek and quiet throughout her life as a coping mechanism and a way to stay safe. In return, she taught her daughter Lena to do the same thing. In the novel, she realizes that giving up her own free will was a form of weakness, and through Lena's heartbreak, Ying-ying vows to learn from her own mistakes and become strong, hoping that Lena will follow suit.

As each daughter comes to terms with her mother's past and her own future, each mother learns the ways in which their own choices determined the women that their daughters became. In return, they become closer with each other, finally understanding that the sacrifices, missteps, and conflict all stemmed from unconditional love.

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What lessons did the daughters in The Joy Luck Club teach their mothers?

The four daughters in The Joy Luck Club become a filter for their mothers' American experiences. The mothers learn the challenges of becoming Americanized from their daughters, as the latter struggle to make sense of two cultures and languages. The independent nature of most of the daughters contrasts with the more passive, traditional, and often overbearing behaviors of their mothers. There is a bond between the generations, despite the differences in attitudes. The daughters are able to show their mothers that being American is not "wrong." For example, Waverley's American husband, Rich, is clumsy and does not understand Chinese ways, but Waverley's mother, Lindo, learns to accept him and thereby learn firsthand the cultural differences. All the mothers endured terrible events and relationships, which they believe they are impossible to forget or recover from (e.g., Jing-Mei's mother's life as a concubine, or Ying-Ying's abandonment of her baby). However, watching their daughters experience obstacles and trials helps them see that they are not alone in their suffering. They, too, can grow from—and not give in to—their troubled pasts.

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What lessons did the daughters in The Joy Luck Club teach their mothers?

I think that the daughters taught several elements to their mothers.  One of the most basic elements taught is the idea that there are certain "universalities" in being a woman.  While the conditions and circumstances might change, there are some constants that have to be grasped.  The assertion of voice, the ability to live with choices made and consequences received, all help to highlight this basic idea.  At the same time, the daughters teach their mothers that the choices that the previous generation of women made were the right ones.  When Ying-Ying sees Lena endure the same silencing of voice that she underwent, she recognizes that the choices she made were the rights ones, however painful they were, and that her daughter must make similar choices.  At the same time, I think that the daughters teach the mothers that there is a strength in displaying solidarity.  The mothers learn from the daughters that there is a value in being able to validate one's voice and the voices of others through collectivity and being able to relay these experiences to others.  One gets the impression that the daughters have demonstrated to the mothers that what has been formed with The Joy Luck Club is something that has to be transmitted to the daughters' children, the mothers' grandchildren.

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What lessons did the daughters in The Joy Luck Club teach their mothers?

The mothers in The Joy Luck Club are anxious to teach their daughters the lessons they have learned over the course of hard lives. However, they also learn from their daughters. In particular, the daughters, who have grown up with American culture and language, can interpret both for their mothers.

Waverly's mother, Lindo, is an overbearing woman who tries to teach her daughter everything, including chess, a game she does not understand. Lindo is displeased when she finds that Waverly intends to marry a white man, Rich, who does not understand Chinese culture and unwittingly offends her. Waverly teaches her mother to see the sincerity of Rich's intentions, and accept him as a son-in-law.

June feels that her mother, Suyuan, often compares her unfavorably with Waverly, which is not Suyuan's intention. Pushing June to succeed and comparing her to others is Suyuan's way of showing love for her daughter. June teaches her mother that it is possible to express love more directly, in a way that will build up her confidence rather than destroy it.

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What lessons did the daughters in The Joy Luck Club teach their mothers?

Through watching their daughters' struggles in adult life, the mothers in The Joy Luck Club learn more fully how they themselves have been damaged by their culture and how they have unwittingly passed that damage to their daughters.

These Chinese women have been taught to be passive and to hide their emotions. They repress their own desires in relationships, always putting the man first. However, they experience distress when they see their daughters harmed by replicating this behavior.

For example, An-Mei is upset when she realizes she has taught her daughter Rose not to speak up and communicate her needs. During her divorce, for instance, Rose avoids communicating to her husband that she wants the house. Likewise, Ying-Ying has passed on a submissive attitude to her daughter, Lena, who allows herself to be taken advantage of by her American husband. Although Lena and Harold are supposed to each finance their own lives, Ying-Ying sees that Lena subsidizes her husband's consumption of ice cream, a food Lena doesn't eat.

From realizing how Chinese cultural norms sometimes disadvantage their daughters, the older women gain a new perspective. Women like Ying-Ying, because of their deep love for their daughters, try to change so that they can model healthier ways of being for their daughters.

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