Mother Daughter Relationships

Chuck Palahniuk once said “maybe it’s a daughter’s job to piss off her mother.” Although this is a universal phenomenon, throughout many generations, immigrant mothers often face the most severe backlash from their children. Because the beliefs and practices of a mother and daughter can be vastly different, it can lead to prolonged hardships and increasing tensions. Amy Tan in her novel The Joy Luck Club expands on this concept by depicting the relationships of four Chinese immigrant women and their American born daughters. All of these women face the struggles of attempting to preserve their Chinese legacy through their children, but instead, end up facing resistance from them. Specifically, one of the mothers, Suyan, has certain expectations of her daughter, Jing Mei, but she chooses to ignore them and follow her own desires. Additionally, Lindo Jong, another member of the Joy Luck club, reflects on her relationship with her daughter, Waverly, and how different they are from one another. Amy Tan uses the relationship of these mother-daughter pairs to further advance the theme of complex mother-daughter relationships.

Expecting her daughter to be successful in some aspect of her life, Suyan makes Jing Mei try numerous activities, which leads to increased tensions. Ranging from “a Chinese Shirley Temple” to “a dainty ballerina” or “Cinderella stepping form her pumpkin carriage,” there was a large variety Suyan tested out to bring upon Jing Mei’s inner prodigy (132). The pressure of succeeding intensifies when Lindo’s daughter becomes a signified chess prodigy in their community and wins multiple national level competitions. Suyan, also wanting her daughter to succeed, sets out to find Jing Mei’s true talent. She enrolls her for piano lessons, but Jing Mei interprets the situation as a hopeless cause, and as her mother’s attempt to change who she is. She asks her mother, “Why don’t you like me the way I am? I’m not a genius! I can’t play the piano” (136). Instead of understanding her mother’s desire for her to succeed, Jing Mei believes her mother does not love her for who she is. This creates a greater rift between the two.

As the Chinese women and their children grow older, they continue to face differences and misunderstandings, especially between Lindo and her daughter Waverly. When Waverly decides to go to China for her second honeymoon, she is scared that they won’t let her “come back to the United States” because she is so Chinese (253) Lindo clarifies to Waverly that she has diverted so far from traditional values that “you don’t even need to open your mouth. They already know you are an outsider” (253). Despite Lindo’s attempt to inculcate Chinese values in her children, her children remain foreign to their heritage. Lindo blames herself in this situation when she reflects and realizes that she had wanted “American circumstances and Chinese character,” when they do not mix (254). However, Waverly is completely oblivious to the internal struggles her mother faces and ignorantly believes that she is so Chinese, that she will blend into her mother’s country so well. The two battle what their true identities are, as Lindo views Waverly as completely American, through and through, whereas Waverly believes she is an outsider in America, and adheres to Chinese norms, when in reality, she does not, which further advances the theme of complex mother-daughter relationships.

Lindo also reflects on her own relationship with her mother and realizes that even though they both lived in the same country, their views were drastically different, just as they are with her own American-born daughter. However, she realizes that they way they approach their mother’s opposition varies greatly. Chinese promises, as Lindo describes, are “pure inside and out” whereas to Americans, “promises mean nothing” (49). This can be seen in the daughters’ commitment to what their mothers aspire for them. For example, Lindo’s mother had arranged her marriage at a young age, and despite not wanting to marry him, Lindo keeps her promise and at age sixteen, marries an abusive man who she does not love. She describes, “even if I had known I was getting such a bad husband, I had no choice” (51). To Lindo, a promise to her mother was a promise, and following cultural expectations was not a choice, but a mandate. This is completely unlike Waverly’s interpretation of what a promise is, and has lesser value of her mother’s opinions. In attempt to teach her daughter manners, Lindo instructs Waverly to “Bite back your tongue” (89). Waverly initially agrees, but when her mother brags about her achievements in chess competitions, Waverly snaps at her mother in public and remarks, “Why do you have to use me to show off? If you want to show off, then why don't you learn to play chess” (96). Although Waverly had initially told her mother that she will always bite back her tongue, she breaks her promise and retaliates the moment her mother allegedly embarrasses her. The fact that Lindo was so different with her mother increases the tension between Lindo and Waverly.

Despite numerous attempts to raise American children with Chinese values, the mothers in The Joy Luck Club, specifically Suyuan and Lindo are faced with severe retaliation from their daughters. Through the retelling of numerous anecdotes such as Suyan’s attempt to find Jing Mei’s talent, and the conflicts between Lindo and Waverly, Amy Tan develops the theme of complex mother-daughter relationships. These characters are ideal in the development of the theme because they exhibit normal tensions between mother and daughters, but also cultural tensions due to being raised in different countries. Throughout the novel, the mothers are constantly attempting to overcome these tensions and maintain a close relationship with their daughters, but the tensions continue to prevail. Despite this, the love the mothers and daughters have for each other is evident.