Search for Identity in The Joy Luck Club
"Imagine, a daughter not knowing her own mother!" And then it occurs to me. They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all truths and hopes they have brought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. (Tan 40-41)
Amy Tan frames The Joy Luck Club with Jing-mei Woo's search for identity. When Jing-mei's mother's friends tell Jing-mei that her sisters have at long last been found and insist that she tell her sisters about their mother's life, Jing-mei emotionally replies that she does not know her mother. However, her mother's friends' generosity helps Jing-mei to realize how much she wishes that she had understood her mother, how desperately she would like to question her if only she could. It is in this moment that Jing-mei recognizes the necessity of understanding her mother's life in order both to figure out who her mother was and to understand herself.
Jing-mei's placement at the mah jong table already suggests a link between Jing-mei and her mother that parallels Jing-mei's position in the rest of the novel, for wherever Suyuan should be telling her story, it is told through the voice of Jing-mei instead. While Suyuan should be the one to reconcile with her lost daughters, Jing-mei will go in her place. This planned act of reconciliation where Jing-mei will fulfill her mother's dream foreshadows the other mother-daughter stories in the novel where An-mei, Lindo, and Ying-ying are just as eager to reclaim their daughters as Suyuan, in order to help in their daughters' struggles ...
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...perately to connect with her mother. In her quest to close the cultural gap between her Chinese heritage and her American upbringing, she questions what it means to be Chinese. Suffering from a disadvantage compared to the other daughters in the story, since her mother is dead, Jing-mei struggles to remember the foods her mother cooked, her relatives' names, and the stories her mother told. However, it is when Jing-mei finally embraces her sisters, and they observe in the polaroid shot how they all look like their mother, that it occurs to Jing-mei that her family is the part of her that is Chinese. Therefore, in order to understand that part of her identity, she must embrace the memory of her dead mother. With the sisters linked by their mother in their family likeness, the photograph symbolically reconciles the two generations, as well as the two cultures.
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