The Woman and Her Swan: The Connection Between Mothers and Daughters As Seen in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

The Woman and Her Swan:
The Connection Between Mothers and Daughters
As Seen in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan


“I wanted everything for you to be better. I wanted you to have the best circumstances, the best character. I didn’t want you to regret anything. And that’s why I named you Waverly. It was the name of the street we lived on. And I wanted you to think, This is where I belong. But I also knew if I named you after this street, soon you would grow up, leave this place, and take a piece of me with you.” (433)

This is what Mrs Lindo Jong, Waverly’s mother, says in The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, in a chaptered titled “Double Face.” All of the mothers in The Joy Luck Club – Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-Ying St. Clair – want the same thing: they want their daughters to have much better lives that their own. Unfortunately, the daughters – Jing-mei Woo, Waverly Jong, Rose Hsu Jordan, and Lena St. Clair – do not understand these motives of their mothers, just as they do not fully understand who their mothers had been before they became mothers. There had been lives, dreams, and family members left behind, and yet, the women do not find the time or the opportunity to tell their daughters about themselves. In the end, the daughters find out some things they knew about their mothers, but they do not completely come to understand the individual people that their mothers had been. But it is an impossible question to be fully answered: What is the right way to be a mother? What is the right way to be a daughter?

While we may never know the “right” answer to these questions, it seems that mothers and daughters have built-in instincts to try to look after each other and to save each other. For example, An-Mei Hsu remembers her mother who, after her first husband’s death, had married a rich merchant, only to be shunned by her family and to live an unhappy life. However, when she learns that her mother is ill, she comes back home to find that her mother is near death. This is when An-Mei sees a side of her mother that she will remember forever. She recounts:
I saw my mother on the other side of the room. Quiet and sad. She was cooking a soup, pouring herbs and medicines into the steaming pot. And then I saw her pull up her sleeve and pull out a sharp knife. She put this knife on the softest part of her arm. I tried to close my eyes, but could not. And then my mother cut a piece of meat from her arm. Tears poured from her face and blood spilled to the floor. My mother took her flesh and put it in the soup. She cooked magic in the ancient tradition to try to cure her mother this one last time… (78)
Even though her family had shunned her for her actions, An-Mei’s mother still comes back and does the best she can to help restore her mother. It is not just mothers who are willing to sacrifice themselves to save their children. Their children are also willing to sacrifice themselves to save their parents. An-Mei continues:
Even though I was young, I could see the pain of the flesh and the worth of the pain. This is how a daughter honors her mother. It is shou so deep it is in your bones. The pain of the flesh is nothing. The pain you must forget. Because sometimes that is the only way to remember what is in your bones. You must peel off your skin, and that of your mother, and her mother before her. Until there is nothing. No scar, no skin, no flesh. (79)
To remember what is in our bones, we must peel off our skin, and that of our mother, and her mother before her. Until there is nothing, no scar, no skin, no flesh. This is the inevitable bond between mothers and daughters.

Mothers leave a mark on their daughters, and their daughters carry it until the end of their lives, when they pass it off to their own daughters. Jing-Mei Woo’s mother had to flee China because the Japanese were invading. She had to leave behind her house, her friends, and her two babies. However, for Jing-Mei, the story feels distant. Her mother would tell her the story during her spare time, when she would unravel a story so she could knit. Remembering these times, Jing-Mei says of her mother, “…as she began to roll with one sweeping rhythm, she would start her story. Over the years, she told me the same story, except for the ending, which grew darker, casting long shadows into her life, and eventually into mine” (31). No matter how much mothers want their daughters to have happier and better lives, they have to realize that their daughters lives cannot be completely different from the ones they experienced. Mothers and daughters have strong connections, and this can show on their facial features, personal characteristics, eccentric habits, etc. Therefore, when the mothers’ stories end, their daughters pick up the thread. Even though Suyuan Woo and her daughter may not realize, their stories share more similarities than differences.

In closing thought, in “Queen Mother of the Western Skies,” a woman says to the Queen, “O! O! You say you are laughing because you have already lived forever; over and over again?…Then you must teach my daughter this same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever” (347). It seems to be a never-ending question for mothers: How to guide their daughters so they can live a life of happiness. Do daughters have more choices than their mothers in happiness?


