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Summary Of Amy Tans The Joy Luck Club Essay

Amy Tan’s Use of Prologues to Bridge the Gap Between Chinese and American Culture Cultural divides are difficult to overcome in storytelling because understanding another culture is a not an easy task. However, in The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan does a wonderful job of making the Chinese culture comprehensible to American readers. With a culture that is exceedingly different from the American way of life, Tan presents both cultures side by side in order to draw attention to their differences.

One way she accomplishes this task is through the use of prologues that frame each of the four sections of the book. Each prologue gives the reader a cultural perspective, which allows for better interpretations of the book’s sections. These prologues unite the short story sections and as the prologues themselves come together to form one story, they bring the novel together as a whole to form an in-depth look at Chinese culture’s survival in American society.

Amy Tan uses section prologues to establish viewpoints from which to observe and interpret each section while establishing general conflicts facing the characters in the novel and as the prologues progress from identifying the problem to suggesting the continuance of cultural heritage, they help to bridge the cultural gap between the mothers and daughters in the story. The prologue for “Feathers from a Thousand Li Away” depicts the relocation of a woman to a new country and the resulting cultural problems this type of relocation entails, which turns out to be the main conflict of Tan’s novel.

The story in the first prologue recounts a woman’s immigration from China to America. She voices her optimism about America and the wonderful life it will give her daughter. The swan she is traveling with symbolizes both her life in China and the hope she has for her daughter in the new world. However, the swan is taken from her as she goes through customs, leaving her with only a feather to pass on to her daughter.

This exhibits the loss of culture that takes place during relocation and identifies the reality facing the Chinese mothers in the book: “Tan’s structural narrative opening marks the way “America” strips the woman of her past, her idealized hopes for the future in the United States, and excludes her from an ‘American’ national identity” (Romagnolo 270). This prologue enlightens an American audience the dilemmas faced by immigrants in order to garner sympathy for the mothers in the story who could be misinterpreted without this background information.

In the end of the story, the woman is left with only a feather to pass on to her daughter, which calls to the reader’s attention the feeble connection between Chinese-born parents and American-born children. This insufficient connection or inability to pass on culture and history to their daughters is what the mothers of the story fear. In this sense, the prologue establishes the stereotypical Chinese-born mother and the following set of four chapters elaborate on this model by illustrating both the fear of the mothers for their daughters and their troubled pasts that have led them to pursue better lives for their daughters.

With the prologue’s depiction of a mother’s fear of cultural disconnect, the chapters comprising “Feathers from a Thousand Li Away” confirm the existence of such fear among the mothers, which in turn establishes the mothers as sympathetic characters and gives an emotional curve by which the reader can judge them. In this section, as Jing-mei comes to terms with the death of her mother, she consequently realizes how far removed she is from her culture and heritage. After her mother’s death, Jing-mei is expected to take her place at the Joy Luck Club and she realizes she is ill equipped to do so.

On top of feeling distanced from the other women, she feels she cannot take her mother’s place in the family. She is told about her mother’s quest to find her daughters and that she must carry on this duty and educate them on who their mother was to which Jing-mei replies, ‘What can I tell them about my mother? I don’t know anything. She was my mother” (Tan 31). This admission conveys Jing-mei’s disconnect with her culture and appalls the other mothers because they fear the same attitude is present in their own daughters. An-mei exclaims, “Not know your own mother? .. How can you say? Your mother is in your bones! ” (Tan 31).

This passage “articulates the anguish of the forgotten and obliterated, of not having progeny who would look back at ancestral ties with the past. All the mothers, Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, Ying-ying St. Clair, fear this genealogical obliteration” (Zenobia 254). This section illustrates the generational disconnect predicted in the prologue and establishes the main conflict of the novel: the cultural gap between Chinese-born mothers and American-born daughters.

After the establishment of the story’s main conflict, the prologue to the “Twenty-Six Malignant Gates” section shows the nature and extent of the cultural gap between Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters while garnering sympathy for the daughters in the story. The mother attempts to instruct the daughter by interpreting a Chinese book titles “Twenty-Six Malignant Gates. ” The use of a Chinese text to justify a strict parenting style reveals the typical mothering technique among Chinese mother, which could appear a bit overbearing to an American reader.

This is an important cultural difference to address because “an American reader is less likely to grant those mothers their due without understanding that Asian mothers normally behave in a more heavy-handed manner than their American counterparts” (Souris 137). However, the effect of this prologue is twofold. The overbeating nature of the mother also establishes the view from which to examine the daughter’s attitude and actions, which translates to the examination of each daughter in the main narrative: “If the first preface prepares us to be sympathetic towards the mothers, this second preface prepares us to be sympathetic towards the aughters as we read each monologue against that preface as a backdrop” (Souris 129).

As the prologue prepares the reader for the stories of the daughters, is establishes a tangible cultural gap rather than the anticipated one referenced in the first prologue, which cements the rising conflict. The next anticipatory action is at the end of the second prologue when the daughter goes against the mother’s warnings and ends up falling. This foreshadows the negative consequences this gap between the two generations will have for the daughters in the story.

The sympathy garnered for the daughters in the story aides the interpretation of the “Twenty-Six Malignant Gates” section, where the daughters assume control of the narrative and exhibit both their disregard for the wisdom of their moth as they deal with hardships. Rose mentions the book referenced in the prologue and claims that the book shows “that children were predisposed to certain dangers on certain days, all depending on their Chinese birthdate… And even though the birthdates corresponded to only one danger, my mother worried about them all” (Tan 131-132).

Rose is using this observation to establish her mother’s overbearing nature. However, in the same way that the prologue’s effect is twofold, Rose’s observation both criticizes her mother’s parenting strategy and reveals the cultural roots for such a parenting method. With the mention of the Chinese book, An-mei’s overbearing nature as a mother is tied to her Chinese culture, which paints children as prone to danger and in need of strong parental guidance.

With this distinction, Rose’s observation of her mother reveals her parenting method to be protective rather than oppressive. This realization is aided by both preceding prologues because the first one garners sympathy for the mothers, which causes an American audience to look beyond the overbearing Chinese mother, and the second prologue garners sympathy for the daughters in the story, which causes the reader to understand the attitudes of the daughters.

This type of misunderstanding is the root problem of the novel: “The story is a tragedy of incomprehension resulting from a clash of cultural values and generational divide. The mother belongs to the old world order and believes in the inalienable right of the mother to regulate and run the life of the daughter” (Priya).

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