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?
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. Electronic Reproduction, Penguin Books, 2006, minuteman.overdrive.com/minuteman-acton/content/media/6AB2B71E-8E5E-459A-AF4C-1F188BB39ED3.