Style and Technique
Tan describes herself as a lover of language, not a scholar of English. Therefore, it is her translation into English of what she calls her mother’s internal language that is at the heart of this story. Drawing the reader into the story, the narrator directs the reader through a world in which readers experience the power of a rich, colorful language. For example, when Mother Woo characterizes Auntie Lindo’s daughter, an accomplished chess player at a young age, as “best tricky,” the reader knows not only what it means but also how it sounds. This brand of English, often called fractured or broken, becomes a vernacular that captures the tone and color of the experience of growing up in a bilingual environment.
Further illustrating the conflict between Chinese mother and American-born daughter, the spoken language of the two creates a verbal duel. For example, when June demands that her mother look at who she really is, saying “I’m not a genius!” her mother responds with, “Who ask you be genius?” The mother’s question, although incomplete grammatically, projects her confusion over being unable to understand her daughter’s anger or ungratefulness.
The language also characterizes the rich, layered texture of a household built on two languages and two cultures, which often are combined to form, for example, a Chinese Shirley Temple. As her mother offers her the piano, the tense shift in her words is purposeful: “You could been genius if you want to.” Even though it starts in the past, the sentence ends in the present, indicating to June and to the reader that it is not too late for June to find her genius. Ultimately, it is Tan’s command of the “Englishes” that transforms the short story into one that captures not only her mother’s voice but also other mothers’ voices that have been silenced or, at best, standardized into an “imperfect” English that does not convey their essence, their internal language.
Chinese Immigration to America
San Francisco was (and still is) one of the largest Chinese-American communities in the United States. When immigrant groups settle in one area and create extensive social and economic structures, these areas are called enclaves. By the time the mothers in The Joy Luck Club (and Tan's own parents) arrived in California, there was a large and thriving Chines-American enclave.
The first wave of Chinese immigrants to the United States occurred in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Until the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was designed to limit the numbers of Chinese entering the country and prevented those already here from becoming citizens, as many as 30,000 a year arrived in the United States from mainland China.
These immigrants were almost exclusively male and ‘‘only the hardest, dirtiest, most menial jobs were open to them,’’ according to social historian Thomas Sowell. They built most of the railroad across the Sierra and took on the dangerous jobs of strike-breakers in the mines. Nonetheless, they maintained strong social ties and were able to establish economic structures such as mutual aid societies and credit unions.
When the Chinese Exclusion Act was finally repealed in 1943, more women arrived from China and the sex imbalance (and seedy reputation) of Chinatowns improved. The population of Chinese Americans began to rise and by 1950 it was higher than its earlier peak in 1890. These children, like Jing-mei in "Two Kinds'' were often expected to make significant strides up the American social and economic ladder.
Although they escaped the anti-Chinese laws and overt prejudice that faced earlier generations, they still encountered a whole range of difficulties associated with biculturalism: ‘‘cultural dislocation; the problems and challenges of integrating two cultures; intergenerational struggles within immigrant families; the conflict between acculturation and adherence to an ancestral tradition, and between assimilation...
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