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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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What are three differences between traditional and modern marriage in The Joy Luck Club?

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The differences between traditional and modern marriages are not cut and dried, especially as suggested by Amy Tan in her portrayal of the marriages of several major characters in her 1989 novel The Joy Luck Club. The novel comprises four biographies of Chinese-American immigrant women and their families, and, as the lens through which the stories are told is that of a group women, marriage is one of the novel's major themes.

First, traditional marriage in pre-Revolutionary Chinese families were occasionally polygamous, which means that men could have more than one wife (and, in the case of wealthy people, more than one household was maintained for each family as a distinct unit).

Next, traditional marriages recognized the different status of a concubine, who was considered inferior to a wife. The mother of one of the Joy Luck Club members, An-mei, was taken as a third-concubine, which was considered a degenerate position, of which her family was ashamed.

Finally, traditional marriages could be arranged by families while the child was an infant, as in the case of Lindo Jong, who was raised to think of her betrothed husband as a God (though this marriage was never consummated). Despite growing up under these socially oppressive conditions, Lindo raises her American daughter to be smart and ambitious.

Despite these differences, Amy Tan suggests that modern marriages are not free from subordination and exploitation. One such example is the case of An-mei's daughter, Rose, who marriages a rich man named Te, who has an affair and tries to divorce Rose on unfavorable terms. Both Ying-Ying St. Clair's traditional Chinese marriage and Rose's American marriage result in infidelity. Thus, neither traditional nor modern marriages guarantee protection to women from adultery and subjugation.

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