Chinese-Americans authors Amy Tan and Gish Jen have both grappled with the idea of mixed identity in America. For them, a generational problem develops over time, and cultural displacement occurs as family lines expand. While this is not the problem in and of itself, indeed, it is natural for current culture to gain foothold over distant culture, it serves as the backdrop for the disorientation that occurs between generations. In their novels, Tan and Jen pinpoint the cause of this unbalance in the active dismissal of Chinese mothers by their Chinese-American children.
In The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan calls close attention to the idea of unrealization and forgetfulness. Through these two factors, Tan attempts to explain displacement on the pasts of both mothers and daughters. The daughters, we find, are lost and wandering, and the mothers themselves seem paralyzed by secret pasts of pain and sacrifice. For them, the past is a tenuous, ghostly thing that goes undigested for some time. For many of them, it is not ever talked about. The death of Suyuan Woo is attributed to this:
“ ‘ She had a new idea in her head,’ said my father. ‘But before it could come out of her mouth, the thought grew too big and burst. It must have been a very bad idea.’
“The doctor said she died of a cerebral aneurysm. And her friends at the Joy Luck Club said she died just like a rabbit: quickly and with unfinished business left behind” (Tan 19).
Suyuan had a secret that she had kept from her daughter, Jing-Mei her entire life: two sisters that had been left behind while she fled from China. While it cannot be said that this was what caused her to have an aneurysm, the symbolism of having unfinished business, and ...
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...er granddaughter eating the Chinese side. Addie in “Just Wait” is withdrawn from her entire family because she simply does not fit in and is placed, with a weak struggle, in the same category as her unwell brother. Duncan in “Duncan in China” cannot accept the China he visits because he only has images of the regal past in his head.
Both novel and short story collection reflect the fear of a past being unexplored and left behind. They express deep concern about a lost generation of Chinese-Americans and look desperately for the ignored, shut out past as a result.
Jen, Gish. Who’s Irish? New York: Alfred A Knopf, 1999.
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1989.
Xu, Ben. “Memory and the Ethnic Self; Reading Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club” in Memory, Narrative, and Identity: New Essays in Ethnic American Literatures. 261-77.
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