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Litt 507 - Joy Luck Club as a Contemporary American Fiction

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An analysis of Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club proving the "contemporariness" and "Americaness" of the book despite Chinese background of the author and its historical theme.

An analysis of Amy Tan's Joy Luck Club proving the "contemporariness" and "Americaness" of the book despite Chinese background of the author and its historical theme.

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  • 1. Philippine Normal University National Center for Teacher Education Taft Avenue, Manila College of Languages, Linguistics, and Literature DEPARTMENT OF LINGUISTICS, BILINGUAL EDUCATION & LITERATURE A Round Table in an American Diner: The Joy Luck Club as a Contemporary American Fiction In Partial Fulfilments of the Requirements in Litt507 (Contemporary American Fiction) Submitted by: Bernard M. Paderes Submitted to: Dr. Jennie V. Jocson Faculty Summer 2013
  • 2. I. Amy Tan's Background Amy Tan was born in Oakland, California in 1952 to Chinese immigrant parents. Her father, John Tan, was an electrical engineer and Baptist minister who left China to escape the turmoil of the civil war, whereas her mother, Daisy Tan, previously married, divorced her abusive husband but lost custody of her three daughters. She was forced to leave them taking the last boat from Shanghai during the advent of communism. After Amy’s eldest brother and father died of brain tumors, Daisy took Amy and her other brother to Switzerland, where she finished high school. By that time, Amy and her mother were in constant conflict. When they came back to the U.S., Amy’s mother sent her to med-school, but she later defied her mother and changed her program to English and linguistics. She received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at San Jose State University in 1974. While pursuing her graduate studies in linguistics, she met her boyfriend, Loius DeMattei. The two got married and later settled in San Francisco, California. De Mattei, an attorney, took up the practice of tax law, while Amy Tan studied for her doctorate degree in linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. However, she left her doctoral program and work as a language development consultant for disabled children. Because of her experience, she found a job as an editor of medical journals. With a partner, she started a business writing firm but became a full-time freelance writer after a dispute with her partner.
  • 3. Amy Tan prospered as a writer and was able to save enough money to buy a house for her mother. However, the more she worked hard, the more she became dissatisfied. She resorted to playing the piano and writing fiction as an outlet and means of cure. Just as she was starting a new career, Tan’s mother became ill. Amy promised herself that if her mother recovered, she would take her to China to se the daughters her mother left behind some 40 years ago. Her mother regained her health and they went to China in 1987. II. Synopsis of the Story The novel consists of sixteen interlocking stories about four immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters. These stories are divided into four sections, with two sections focusing the stories of their mothers and the other two focusing on their daughters. The mothers had left their sad secret lives in China: Suyuan, who was forced to abandon her daughters in China; An-mei, whose mother was raped by a rich and powerful merchant and consequently became his concubine resulting to her family disowning her; Lindo, who was forced into an arranged marriage and was pressured by her mother-in-law to produce grandchildren; and Ying Ying, who got married to an abusive husband who physically and verbally abused her that soon caused her to abort her baby. The daughters also had their share of miseries: June, Suyuan’s daughter, thought of herself as a failure because she did not live up to her mother’s wishes and hopes; Waverly, Lindo’s competitive daughter, struggled to please her mother; Rose,
  • 4. An-mei’s daughter, became depressed fighting for her rights in her divorce; and Lena, felt that her life is stuck in a loveless marriage that made her feel powerless. The crises that the daughters were experiencing were the result of their dysfunctional relationship with their mothers. However, they were able to resolve their crises when they finally confronted their mothers and resolved their conflcits with their mothers. III. Analysis of the Novel. It seems easy to say that The Joy Luck Club is a contemporary American novel simply because it was written after World War II and was written by a hybrid American writer. However, it would be more accurate if the novel is analyzed into the characteristics of an contemporary American fiction. It would be better to find what makes it contemporary and American at the same time. In terms of “contemporariness,” Klage (2006) identified some characteristics of contemporary or postmodern literature. According to her, postmodern literature shares the same qualities of modern literature, namely: a. an emphasis on impressionism and subjectivity in writing; b. a movement away from plain objectivity by narrating in the omniscient third- person point of view, fixed narrative, and clear-cut moral positions; c. a blurring of distinction between genres; d. an emphasis on fragmented forms, discontinuous narratives, and random seeming collages of different materials;
