Free Study Guide: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan - BookNotes

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Ying-ying St. Clair - The Moon Lady


Ying-ying St. Clair is the last mother to relate the tale of her past. Like An-Mei and Lindo Jong, memories of her childhood haunt her. As a young girl of four, she had gone out with her family during a magical celebration known as the Moon Festival, where everyone was expected to find the Moon Lady and ask her to grant a wish. While the others were celebrating, Ying-ying watched in fascination as a servant gutted fish, chickens, and turtles. She then noticed that specks of blood covered her new outfit, which her mother had sewn for her for the festival. Wanting to cover up the specks and not knowing how, Ying-ying rubbed more blood onto her clothes.

When her nursemaid saw Ying-ying covered in blood, she shrieked in horror, believing the child to be harmed. When she realized what had happened, she felt relieved, but angry. She stripped Ying-ying to her underwear and left her in the back of the boat by herself. In her excitement over looking out for the Moon Lady and watching the fireworks, Ying-ying lost her balance and fell overboard into the river. She was rescued by some people on a boat and put ashore, but she could not locate her family; she felt lost, both from her parents and from her true self. She found the Moon Lady, however, and watched her performance with eagerness. After the play, Ying-ying was eager to ask the Moon Lady to grant her wish. She ran backstage, where she was shocked to discover that the Moon Lady was actually a man. In her surprise, Ying-ying forgot her wish. The traumatic experience completely changed Ying-ying. Although she was eventually found by her parents, she never felt she was the same person.

Ying-ying contemplates the fact that she has always been separated from her Americanized daughter by a seemingly insurmountable gulf. It is like they cannot communicate. As she thinks about the distance between the two of them, Ying-ying remembers her forgotten wish: she wanted to be “found.” She now wonders if she and her daughter will ever really find each other.


Ying-ying’s story is centered on a traumatic moment in her life when she was punished for getting blood on her clothes by being stripped to her underwear and left alone. Ying-ying is so crushed that she feels she has lost her true identity. The tiger outfit made especially for her to wear to the festival has been taken away, and she is by herself on a boat wearing only non-descript cotton panties. When she falls overboard, she feels like she has lost herself. She looks at a child on another boat, safely playing at her mother’s legs. Ying-ying tries to believe that the safe little girl is really herself.

Ying-ying is rescued and taken ashore, but she cannot find her family. When she spies the Moon Lady, she plans to make a wish; then Ying-ying discovers that the Moon Lady is really a man. She is so surprised at the discovery that she forgets to make her wish. Then in the midst of thinking about how she and her own daughter are separated by a different lifestyle and a communication gap, Ying-ying suddenly remembers her wish from long ago. She wanted to be found.

As this fourth part of the first section of the novel comes to a close, several themes and ideas have been developed and repeated. Each story has pointed out the difference between appearance and reality and the need to find one’s true self. Just as the swan was really not a swan, the moon lady is not really a woman. Just as Ying-ying wanted to find herself when she was lost, Lindo Jong had wanted to find herself outside of her miserable marriage to Tyanyu.

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The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan: Book Notes Summary

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