<Works Cited>

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. Electronic Reproduction, Penguin Books, 2006,


“Beloved, You Are Mine”: The Unbreakable Bond Between Mothers and Daughters As Seen in Beloved by Toni Morrison

“Beloved, You Are Mine”:
The Unbreakable Bond Between Mothers and Daughters As Seen in Beloved by Toni Morrison


Beloved by Toni Morrison tell the story of three women – Sethe, Denver, and Beloved. Sethe is a wounded woman. In order to prevent her daughter from experiencing slavery, she decides to end her daughter’s life. It is a decision that only mothers may be able to understand. This decision haunts Sethe, and prevents her from understanding that, whereas Beloved is dead, Denver is still alive. Showing the interesting relationships between mother and her dead daughter, and mother and her daughter who is still alive, Beloved shows the powerful connection that exists between mother and her daughters, as well as between sisters.

Living with her mother and the baby’s ghost in 124, Denver is lonely. Her mother is occupied with the thought of her dead daughter that she does not have enough energy left to pay attention to her daughter who is still alive. At one point, Denver tells Sethe, “I can’t no more. I can’t no more” (14). When Sethe asks, “Can’t what? What can’t you?” Denver says, “I can’t live here. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I can’t live here. Nobody speaks to us. Nobody comes by. Boys don’t like me. Girls don’t either” (14). Girls and boys do not talk to Denver because they know Denver’s mother was in prison once, and they know why. Denver also learns that Denver herself had been in prison with her mother when she was only a baby. With her mother who refuses to look at her “[a]s though the size of it was more than vision could bear” (14), and her own fear that her mother may do to her what she did to her sister, Denver is terribly lonely all the time.

Can a mother’s love be powerful enough to kill her daughter? When Sethe killed Beloved, she killed a huge part of herself. No one relationship between mothers and daughters will be the same, and for Sethe’s case – who grew up in slavery – there may be too many risks for mothers and daughters to be able to have a “normal” relationship. Regardless, Sethe loved her daughter fiercely, even if her decision may not be completely understandable for readers.

What Denver needs to realize is that her mother loves her, too. She may not be able to see that because she may not realize that her mother loves both her and her sister, but in different ways. Paul D thinks this is risky. He thinks:

[f]or a used-to-be-slave woman to love anything that much was dangerous, especially if it was her children she had settled on to love. The best thing, he knew, was to love just a little bit; everything, just a little bit, so when they broke its back, or shoved it in a croaker sack, well, maybe [she]’d have a little love left over for the next one… (43)

Paul D believes it is in Sethe’s best interests to spare her love for her children, so that she can save herself a little bit when her children are taken away from her. However, Sethe feels differently about the meaning of motherhood. When Paul D reminds her that Denver is a grown child, Sethe tells him, “I don’t care what she is. Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, older, but grown? What’s that supposed to mean? In my heart it don’t mean a thing” (43). Even when Paul D reminds her that she cannot protect Denver forever, Sethe says “I’ll protect her while I’m live and I’ll protect her when I ain’t” (43). For Sethe, motherhood means not just loving her children. It also means protecting them for as long as she can.

Whether it was from Sethe’s fierce love and regret, or Beloved’s fierce love and regret for what happened, Beloved does come back to her mother. This shows that there is an unbreakable bond between mothers and daughters. Sethe’s pain and suffering is shown when she confesses that “didn’t have the time to explain before because it had to be done quick” (200). However, she believes, or wants to believe, that Beloved had come back to her of her own free will.

Towards the end of the novel, all three women – Denver, Sethe, and Beloved – speak, even though it’s not clear who is saying which part, or whether they are all speaking in unison:

You are my sister
You are my daughter
You are my face; you are me
I have found you again; you have come back to me
You are my Beloved
You are mine
You are mine
You are mine. (216)

All mothers are mothers, daughters and sisters. All daughters are mothers, daughters and sisters. The connection between mothers and daughters are powerful, unbreakable, and eternal. Even if circumstances in life prevent them from living peaceful lives, they find each other again. As shown in Beloved, the relationship between mothers and daughters are such that they will always love, protect, and ache for each other.



<Works Cited>
Morrison, Toni. Beloved a Novel. Vintage International, 2004.

