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In The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan explores mother-daughter relationships, and at a lower level, relationships between friends, lovers, and even enemies. The mother-daughter relationships are most likely different aspects of Tan's relationship with her mother, and perhaps some parts are entirely figments of her imagination. In this book, she presents the conflicting views and the stories of both sides, providing the reader--and ultimately, the characters--with an understanding of the mentalities of both mother and daughter, and why each one is the way she is.
The book is organized into four sections, two devoted to the mothers and two devoted to the daughters, with the exception of June. The first section, logically, is about the mothers' childhoods in China, the period of time during which their personalities were molded, giving the reader a better sense of their "true" selves, since later in the book the daughters view their mothers in a different and unflattering light. Tan does this so the reader can see the stories behind both sides and so as not to judge either side unfairly. This section, titled Feathers From a Thousand Li Away, is aptly named, since it describes the heritage of the mothers in China, a legacy that they wished to bestow on their daughters, as the little story in the beginning signifies. For many years, the mothers did not tell their daughters their stories until they were sure that their wayward offspring would listen, and by then, it is almost too late to make them understand their heritage that their mothers left behind, long ago, when they left China.
The second and third sections are about the daughters' lives, and the vignettes in each section trace their personality growth and development. Through the eyes of the daughters, we can also see the continuation of the mothers' stories, how they learned to cope in America. In these sections, Amy Tan explores the difficulties in growing up as a Chinese-American and the problems assimilating into modern society. The Chinese-American daughters try their best to become "Americanized," at the same time casting off their heritage while their mothers watch on, dismayed. Social pressures to become like everyone else, and not to be different are what motivate the daughters to resent their nationality. This was a greater problem for Chinese-American daughters that grew up in the 50's, when it was not well accepted to be of an "ethnic" background.
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