The Joy Luck Club

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Ying-ying’s childhood nanny. Amah does the majority of parenting when Ying-ying is young, as Ying-ying’s wealthy parents spend their time in leisure. Though she affectionately cares for Ying-ying, she’s also aware that her job is in jeopardy whenever the girl misbehaves, causing her to be extra angry when Ying-ying sneaks off.

Amah Quotes in The Joy Luck Club

The The Joy Luck Club quotes below are all either spoken by Amah or refer to Amah. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Joy Luck Club published in 2006.
Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

“What is a secret wish?”
“It is what you want but cannot ask,” said Amah.
"Why can’t I ask?"
"This is because…because if you ask it…it is no longer a wish but a selfish desire," said Amah. "Haven’t I taught you – that it is wrong to think of your own needs? A girl can never ask, only listen."

Related Characters: Ying-ying St. Clair (speaker), Amah (speaker)
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Ying-ying remembers an episode from her childhood in which her nurse, Amah, told her not to openly ask for anything in life. Ying-ying was a young, impressionable child, and Amah told her that she shouldn't "disgrace" herself by voicing her own desires. Instead, Amah explained, Ying-ying should limit herself to secret wishes; i.e., wishes that she never actually expressed.

The passage shows the way that Chinese culture sometimes encourages people, especially women, to be meek and submissive instead of expressing their true feelings. Authority figures like Amah mean well, and yet they perpetuate sexism by ordering children to swallow their desires--a surefire recipe for unhappiness later on in life.


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Amah Character Timeline in The Joy Luck Club

The timeline below shows where the character Amah appears in The Joy Luck Club. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 4: The Moon Lady
Storytelling and Tradition Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
...China many years ago, Ying-ying remembers how hot it was. Despite the heat, her nanny Amah dresses her in heavy formal clothes and tiger-patterned slippers that make Ying-ying whine. Amah tells... (full context)
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
...can avoid punishment by dyeing her fancy clothes entirely red, she covers herself in blood. Amah, in a panic, discovers Ying-ying soaked in blood and scolds her for misbehaving. While the... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Hours pass, and Ying-ying hopes Amah will come retrieve her as night falls. Instead, fireworks launch off the other boats on... (full context)