The Joy Luck Club - Playing the Game

The Joy Luck Club - Playing the Game

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The Joy Luck Club - Playing the Game

A vivid portrait of the struggles, as well as the joys, of three generations of Asian American families is painted for us on the off white canvas used by Amy Tan in 1989, the pages of her book, The Joy Luck Club. In this portrayal of Chinese immigrants and their American born children, four family stories are brought to light, through a series of vignettes told from the view points of eight women, as they change and grow in their lives. Lives that become the pigment that, along with Tan’s taintless brush strokes become a painting fit for a museum. As the stories are unveiled to us, we begin to find the connection between mothers and daughters, as well as ties between friends. These connections, however, often turn out to be lacks of connections, as the generations find themselves having a hard time relating to one another. One family in which misconceptions occur throughout the entirety of the daughter’s life is the Jong family, whose story leads us through generations of women, who, by living their out their lives, look at things instead as simply, playing the game.

The mother of the Jong family, Lindo, is a member of the Joy Luck Club, and an American immigrant who, throughout her life, as always tried to keep a balance between her Chinese self, and her new American self. Lindo fears that she may have given her daughter, Waverly, too many American opportunities, and therefore denied her of her Chinese heritage. With the Americanization of her daughter, she feels she may have closed the doors on part of her own self as well, and become herself, too American.
Before Lindo came to America, she learned at an early age the power of invisible strength, of hiding ones thoughts until the time is right to reveal them. She discovers these values while in an unhappy relationship to a man she was betrothed to at an early age. “ I wiped my eyes and looked in he mirror. I was surprised at what I saw. I had on a beautiful red dress, but what I saw was even more valuable. I was strong. I was pure.
I had genuine thoughts inside that no one could see, that no one could ever take away from me. I was like the wind. I threw back my head and smiled proudly to myself, and then I draped the large embroidered red scarf over my face and covered these thoughts up.

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But underneath the scarf, I still knew who I was. I made a promise to myself: I would always remember my parents’ wishes, but I would never forget myself.” (The Red Candle, page 53) By learning to use her invisible strength, she is able to get out of the marriage without dishonoring her parents, and succeeds in doing what is right for her. Lindo later teaches the gift of invisible strength to her daughter, who uses it to become a child chess prodigy, just another move in her game of life.

Waverly was named after the street she lived on when she was born. Her mother did this to make an attempt of Americanizing Waverly from the beginning, something I believe Lindo regretted later. After Waverly had been raised most of her life as an American, Lindo realized that she had made a mistake, and tried to inst. some Chinese values in her, but it was too late. Even though Waverly believes she very Chinese, she doesn’t realize that it is only what is on the outside of her that is Chinese. Waverly expresses interest in visiting China, but jokes that she will blend in so well, they might not let her back into the country. Lindo is upset with this, because she sees how American Waverly really is. “How can she think she can blend in? Only her skin and her hair are Chinese. Inside- she is all American made. It’s my fault she is this way. I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these two things do not mix? I taught her how American circumstances work. If you are born poor here, it’s no lasting shame… If the roof crashes on your head, no need to cry over this bad luck. You can sue anybody- you do not have to sit like Buddha under a tree letting pigeons drop their dirty business on your head… In America, nobody says you have to keep the circumstances somebody else gives you. She learned these things, but I couldn’t teach her about Chinese character. How to obey parents, and listen to your mothers mind. How not to show your own thoughts, to put your feelings behind your face so you can take advantage of hidden opportunities.. Why Chinese thinking is best.” (Double face, page 289) Waverly’s American attitude is the thing that separates her from Lindo the most, and what separates their ways of thinking when analyzing their next moves in their life long game.

The relationship between Lindo and Waverly really is that of a life long chess game, where battle after battle take place, but in the end, it is bound to end in a stalemate. Waverly lives her whole life as if it is a chess game, and her all time opponent was Lindo. After Waverly and her mom had gotten into a fight, and Lindo had won the battle by staying calm when Waverly ran away, Waverly said that “I closed my eyes and pondered my next move”. As it turns out, her next move was to pretend to be sick, so that her mother would be compassionate towards her again. Waverly saw this as sneak attack, that she would later use against her mother. The thing that upsets Lindo the most about Waverly, is her lack of respect for Chinese culture. For example, when Lindo promised her parents she would not disgrace them, and she went through a lot of hardship to honor this promise, as she was forced to be in an unhappy marriage for a long time. It upsets Lindo that her daughter’s ideas of a promise are much different, they are much more American. “ A daughter can promise to come to dinner, but if she has a head ache, or is in a traffic jam, if she wants to watch her favorite movie on TV, she no longer has a promise.”

When Waverly brings her mother to a restaurant to let her know about her plans to marry her fiancé, it is by no accident that she brings her to the restaurant called “four directions”. All of her life Waverly has learned to come from all directions, as the wind, to distract her opponent. By trying to distract other people all her life, so that she can win, I think she has blindly guided herself into a stalemate with her mother, and a checkmate with society. For Lindo and Waverly to reconcile their differences, they need to put aside their “American and Chinese faces”, and learn to put the stale mate behind them, shake hands, and walk side by side through the park, watching others sit across from each other in their own games of chess, waiting till they to can reach across the table, shake hands, and know that more can be accomplished when two people’s winds blow from the same direction.
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