Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

Negotiating the Geography of Mother-Daughter Relationships in Amy Tan's the Joy Luck Club

Academic journal article The Midwest Quarterly

Negotiating the Geography of Mother-Daughter Relationships in Amy Tan's the Joy Luck Club

Article excerpt

Contemporary readers may also relate to the concept that past relationships must always influence present personal interactions. They may also discover ... that one's inability to translate the past may have negative implications for present and future relationships. The mother-daughter relationships in both China and the United States represented in The Joy Luck Club not only provide a link between the past and the present but also suggest how the ability, or the inability, for mothers and daughters to share geographically informed cultured stories influences both mother-daughter relationships and individual and cultural identity.

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THE UNIVERSAL AND CONTINUING popularity of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club has surprised even Amy Tan. In a 2006 interview with Dana Gioia, the chairperson of the National Endowment for the Arts, she comments, "I had no idea this was going to be anything but weird stories about a weird family that was unique to us. To think that they would apply to other people who would find similarities to their own families or conflicts was beyond my imagination" (49). Yet it is precisely because readers identify with the "weird stories" of family tension, relational misunderstandings, loneliness, and self-actualization that the novel maintains its thematic relevance for contemporary readers.

When critics discuss these themes in the novel they most often analyze the generational tension inherent within the mother-daughter relationships of four immigrant Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters living in San Francisco. Many critics who analyze or summarize the novel suggest that the four San Francisco mother-daughter relationships illustrate themes of family misunderstandings, loneliness, and personal ambivalence. However, critics overlook the relationships the novel represents between the earliest generation of Chinese mothers and their China-born daughters and how these earlier relationships influence the family tensions and loneliness that all four San Francisco mother-daughter pairs experience in the book. Tan's dedication of the book, "To my mother and the memory of her mother," suggests that the mother-daughter relationships the text portrays in China provide a critical framework from which to analyze the mother-daughter relationships in the United States. Catherine Romagnolo also suggests the importance of the past for the present in The Joy Luck Club and argues, "the text acknowledges an integral continuity between the past in China and the present in the United States" (101). Contemporary readers may also relate to the concept that past relationships must always influence present personal interactions. They may also discover; as this essay suggests, that one's inability to translate the past may have negative implications for present and future relationships. The mother-daughter relationships in both China and the United States represented in The Joy Luck Club not only provide a link between the past and the present but also suggest how the ability, or the inability, for mothers and daughters to share geographically informed cultural stories influences both mother-daughter relationships and individual and cultural identity.

The mothers and daughters who live together in China share a cultural bond contiguous with geographical landscapes that transcends the potential generational divide in mother-daughter relationships. The lack of a cultural bond concomitant with geography informs the tension of the mother-daughter relationships in the United States and creates a so-called generation gap that the China-born mothers neither anticipate nor understand. Amy Ling argues that the mother-daughter relationships in the United States "are not marked by a slip of the tongue or even a generational gap, but by a deep cultural and geographical chasm" (134). By including the stories of a generation of Chinese grandmothers who never leave China, The Joy Luck Club demonstrates that the tension in the San Francisco mother-daughter relationships, the "chasm" between the immigrant mothers and their daughters, is not simply a generation gap. …

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