I Just Want the Best For You

I Just Want the Best For You:
Understanding Mrs. Bennett from Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

How many times have we heard our parents say, “I just want what’s best for you, honey”? Often, this comes as their response during an argument when we refuse to listen to their requests. What is hard for us to consider is the fact that, the discrepancy between the cultural and environmental backgrounds of our parents may differ harshly from our own. Therefore, even though our parents really do want what’s best for us, it may not feel that way for us, their children. In Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Mrs. Bennet is portrayed as a woman whose only goal in life is to marry off her daughters. Throughout Pride and Prejudice, there are no explanations or excuses provided for Mrs. Bennet’s actions, unlike the other novels, such as Beloved by Toni Morrison or Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin. And yet, Mrs. Bennet shares a similarity with the other mothers; As a mother, she wants to make sure that her daughters live happily in a society where a woman’s happiness is determined by wealth and reputation and wealth of the man she marries.

I believe the reason why Mrs. Bennet is often overlooked is the fact that she does not have any particular traits that encourage readers to become attached to her. How can readers be attached to a woman who is blinded by her ambition to marry her daughters off to any rich available bachelors she meets? What readers need to realize is that this is the only way of life Mrs. Bennet understands. As the narrator says:
[Mrs. Bennet] was a woman of mean understanding, little information, and uncertain temper. When she was discontented, she fancied herself nervous. The business of her life was to get her daughters married; its solace was visiting and news. (3 – 4)
Similar to Mrs. Bennet, the mothers from The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan and Please Look After Mom by Kyung Sook Shin also faced educational, economical, and societal limitations as women. In a way, many of these mothers are women of “mean understanding” and “little information” which can lead to them having “uncertain” tempers. What these women know is that the best thing they can do for their daughters is to make sure that they are married into a rich family. Even though Mrs. Bennet can come off as an obstinate mother to the rest of her family as well as to the readers, her obstinacy comes from her deep love for her daughters. When considering the reason for her actions, Mrs. Bennet becomes a sympathetic woman. What kind of mother would not want what Mrs. Bennet wants for her own daughters? Mrs. Bennet’s concern for her daughters is seen when she asks Mr. Collins about Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s daughter. When Mr. Collins says Lady De Bough’s daughter is “…the only one daughter, the heiress of Rosings, and of very extensive property” (83), Mrs. Bennet’s response is, “Ah!…[T]hen she is better off than many girls. And what sort of young lady is she? Is she handsome?” (83). Therefore, even as she comes up with plans to marry off her daughters, she is constantly interested in the status of other unmarried ladies. When she compares her daughters to Lady Catherine’s daughter, it is obvious that her daughters are constantly on Mrs. Bennet’s mind, and being concerned about their marriages is the only way she knows of showing love to them.

The similarity that mothers share universally is the sacrifice they make for their children. The mothers of The Joy Luck Club had wanted for their daughters to understand the sacrifices their mothers had made for them. In a way, Mrs. Bennet is doing the same thing. She is sacrificing her connections to provide the right connections for her daughters. The unfortunate part of this is that she is so busy thinking of her daughter’s futures that she has no time to sit down and explain to them why she is doing what she is doing. Mrs. Bennet is only satisfied when she believes that “…she might soon have two daughters married; and the man whom she could not bear to speak of the day before was now high in her good graces” (88). Even though Mrs. Bennet might feel content from just thinking about her daughters getting married, her daughters may not feel the same way. This shows that what mothers want for their daughters, and what their daughters want for themselves can be very different. The one pattern that stands out among these mothers and daughters is the fact that they never clearly communicate with each other about what their intentions are. The mothers never really explain to their daughters what they want from them and why. The daughters also never bother to ask their mothers the intentions for their actions, and they never explain to their mothers what kind of life they are envisioning for themselves. What this results in, then, is an inevitable conflict between mothers and daughters.

At some point, mothers need to think about whether their goals are shaped by their own societal experiences, which they then pass down to their daughters, without thinking of the different societal experiences their daughters are experiencing at the current moment. The hopes and goals the mothers pass down to their daughters may no longer be relevant, since their daughters are probably living in a completely different society.

