Amy Tan's immensely popular novel, The Joy Luck Club explores the issues faced by first and second generation Chinese immigrants, particularly mothers and daughters. Although Tan's book is a work of fiction, many of the struggles it describes are echoed in Maxine Hong Kingston's autobiographical work, The Woman Warrior: Memoirs of a Girlhood Among Ghosts. The pairs of mothers and daughters in both of these books find themselves separated along both cultural and generational lines. Among the barriers that must be overcome are those of language, beliefs and customs, and geographic loyalty. The gulf between these women is sadly acknowledged by Ying-ying St. Clair when she says of her daughter, Lena, "'All her life, I have watched her as though from another shore'" (Tan 242). Ultimately, it falls to the daughters, the second, divided generation, to bridge the gap of understanding and reconnect with their old world mothers.
The Joy Luck Club begins with a fable that immediately highlights the importance of language in the immigrant story. It is the tale of a hopeful young woman traveling from China to America to begin a new life. She carries with her a swan, which she hopes to present to her American daughter someday. The language barrier is exposed when the woman's good wishes for her future child are defined by the idea that this daughter of an immigrant will never know the hardships endured by her mother because she will be born in America and will "speak only perfect American English" (Tan 18). However, things do not turn out exactly as planned for the young woman. Her lovely swan is confiscated by customs officials, and her treasured daughter, now an adult, does in...
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