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How is culture presented in the joy luck club and to what effect

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  • 1. Siir Tecirlioglu English A2 Year 1 Ms. Standley November 18, 2010 How is culture presented in the Joy Luck Club and to what effect? Culture is one of the key elements in Amy Tan’s the Joy Luck Club, which establishes anongoing conflict between the protagonists of the book. Briefly, the novel is about four Chinesemothers who have migrated from China to the United States, when they were around 20 yearsold, for different reasons. The mothers talk about the Chinese culture and tell about the lives oftheir daughters. The daughters were born and raised in the United States, which makes theAmerican culture overtake their Chinese heritage. Although both the American and the Chinesecultures are presented in the Joy Luck Club, the amount of Chinese cultural elements is greaterthan of the American, because Tan wants her readers to gain a deep understanding of the Chineseculture. The most important cultural elements in the Joy Luck Club are the idea of obedience, thebelief in the relation between fate and birth date, and the idea of marriage, because these areexplored in depth by Amy Tan in order to inform the reader about the Chinese culture andunderstand how the characters act in the ways they do in the story. The first concept is obedience which is how the characters in the book base their views on.This is especially true for the mothers because they have more Chinese background than theirdaughters. There are, “only two kinds of daughters…those who are obedient and those whofollow their own mind!” (Tan 142). Mothers want their daughters to learn this concept and actaccording to it. Tan brings forth this idea in many parts of the book so that the reader emphasizes
  • 2. the concept of obedience in Chinese means. One of the mothers complains about not being ableto teach her daughter “about the Chinese character…how to obey parents and listen yourmother’s mind.” (254) Another mother talk about herself and being obedient: “I was an obedientwife; just as they taught me.” (61) Other examples of Chinese culture are brought up with theidea of obedience, such as listening to the elders. Most of the daughters are told to obey theirparents because they are elderly and they know the best from experiences. Therefore, in China,most of the mother-daughter relations are based on this idea.. The conflict is that, in America,obedience is not so much important because people are taught to have their own ideas, ways ofliving and own values. Obedience is one of the major sources of the conflicts in the Joy LuckClub because it creates other problems between the mothers and the daughters. The other concept is the belief in destiny, fate and birthdates. According to the Chineseculture presented in the Joy Luck Club, the year, the hour, the minute of a person’s birth givesenough information about that person’s fate, destiny, and personality. There are people whoseprofessions are based on fate and birthdates. They are called matchmakers. For example, in oneof the stories, “the village matchmaker came to (one of the characters’) family when (she) wasjust two years old” and told her who she would marry (50). What the matchmaker said turned outto be true because the family of the girl was so convinced that this was the truth. This is anexample of one of those ideas where a person is told something and he/she does anything tomake it happen because he/she believes it is the truth. Another example of the belief in fate andbirthdates is the zodiac signs. According to the year a person is born in, it is possible to guessthat person’s personality and future actions. For example, “A Horse, born in 1918, (is) destinedto be obstinate and frank to the point of tactlessness.” The author uses these zodiac signs assymbols for different people and their personalities. In almost every chapter of the novel, the
  • 3. author talks at least a bit about the relation between destiny and the zodiac signs of differentcharacters. She then tells what actually happened. In most cases, the reader finds out that theinformation based on birth date is true. The characters of the novel experience these in their livesas if they are normal events happening every day. They are not surprised or amazed by any ofthis. Even more, they base their lives on fortunetelling. In one of the stories, this is brought up indetail because both the mother and the daughter have the same zodiac sign which means theyhave the same personalities. The mother explains a conflict between her and her daughter: “Shewill fight me because this is the nature of two tigers.” (248). The reader ends up thinking; “It isnormal that Chinese people believe in their birth dates being signs of their futures”. The final and the most important concept if marriage in China. First of all, there are manydifferences between males and females. The mothers have experienced this split more becausethey were raised in China. But their daughters do not know about this because in Americaeveryone is equal. In China, there are different reasons for why men marry and why womenmarry. Men marry to show their wealth and power because they can have more than one wife.The more wives they have, the wealthier they look. Therefore there is no love in any of themarriages in China. “Wu Tsing had asked her to be his concubine, not for love, but because ofthe prestige of owning what so many other men wanted.” (234). Women marry because it is theirjob to give both to sons that will carry on a family’s existence. Women marry to serve theirhusbands. Therefore, marriage in China is not for love; it is for position. Women can be FirstWives or the concubines of a man. From this, their values are measured. Women cannot remarryand “…suicide is the only way a woman can escape a marriage” (234). For example in China,the destiny of marriage is based on a candle. Lindo Jong, one of the mothers, explains the ideabehind candle: “The candle (is) a marriage bond that (is) worth more than a Catholic promise not
  • 4. to divorce. It (means a woman cannot) divorce and even remarry, even if the (husband) died.”59. This idea brings out another Chinese cultural element which is shame. Anyone who goesagainst the Chinese morals is shameful for doing so. The idea of marriage and how it works isbrought up throughout the entire novel. In each chapter, the reader finds more about this concept.The entire book is based on men-women relationships and how they are different in the UnitedStates than they are in China. These examples show the importance of culture, especially the Chinese culture, in the JoyLuck Club. The conflicts between the characters are based on these differences in culture—aclash of cultures. The mothers are trying to teach their daughters the Chinese morals, but thedaughters are refusing to learn because the American one seems more modern to them. Idea ofobedience, relation between destiny and birth date, and the marriage in Chinese means are thethree most important Chinese cultural elements in Tan’s novel, because they bring forth otherChinese cultural elements as well. They are like stems of trees from which many branches grow.In other words they are the roots of the other Chinese cultural elements in the Joy Luck Club.