At the end of the novel, the narrator of the novel says:
Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters. With what delighted pride she afterwards visited Mrs. Bingley, and talked of Mrs. Darcy, may be guessed. I wish I could say, for the sake of her family, that the accomplishment of her earnest desire in the establishment of so many of her children produced so happy an effect as to make her a sensible, amiable, well-informed woman for the rest of her life; though perhaps it was lucky for her husband, who might not have relished domestic felicity in so unusual a form, that she still was occasionally nervous and invariably silly. (474)
With her two daughters married, Mrs. Bennet is filled with delighted pride. Even though marriages are not simple, Mrs. Bennet’s goal in life is si
mply for her daughters to marry well. It does not take much to make Mrs. Bennet happy, and her goal in life is not to do anything for herself, but to make sure her children are ensured happy lives. Because women face more limitations than men, the goals mothers have for their daughters may be more particular than their goals for their sons, and this is no different for Mrs. Bennet.  Even though many daughters may be too frustrated with their mothers to realize this, they need to remember one thing, and it is this: The one goal that a mother has is to provide the best she can for her children.


<Works Cited>

Austen, Jane. Free EBooks.

Mother, Who Are You?: The Role of Mothers as Portrayed in Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin


Mother, Who Are You?

The Role of Mothers as Portrayed in Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

“When I was little, my family was so poor that my parents had to send me away to my grandparents’ house,” my Mom told me across the small table. We were at a café that was on the first floor of my college building. It was a Sunday, and my Mom was visiting me because I was going through one of my anxiety-ridden stages. She continued, “I became so used to living with my grandmother, that my own mother felt strange to me.” I looked at her then, because this was the first time I was hearing her share her feelings about this experience. “When my parents came to my grandparents’ house, I would run behind the house to hide up in the hills among the trees. I still remember. My mother would call, ‘Jane! Jane!’ And I would crouch down, blocking my ears with my hands. She felt strange to me.” For some reason, this made me ache for my mom. I looked at my mother, amazed at how she could be such a strong person today despite what she went through. My mother lost her father when she was a teenager, and growing up without a father in South Korea meant you were unintelligent. She is also short, which did not help the way others viewed her. However, as we grew up, she always praised my siblings and me, and always told us that our family – our mother, father, my older sister, myself, and my younger brother – were the only people that mattered among billions of people in the world. She always said to look out for each other because there is no one else who is more important. Living away from her own family in Korea, my mother calls her own mother whenever she can. When my family was still living in Korea, she looked after my dad’s parents as if they were her own. But the point is that, there are so many things I don’t know about my mother, and perhaps, I never will know enough about her as she knows about me. We expect our mothers to know us inside and out, but we don’t expect ourselves to know everything about our own mothers. Please Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin shows just how invisible the role of a mother can be, despite how crucial and significant her role is for her family.

How well do we know our mothers? In Kyung-Sook Shin’s novel, Chi-hon, So-nyo Park’s daughter, asks, “Did you like being in the kitchen? Did you like to cook?” (pg. 57). To this, So-nyo responds, “I don’t like or dislike the kitchen. I cooked because I had to. I had to stay in the kitchen so you could all eat and go to school. How could you only do what you like?” (pg. 57). This simple yet significant question reminds us of how we all have memories of our mothers being in the kitchen. We expect them to be everything for us – When we catch a cold, we expect our mothers to measure our temperature, cook us chicken noodle soup, tuck us in, and to stay by us until we feel better. We expect them to provide us food at mealtime, and we expect them to fulfill their “duties” as our “mother.” But we never ask them whether they like this role. We can protest about certain chores we are assigned to do, but we do not expect our mothers to protest about their roles. Interestingly, So-nyo Park in Please Look After Mom seems to feel the same. It is not about whether she likes staying in the kitchen. She cooks for her family because somebody has to. Although I tried to be helpful to my mom whenever I could while growing up, it never occurred to me that I could ask my mom about how she felt about staying in the kitchen and cooking for our family. I think I thought of it as a tacit agreement: She is the mother of our family, and so it is one of her responsibilities to cook for us. When someone else in the family tried to cook something in the kitchen for the family, my mom insisted that they go and do whatever they needed to do, she can do the cooking. But I was wrong in thinking there had ever been an agreement about my mom’s role in the family. An agreement means a mutual agreement. What else have I not bothered to ask my mom?

