The Roles of Culture, Mothers, and Daughters in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club

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"A mother is best. A mother knows what is inside of you," said An-Mei Hsu to her daughter Rose (188). And this is true for all four of the mothers in the Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan. Unfortunately it was much more complicated than that, because the daughters had minds of their own, to a certain extent, minds that were part American. "The emphasis on honor, obedience, and loyalty among women are immense in this novel" (The Joy Luck Club: An Overview). In America, these characteristics were not emphasized nearly as much – and that is what caused tension between mother and daughter.

The Joy Luck Club was founded by Suyuan Woo, and when she passed away, the Club looked to her daughter Jing-Mei to replace her. Suyuan was a very strong-willed woman who had suffered many hardships. In the process of fleeing from the invading Japanese, she had to abandon her two babies from her first husband. Things like that are what caused her to be so strong, but her daughter was doubtful in her ability to fill the role her mother once played.

Jing-Mei brought much hope to her mother. Suyuan was very critical of the people around her, so she was especially critical of her daughter. Once, Jing-Mei confronted her about being so critical, saying "people rise to other people’s expectations" (31). Suyuan replayed to her daughter, "That’s the trouble, you never rise. Lazy to get up. Lazy to rise to expectations" (31). And that was the basis of the mother-daughter relationship between Suyuan and Jing-Mei. Suyuan always had very high expectations for her daughter – wanting her to be a child prodigy. She would give Jing-Mei tests on things she would read in magazines, like knowing the capitals of the states or multiplying numbers. Jing-Mei ev...

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...ough the daughters possessed different personalities, and the mothers varied in strength, they all had one important thing in common – they all wanted their daughters to listen to them. The mother’s firmly believed that if you were obedient to your mother you would grow up a good Chinese woman – but that was the problem. "One of the major conflicts between the mothers and their daughters is the desire of the young generation to become more Americanized" (Ballantine Teacher’s Guide on The Joy Luck Club). The daughters were raised in America, which meant that they were influenced a great deal by American ways. There was no preventing that. The significance of the relationships between mother and daughter were a result of a clash of culture between Chinese belief and American tradition.


Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Random House, 1989.
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