Joy Luck Club
Come mothers and fathers, throughout the land,
And don't criticize what you can't understand
Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin'
Please get out of the new one, if you can't understand
For the times they are a-changin'
Bob Dylan - the Times They Are a-Changin
The song by singer-songwriter Bob Dylan certainly applies to many families with children in a rapidly changing world; indeed, as the times change, and the parents remain stuck in the past, there will inevitably be friction. But in the context of the Woos, Jongs, Hsus, and St. Clairs in Amy Tan's book, the tension between mothers and daughters is greater than just a change in generations. In this case the mothers might as well be aliens, as they are all first generation immigrants from Mainland China and the values their daughters are learning and adopting from the contemporary American society seem so different and challenging. And the daughters - who are indeed beyond their parents' command, to paraphrase Dylan - were born and educated in the fast-paced, media-driven new world, a million light years away from the culture their mothers understand.
The while the conflicts between generations and cultures in the Joy Luck Club are not unique to Chinese-American families, in this story there seems to be gaps in communication and values as big as the Pacific Ocean, which the mothers had to cross to discover a better life. The theme of this paper embraces the question, what kind of healing is needed to provide these families with some common ground and understanding between generations? What could be done to bring about a better relationship between mothers and daughters?
According to scholar Nancy Owen Nelson, in an essay excerpted from the book Private Voices, Public Lives: Women Speak on the Literary Life, conflicts will naturally arise when adolescents and young adults are "encouraged - or coerced - into internalizing the discourses of their elders..." Nelson succinctly points out that when children feel pressured to adopt the way of life their parents lived, conflicts will emerge because "...the new generation also resists becoming the old." While individualism is the commonly used process "...by which a society indoctrinates its young into its value systems," that process also "...creates a space for defiance of tradition and of choice among other, competing ideologies."
But what can be done to bring peace to these families? The difficulty in considering a competent cultural remedy is that not only is there a cultural chasm, there is a serious language conundrum. Mothers are of course comfortable in the old language (albeit they do understand a lot of English); and the daughters, while they do speak some Chinese, are fluent in English and related to the contemporary jargon as a spin-off of English.
It's too late in this novel for the mothers to take crash course lessons in English language usage. Even if they did they would never be able to fully grasp the way English is spoken and understood and written by youthful Americans deeply immersed in the culture of music, movies, sexual liberation, relationships, fashion and economic matters.
As an example of this lack of understanding between the daughters and mothers, Jing-mei (June) Woo, remembers speaking to her mother in English and her mother would answer back in Chinese. Said Jing-mei: "We never really understood one another...we translated each other's meanings and I seemed to hear less than what was said, while my mother heard more" (p. 37). On page 31, Jing-mei, who is the narrator and main character, remembers - with some reluctance of her actions then - that she used to dismiss her mother's criticisms as "...just more of her Chinese superstitions, beliefs that conveniently fit the circumstances."
In this book the daughters - to a greater degree for some - do indeed wish to show respect to their mothers, and they do want there to be a commonality between them to pay homage to the struggles their mothers went through prior to their arrival in America.
Here is the concept that is proposed for this paper, to heal the alienation.
The daughters get together one night for dinner and drinks, a kind of "girls night out" for fun and levity. After dinner, they get serious and begin discussing what they could do - how they could use their talents and energy - to help others in the Bay Area who are less fortunate then they are. They agree they are all four tired of butting heads with family, and so they agree to come up with a creative idea or two. They stop at a Starbucks for coffee and dessert. And at that point they decide to unite behind one important social project that has nothing to do with their parents, but involves a totally different culture in the Bay Area.
On the Starbucks bulletin board was a poster about a community play being promoted in Berkeley. The play is called, "Familia Entendimiento" ("Family Understanding") promoted by a group called "Simpatico." It is put on by the children of Latino immigrants, the details of the production explained.
The daughters make a pledge to attend the play together and see what the Spanish-speaking culture is doing about the generational and cultural divide between young Mexicans and other Latinos - who were born in the U.S. Of immigrant parents - after which they will proceed with a project of their own to unite them with their mothers in a more meaningful way. They also make a pledge to no longer criticize their mothers for their sometimes-expressed reliance on "luck" and "tricks" and the Astrological chart to explain what happens to people.
Two of the daughters in the Joy Luck Club - Suyuan Woo and Rose Hsu Jordan - are already taking Spanish language classes on weekends in order to be able to be qualified to work in bilingual (Spanish-English) situations as part time tutors, social change leaders, and youths who are incarcerated. Rose has had to battle her mother-in-law's racism against Chinese, and she has tended to let Ted her husband make most of the decisions, but she now is branching out into new projects to gain some of the self-respect that she lost recently. So Suyuan and Rose take the lead in preparing the daughters for their project.
When the daughters get to the play, they are charmed by the sweetness shown on the stage. Most of the audience is made up of parents, many of course are the parents of the young Latinos putting on the play. The narrator speaks in Spanish and English. Every line is in Spanish but it is repeated in English. The play is about a boy and girl, neighbors, the boy Caucasian, and girl, Mexican-American, born in Los Angeles to parents who speak only a little English. The boy's father is from Estonia, Russia, and speaks little English. His mother died giving birth to a brother. In the girl's family, the mother is a domestic worker, and dad works the night shift at a meat packing plant. The story involves the boy and girl falling in love and for their wedding they bring the neighbors together in a "peace ring" of cultural understanding. At the wedding, there are readings in many languages about bringing generations together.
The Joy Luck Club daughters are so impressed with this presentation, they immediately plan to put on a play just for their own families and for their immediate community of Chinese-Americans and close Caucasian friends. They know how much their mothers and their ancestors respected Confucius and the Buddha. The play they wrote embraced the teachings of Confucius in the play, and it was designed to show their mothers they have the same respect for Chinese cultural history as they do for American cultural history. The play will remind listeners that much of what Confucius taught to the Chinese community represented a dramatic departure from the ideas and practices of his day, just like many of the cultural rituals in America are a departure to Chinese immigrants. He was a radical in a way, because he was asking people to keep an open mind and be willing to change their attitudes and beliefs in the greater interest of the community. His social philosophy revolved around "ren" (compassion, or loving others). "What you do not wish for yourself, do not do to others," he said. "Since you yourself desire success then help others attain it," he urged. "Never stir hand or foot in defiance of ritual," Confucius taught. Meanwhile Buddha taught the "Four Noble Truths"; life is to be suffering for everyone; suffering "is caused by desire and attachment"; suffering "can be eliminated"; and suffering can be "eliminated when following the Noble Eightfold Path" (Coleman, 2001).
So it was decided the setting of the play would be in China, and one of the themes embraced the teachings of Confucius and Buddha. The daughters worked with…