What do we mean to our mothers? In most Asian countries, sons are more valuable than daughters. In Shin’s novel, this is shown by the fact that So-nyo expects her son to study to become a prosecutor, while she expects Chi-hon to stay behind and help her cook, prepare materials, and even help with field work. Despite of the role her mother expects from her, Chi-hon says to So-nyo, “Mom.” (pg. 18). As the narrator points out, “The word ‘Mom’ is familiar and it hides a plea: Please look after me. Please stop yelling at me and stroke my head; please be on my side, whether I’m right or wrong” (pg. 18). We expect our mothers to understand and forgive our faults, and we expect them to tolerate our tantrums. However, as daughters, if we ever find that our mothers are no longer standing by us, then our world simply falls apart. We feel lonely and unprotected. This is the strength that mothers hold over us.

What do our mothers expect of us? When So-nyo is seventeen, her parents arrange her marriage with a young man whom she has never met. When So-nyo breaks down in front of her mother, saying she does not want to leave her family, her mother tells her:

It’s not a bad thing to get married. It’s something you can’t avoid. You were born deep in the mountains. I wasn’t able to send you to school, so if you don’t get married what can you do? When I matched your horoscope with the groom’s, it said that you two will be very lucky. You won’t lose a single child, and you will have many children, and they will grow up and succeed. What else could you want? Since you came into this world as a human, you have to live happily with your mate. You have to have your babies and breastfeed them and raise them. Stop crying, stop crying. I’ll make you special blankets with willowed cotton. (pg. 131-132)

Like all mothers, So-nyo’s mother wants the best for her daughter. What So-nyo’s mother knows is that a good marriage with healthy children is the best a woman can have. Because she raised her daughter in the mountains without any education, she believes there is no better option for her daughter. Through these means – a good marriage and healthy children – she wants her daughter to achieve happiness of a lifetime. In the end, this is what all mothers want, even if their daughters do not understand at the moment the choices their mothers make for them.

In the novel, So-nyo is never found by her family, who never really realized just how ill So-nyo was. Even though she is dead, she still watches over her children. Watching over her eldest daughter, she says, “I’m going to go now. Lie down, put your head on my lap for a little while. Rest a bit. Don’t be sad for me. I was happy so many days of my life because I had you” (186). Whereas So-nyo reflects on her happiness on living as her daughters’ mother, her daughters do not and cannot feel the same way. If no misfortune happens, then our parents pass away before us, as the cycle of life goes. The ones who are left living are left to face their regrets. Chi-hon’s older sister writes to Chi-hon:

Do you remember asking me a while ago to tell you something that only I knew about Mom? I told you I didn’t know Mom. All I knew was that Mom was missing. It’s the same now. I especially don’t know where her strength came from. Think about it. Mom did things that one person couldn’t do by herself. I think that’s why she became emptier and emptier. Finally, she became someone who couldn’t find any of her kids’ houses. I don’t recognize myself, feeding my kids and brushing their hair and sending them to school, unable to go look for Mom even though she’s missing. You said I was different, unlike other young moms these days, that there was a small part of me that’s a little bit like her, but sister, no matter what, I don’t think I can be like Mom. Since she went missing, I often think: Was I a good daughter? Could I do the kind of things for my kids she did for me? (218)

How is it possible that mothers are capable of everything they do? Of course, not all mothers are the same, and I am very lucky to have been born as my mother’s daughter. But having grown up as her daughter, under her infinite love and care, I never imagined her being anyone else than my mother. When I become a mother myself, could I do what my mother did for my siblings and me?

At the end of the novel, So-nyo becomes so ill that she loses her memory, and never being found by her family, passes away without their knowledge. When So-nyo dies, she returns to her own mother. Walking to the house where she grew up in, she sees her own mother waiting for her. She says:

“My baby,” Mom says, and opens her arms. Mom puts her hands under my armpits as if she’s holding a child who has just died. She takes the blue plastic sandals off my feet and pulls my feet into her lap. Mom doesn’t smile. She doesn’t cry. Did Mom know? That I, too, needed her my entire life? (212)

I believe that it would be impossible to understand the scope of strength and love that mothers possess. Yet, there are so many things we do not know about the woman who is our mother, best friend, teacher, counselor, and doctor. Before it’s too late, it may be good for us to ask our mothers, “Mother, who are you?”

Works Cited

Sin, Kyong-suk, and Chi-Young Kim. Please look after mom. New York, Knopf, 2011.