Free Study Guide: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan - BookNotes|
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THE JOY LUCK CLUB: FREE STUDY GUIDE / BOOK SUMMARY
Waverly always struggles with her Chinese heritage. She tries to make herself act very American and look less oriental. She often seems embarrassed by her mother, Lindo, and refuses to adopt the traits of humility and respect Lindo has tried to teach her. Concerned about appearances, Waverly takes her mother to see Rory, her hair stylist, so that Lindo’s hair can be properly styled when she meets the family of her fiancé, Rich Shields. At the hairdresser, Waverly becomes upset when Rory says that she looks like Lindo, for she does not want to appear Chinese.
Although Waverly projects a tough exterior, it is clear that she has some insecurities. Although she constantly argues with her mother and refutes her traditional Chinese views and values, Waverly also seeks her approval. She dreads telling Lindo that she is going to marry Rich, but she desperately wants her mother’s blessing. When her mother gives her approval, Waverly is greatly relieved.
Although Waverly struggles internally through most of the novel, she
is developed as one of the most powerful characters, who has a zest for
living, a drive to succeed, and a commanding personality. Completely opposite
in nature from her mother, Waverly does come to understand Lindo better
and fear her less by the end of the novel. She even begins to appreciate
some of the Chinese heritage that her mother has tried to instill in her.
Lena is a fragile character. Throughout her life she has lacked the drive to assert herself; instead, she thinks and reacts according to what she believes others will think about her, especially her mother. As a result, Lena emerges as a mere shadow of Ying-ying St. Clair and is often characterized by a word like “ghost.” In truth, Lena is a portrait of fear in control.
In her childhood, Lena was commanded, controlled, and overprotected by Ying-ying, who told her terrible tales of the consequences of disobedience. In turn, Lena developed into a meek and humble youth and a passive adult, who still submits to the wishes of her mother and husband. Fearful of censure, Lena never states her opinion or protests a decision, even when there is a strong need to do so.
Lena worked hard to help Harold, her husband, set up his business. Now that he is a successful businessman, he gives her no credit or appreciation. In fact, he makes her pay one-half of all the bills, even though he makes many times more than she does. Lena is too weak to protest the unfair treatment. In a like manner, she allows Harold to design and decorate the house that they have purchased and are redoing. She does not criticize him, even though she knows that the house is out of proportion and the furniture is too delicate. She is content to remain in Harold’s shadow, just as she has always been in Yingying’s shadow.
Lena fears her mother’s visit to the new house. She knows that her mother will openly criticize everything about it. More importantly, Lena knows that Ying-ying will see the misery of her marriage to Harold and criticize it as well. Her mother’s visit, however, encourages Lena to talk to Harold. She expresses a desire to change the pattern of their dull, mechanized life. The insensitive Harold is amazed to hear his wife voicing an opinion and cannot believe that she could possibly be unhappy with him or their life together.
At the end of the novel, Lena still seems fragile. There is hope, however,
that she will become less timid. Encouraged by her mother, she makes an
attempt to express herself and stand up for her beliefs. She has a long
way to go before she will become that pillar of strength that Ying-ying
would like to see, but the mother and the reader are encouraged by Lena’s
small steps towards knowing who she is and standing up for herself.
Rose Jordan is an educated woman with a mind of her own, but she lacks the courage to assert her identity. Like Lena, she is taken for granted by a selfish husband, who eventually leaves her for another woman. When Ted serves her the notice for a divorce, Rose breaks down, indulging in self-pity. Feeling helpless and depressed, she can barely function. She goes to see a psychiatrist to try and relieve her distress, but she always leaves his office feeling more confused. An-Mei, Rose’s mother, knows that her daughter needs to have more inner strength and wishes she could find a way to give it to her.
An-Mei does encourage Rose to stand up against Ted. As a result, she
bravely tells her husband that she will not sign the divorce papers and
that she will not let him take the house from her. It is the bravest things
that Rose has ever done. As a result, at the end of the novel, An-Mei
and the reader feel encouraged about Rose, just as Ying-ying and the reader
felt encouraged about Lena.
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. 09 May 2017