Representation of American and Chinese Cultures in the Novels of Amy Tan: Analytical Essay

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The first quarter of the book, Feathers from a Thousand Li Away, primarily focuses on four Chinese mothers, and their past lives. In the first chapter, The Joy Luck Club, the narrator, Jing-Mei Woo, describes her late mother, Suyuan Woo, who has died of an aneurysm. She recounts the story of her mother’s past from her perspective: she had abandoned her two babies in China when the Japanese attacked and lost her husband to the war. Then, she started the joy luck club with three other women, which was meant to bring hope and some joy in those dark times. While Suyuan made friends with the other families, it is revealed that the she and Jing-Mei were never close and there was often much tension between them; thus, Tan comments on the contrast between American and Chinese cultural/familial values and the lack of understanding between them.

The narrator introduces us to the three aunts, explaining that they have asked her to replace her mother at the joy luck club and to play mah jong in her stead. As they play, Jing-Mei mentally criticizes the women and analyzes how their language is deceivingly different from what they actually mean. Amy Tan begins to juxtapose and critique the Chinese language with American language. Towards the end of their game, the three aunts reveal to Jing-Mei that her mother has been searching for her lost twins for all her life, sending letters back and forth from America to China. And she did find them, only too late, as she died before she could meet them.

The next chapter, Scar, is about An-Mei Hsu’s (one of the aunts) life. Amy Tan emphasizes the controversial Chinese culture. An-Mei’s mother has been shunned by her grandmother and entire family because she left her two children to become a concubine for a much older man. Because of this, An-Mei’s grandmother (Popo) forces An-Mei to reject her own mother and to never talk to her again. However, Popo becomes sick and An-Mei’s mother returns to care for her. Amy Tan highlights the relationship between mother and daughter, suggesting that one’s mother is never really gone. This is further showed when her mother cuts a piece of her own flesh for her grandmother.

The next chapter is told from Lindo Jong’s perspective. She recalls how she was in an arranged marriage ever since she was two years old. Her fiancé, Huang Tai Tai, turns out to be a selfish boy. Amy Tan begins to juxtapose the two sexes and shows their stark contrast in Chinese culture. Lindo Jong becomes her mother-in-law’s servant and cook, thus showing the poor treatment of women in China. Years later, the two marry, but Lindo comes up with a plan and she convinces her family that their marriage is doomed.

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The next chapter, The Moon Lady, is told from Ying-Ying St. Clair. She tells of when she was very young and when it was the day of the Moon Festival. Her mother tells her of her shadow, bringing in the theme of individuality. Her family had rented a boat and they go on it during the night to see the moon. However, whilst sitting on the edge, Ying-Ying falls off the boat and is caught in a fishing-net by another boat. She is brought to shore where she sees a small enactment of the Moon Lady and her husband. After the show, she goes up to the lady to request a wish only to find out that the actress had been a man. Years later, she finally remembers what her wish was - to be found.

The second quarter of the book, The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates, discusses the four daughters’ lives. The first chapter, Rules of the Game, is told from Waverly Jong’s perspective. Amy Tan comments on the stereotyped Asian competition and living up to one’s parent’s expectations. When Waverly’s brother receives a chess set from their church for Christmas, she begins to study the game and its intricacies and eventually becomes a master at the game. She begins to attend tournaments and wins them all. However, her mother is always unsatisfied with her. Yet, she always uses Waverly to show off in public. This causes Waverly to despise her mother, and she runs away one day.

In The Voice from the Wall, Lena St. Clair discusses her hometown of San Francisco and how she would always hear one of her neighbor’s being beaten each night. She then talks about her own mother’s miscarriage and how it changed her mother forever and their relationship. Her father cannot speak Chinese, and Lena St. Clair must often translate for him. Amy Tan brings up the topic of miscommunication and the lack thereof. One day, Lena’s neighbor comes to her apartment and sneaks through the back to return to her house only to find her mother overjoyed. Lena is jealous of their relationship and she compares it to that of her and her mother’s.

In Half and Half, Rose Hsu Jordan begins with expressing her frustration on whether or not to tell her mother about her recent divorce with her husband Ted. She then recalls her dating experience with Ted, a white man. Rose explains that Ted’s mother disapproved because she was Chinese and she would distract Ted from his medical studies. Amy Tan sheds light on racism and the struggles of minorities in America. Nonetheless, Ted and Rose marry, but Ted makes all the decisions in the marriage until one day he snaps and gets mad at Rose for never making decisions. He then demands a divorce.

In Two Kinds, Jing-Mei recounts the story of the tension between her and her mother over her mother’s wish of her to be a prodigy. She forces Jing-Mei to take piano lessons each day for two hours. Jing-Mei protests a great deal, and on the day of the talent show, she plays horribly. Yet, her mother still forces her to play until Jing-Mei acts out against Suyuan, saying that she wished she were dead like her twin babies. This breaks her mother, and they ultimately stop communicating. Until her 30th birthday, her mother gives the piano as a sign of forgiveness.

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Representation of American and Chinese Cultures in the Novels of Amy Tan: Analytical Essay. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 13, 2024, from
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