Amy Tan

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Amy Tan’s Novel “The Joy Luck Club” Essay, Research Paper E-AMERICAN WOMEN IN AMERICAN CULTURE In Amy Tan’s novel, The Joy Luck Club, there is one episode, “Waiting Between the Trees,” illustrating major concerns facing Chinese-American women. Living with their traditional culture in American society, Chinese-American women suffer the problems of culture conflicts. While their American spouses are active and assertive, they are passive and place their happiness entirely on the goodness of their husbands. At one time, this passiveness can be seen as a virtue; at other time, it is a vice or a weakness. In studying the lives of two personalities, Ying-Ying and Lena St. Clair, a Chinese mother and a half-Chinese daughter, one can see these conflicts more clearly and

determine why they exist. Ying-Ying St. Clair was born into a rich family. She was very pretty when she was a young girl. She was educated like every Chinese woman used to be: To be obedient, to honor one’s parents, one’s husband and to try to please him and his family. Ying-Ying was not expected to have her own will and make her own way through life. The result of this education was a disaster. She was married to a bad man who left her after a short time to follow other women. Her love for him turned to hate, and she killed her unborn baby. This act gave her remorse for all her life since she considered it a murder. Tortured by this incident, she had a mental breakdown, for a period of time, when her second son — with her second husband, St. Clair — died at birth. She

saw it as a punishment for her previous behavior. After leaving her first husband’s house and returning home, she abandoned herself to whatever life offered her. She lived like a shadow, letting other people or events to decide for her. When she met St. Clair, she passively let him believe that she was from a poor family. Ying-Ying also let him think that he married her to save her from some catastrophe, since she seemed to be in a desperate state of mind when she married him. She could not tell her husband, and later, her daughter Lena, that the catastrophe they imagined was only the news of the death of her bad and unloving former husband, and the emptiness she felt after hearing that news. She let St. Clair make all decisions for her, since she wanted to give up her

“chi” — her spirit or her strong will — because the only time she exerted it was to do a bad thing in her eyes: killing her unborn first son. Ying-Ying did not want to let her husband and daughter know more about herself, since it would mean she had to confess her shameful secret. Both her husband and daughter did not know about her first marriage. Lena St. Clair, on the other hand, was born in America and lives like an American girl, “But when she was born, she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and had been swimming away ever since” (p. 274). Lena knew that her mother kept a secret and could not share it. She saw her mother as a weaken-minded woman who needed her help. She learned American ways and thought of herself as more suitable than her mother to American

life. However, conversely, her mother saw the fragility of Lena’s marriage and happiness. For all her life, Ying-Ying lived on a superficial level with St. Clair, her husband. Lena inherited this attitude from her mother. In St. Clair’s family, they never had real communication. They only tried to be good to each other. The daughter and her father never knew who Ying-Ying really was, and what past she carried to America with her. Lena chose American ways, not realizing that her Chinese family education and tradition are really important to her happiness as well. Children learn to act as their parents do before them. The relationship between Ying-Ying and St. Clair was superficial, so is that of Lena and Harold, her husband. Lena never questioned her mother about Chinese