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History, Culture and Self Discovery in Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club Essay

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History, Culture and Self Discovery in Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club


     In the novel The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, the relationship between history, culture and identity is illustrated through the narrations of seven women. In these stories the women discuss events of their past and the reader is able to see how it affects them later in life. In addition, they also discuss how they have been shaped by cultural expectations. These two things affect both the mothers and daughters in the novel.

     The best example of how personal history affects the development or loss of an identity is through the stories of Ying-Ying St. Clair. The events in Ying-Ying’s early life foreshadow ones that happen later in her life. For example, when Ying-Ying was a small child she fell overboard a boat and was lost in the water. Even her name means "clear reflection" which foreshadows her future loss of identity (Tan). Later, she immigrated to the United States and ended up being stuck on Angel Island Immigration Station for three weeks, "lost in a sea of immigration categories"(Tan 107). Throughout her life she was able to see things before they happened, but this did not allow her to prevent the loss of her sense of self.

     During Ying-Ying’s first marriage she plays the role of an obedient wife so well that she becomes one and puts it above everything else. Later in the book when she looks back on it she states, "I became a stranger to myself"(Tan 280). After all this the man is unfaithful to her and leaves her for an opera singer. It is to this event that she attributes the loss of the golden side of her tiger sprit. Long after this, when St. Clair began courting her, she saw this as a sign that she would also lose the other half of h...


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...es she wants to keep the house and is in control of her life again.

     Many of the characters in the novel are struggling to find themselves. Personal history is an obvious contributor to the development of the characters' senses of self. The events that occur in a character’s past influence their attitudes toward themselves and the way they treat their daughters. The two cultures that meet in the families portrayed also influence these attitudes. It is only when the characters take both these factors into account can they begin to discover their true selves.

Work Cited

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Random House, 1989.

Sources Consulted

Do, Thuan Thi. Chinese-American Women in American Culture. 1992 http://www.ics.uci.edu/~tdo/ea/chinese.html

Jokinen, Anniina. Anniina's Amy Tan Page. 1996 http://www.luminarium.org/contemporary/amytan/


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