  • 5. e. a tendency toward reflexivity, or self-consciousness, about the production of the work of art; f. a rejection of elaborate formal aesthetics in favour of minimalist designs; g. and a rejection of the distinction between "high" and "low" or popular culture Amy Tan claimed that The Joy Luck Club was supposed to be a collection of interrelated stories than a novel. In an interview published on Penguin.com, she mentioned that she wrote one story after another. She had envisioned that these stories would have older and younger voices that belonged to respective families, and these families would belong to one community, The Joy Luck Club. When the story collection was published, reviewers considered it a novel. In terms point of view, Tan made use of multiple narratives, which is a feature of postmodern writings. This style is a movement away from the traditional omniscient third person narrative with fixed narrative point of view. The stories were told from the point of view of both mothers and daughters. Therefore, they seem to be fragmented and discontinuous (Klage, 2006). In terms narrative, Tan employed a form of narrative that she seems to share with fellow Chinese author Maxine Hong Kinston in The Woman Warrior. Kingston called this form as “talk-story.” It celebrates the oral histories used by women and are kept off from the formal written histories employed by men (Welsch as cited in Evans, 2009). This form seems to be fitting for telling popular tales, legends, and myths (Shen, as cited in Bloom, 2009).
  • 6. In terms of the theme, FitzSimons (2007) listed down some of the characteristics that make a contemporary text American. These include issues faced by women and immigrants. Specifically, she mentioned the following: a. How American history affected American families; b. How diversity affected minorities and immigrants; c. and how the second and third generation immigrants see the theme of American dream The Joy Luck Club undeniably tackles the issues faced by women in the traditional patriarchal Chinese society and the issues faced by second generation Chinese immigrants in the United States. It shows how two generations of Chinese immigrants come into conflict regarding culture and values. In an analysis done by Lannholm (2010), he discussed the oppression and voicelessness experienced by some of the characters due to their subordinate status as females. For example, Lindo entered an arranged marriage in which the husband determines the wife’s destiny. She experienced both physical and verbal abuses from her mother-in-law when she could not give her any grandchildren; Ann Mei’s mother was raped by a womanizer and consequently was disowned by her own family thinking that she had brought disgrace to her family and her dead husband’s name; and Ying Ying, who became a victim of domestic abuse which later caused her to abort her baby and consequently left her feeling worthless and devastated. As for the daughters, Lena experienced a loveless marriage because she wanted everything to be “fair.” And Rose, who simply wanted to please her husband by being
  • 7. submissive, ended up feeling depressed and worthless when her husband filed for divorce. As for the cultural issues, the four mothers portray a stereotypical picture of Chinese immigrants and their beliefs in the American dream. However, these created conflict between them as they, the mothers were very faithful to their Chinese roots in which obedience and subordination are highly esteemed (Thio, 1998), whereas their daughters were raised in America where independence and autonomy are highly valued. This is shown through the constant conflicts between the Suyuan and June and Lindo and Waverly. Both mothers were very critical of their daughters and expect highly of them. They would often compare their daughters, basking in reflected glory from their daughters’ achievement. In consequence, their children felt exhausted and felt that they were taken advantage of. However, both had different shattering effect on them: June gave up thinking that she would not really live up to her mother’s standards while Waverly continued to strive for more achievements thinking she was not still good enough. This has become an interesting part of the story because the person vs. person conflict becomes a person vs. self conflict; the external has been internalized. These conflicts were only resolved when the daughters confronted their conflicts with their mothers by listening to their stories and learning from them.
  • 8. References Bloom, Harold. (2009). Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club: Modern critical interpretations. NY: Infobase Publishing Inc. Evans, Robert. (2009). Critical insights: The Joy Luck Club. NJ: Salem Press Inc. FitzSimons, Katherine C. (2007). Contemporary American literature (1970- present). Lecture Notes. Slavyansk State University. Jasani, Anand. (2009) Mother-daughter relationships in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. A Research Paper Retrieved April 20, 2013 from http://bookstove.com/classics/mother-daughter-relationships-in-amy-tans-the-joy-luck- club/ Klage, Mary. (2006). Literary theory: a guide to the perplexed. US: Continuum International Publishing Group. Lannholm, Nathan. (2010). Sociological analysis of The Joy Luck Club. Retrieved April 21, 2013 from http://www.scribd.com/doc/82071995/Sociological-Analysis-for- the-Joy-Luck-Club Lee, Vivian A.. (2007). Mother-daughter relationships in Amy Tan’s Novels The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife. Senior Project Retrieved April 20, 2013 from http://vivian-lee.net/writings/literary/amytan.pdf Tan, Amy. (1989). The Joy Luck Club. Penguin Books Thio, Alex, (1998). Sociology. US: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishers Inc. Thompson, Shelley. (2006). Amy Tan: Reaching a universal audience. AP English Paper, Lutheran High School, Orange County, California. Retrieved April 20, 2013 from http://www.luminarium.org/contemporary/amytan/shelleythompson.htmwww.luminari um.org/contemporary/amytan/shelleythompson.htm