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The novel, "Joy Luck Club," by Amy Tan describes the struggle between a dominate mother who tries to protect her daughter, Ni kan, from the devastating losses that she suffered by convincing her that she might become anyone she wants to be. Ni kan resents her mother's control and wishes only to be herself. The author clearly illustrates in this novel that parents cannot control their children's lives; they can only guide them in the right direction and let them make their own decisions.
First of all, Amy Tan shows that Ni kan's mother attempted to dominate and control her daughter's life. The mother does this by telling Ni kan that "'. . . you can be prodigy, too'" (Tan 491) and insisting that she work toward this goal. Ni kan is then sent down a path of endless tests and lessons. These include tests on capitals of the states; multiplying numbers in her head; finding the queen of hearts in a deck of cards; trying to stand on her head without using her hands; predicting the daily temperatures in Los Angeles, New York, and London; and looking at a page from the Bible for three minutes and reporting everything that she remembers (Tan 492).
Although Ni kan quickly loses interest of her mother's dream of being a prodigy, her mother persists. She arranges for Ni kan to take piano lessons. Her mother does not ask her if she wants to play the piano or to explore another art form. She arranges a complete schedule of lessons and practices that take over not only her daughter's physical existence but also dominate Ni kan's thoughts for most of her free time. Her mother wants to control not only her actions but also her dreams and aspirations, and she will not tolerate disobedience. She clearly says that "Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter" (Tan 497).
Amy Tan shows that Ni kan resents her mother's decisions and resists her control. After many failed tests in knowledge and skills, Ni kan asserts to herself, "I won't let her change me. . ." (Tan 492). This clearly shows a child resisting parental domination and control. The piano lessons evokes a response of "...I felt like I was being sent to hell" (Tan 493).
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Ni kan never appreciates that she has been give an opportunity to to explore music and enrich herself. Ni kan's concern with her beautiful dress and the way to give a proper curtsey, rather than the way she plays, show that she does not realize that the purpose of the recital is to demonstrate competence that comes after hard work. Therefore her performance is a failure because she never tried to learn her lessons and she wasn't prepared for the recital.
Ni kan's battles with her mother do not end with the recital disaster. Ni kan confides, "It was not the only disappointment my mother felt in me" (Tan 497). She continually disappoints her mother as she grows up because she asserts her own will to be who she wants to be not who her mother wants her to be. She does this even at the price of throwing away the real opportunities her mother gave her.
Eventually, Ni kan and her mother reconcile their differences. This is symbolized when her mother gives Ni kan the piano for her thirtieth birthday. This reconciliation makes Ni kan feel like a tremendous burden has been removed. Her mother still sadly insists that she can play because she has natural talent. All that stands in her way is that she is "just not trying" (Tan 498). Ni kan's mother realizes that it was her dream for Ni kan to become a prodigy, but Ni kan had never accepted that dream as her own. The mother's actions show us that she forgives Ni kan for all the failures and is content that Ni kan has become successful in her own way.
The two piano pieces called the "Pleading Child" and "Perfectly Contented" parallel Ni kan's life. When she was young and controlled by her mother's dreams, Ni kan was a pleading child. She pleaded with her mother to let her find her own dream. When Ni kan becomes older, she is contented because she follows her own dreams.
Parents and children will eternally struggle over control. Amy Tan shows us through this novel that parents never can truly control children. Children come to us with their own minds and spirits, and develop their own hopes and dreams that parents can not silence. She also points out that even obedient children who do as they are told still have willful thoughts. In the portrait of Ni kan, we sympathize with these young minds. Ni kan shows us that good children will disappoint their parents over and over; not because they're bad, but because they can only be who they are, themselves.
Heung, Marina. "Daughter-Text/Mother-Text: Matrilineage in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club." Feminist Studies (Fall 1993): 597-616.
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Ivy Books, 1989.
Outline of Essay
Thesis: Parents cannot control their children; they can only guide them.
I. First of all, Amy Tan shows that Ni kan's mother attempted to dominate and control
her daughter's life.
A. Ni kan can be a prodigy too.
B. Her mother persists with piano lessons.
C. " Only one kind of daughter, obedient daughter."
II. Amy Tan shows that Ni kan resented her mother's decisions
and resisted her control.
A. "I won't let her change me, I promised myself."
B. "When my mother told me this, I felt like I was sent to
C. Ni kan does not appreciate opportunities her mother offers.
III. Eventually, Ni kan and her mother reconciled their
A. Ni kan was given the piano for her thirtieth birthday.
B. Ni kan realizes the piano piece was titled,
"Perfectly Contented Child, Pleading Child".