The Joy Luck Club
Do your family’s values conflict with the culture of your environment? In The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, four Asian-American girls realize that their traditional family values clash with their environment and aim to reconcile this conflict. First-generation children must balance traditional family values with their cultural environment in America to avoid familial alienation. They must appease both their parents and their American partners in order to prevent social and cultural dissension.
The Asian-American parents in The Joy Luck Club disapprove of their daughters’ American spouses. When Rose Hsu Jordan dates a man named Ted, her mother, An-Mei Hsu, makes a rebuking comment: “‘He is American,’ warned my mother, as if I had been too blind to notice. ‘A waigoren.’¨ (Tan 117) There is a prominent cultural barrier between Rose Hsu Jordan and An-Mei Hsu’s views on relationships and love. An-Mei Hsu believes that her daughter should date someone of the same racial background, whereas Rose Hsu Jordan is open to other races and welcoming of American men. In this way, the parents’ traditional family values conflict with the daughters’ environment and culture.
Additionally, the Asian-American daughters worry what their traditional parents will think of their foreign partners. When Lena St. Clair dates a white man named Harold and anticipates a visit from her mother, she expresses apprehension at the possibility of being judged: ¨Now [my mother] is visiting my husband and me in the house we just bought in Woodside. And I wonder what she will see.¨ (150) Lena understands the differences in perspective due to cultural background, and worries about reconciling any conflicts she has with her parents. She is tasked with adopting the role of mediator between Asian tradition and American innovation.
Lastly, the Asian-American daughters compare Asian and American thinking. After Rose Hsu Jordan breaks up with her boyfriend Ted, she feels uncertain and anxious about the direction of her life. She expresses her doubts about her Asian upbringing: “I still listened to my mother, but I also learned how to let her words blow through me. . .Over the years, I learned to choose from the best opinions. Chinese people had Chinese opinions. American people had American opinions. . .the American version was much better.” (191) After experiencing the varied beliefs of both Asian and American thinking, Rose uses indifference as a coping strategy to appease her Asian parents while mentally using American thinking. She has learned to act agreeably to her parents to avoid stirring up conflict and reconcile differing cultures.
The families in The Joy Luck Club face the difficult task of bridging a cultural barrier between generations while maintaining familial closeness. Though there are often misunderstandings, particularly in regards to relationships with American partners, the Asian-American daughters have learned how to adapt their behavior to simultaneously placate their parents’ expectations and assimilate American culture. Through years of experience, they have decided on this approach as a means of reconciling two clashing cultures and retaining good relations with their family. The book serves to document this journey of diplomacy and balance.