The Joy Luck Club

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Lena St. Clair Character Analysis

Lena is also a Tiger in the Chinese Zodiac, like her mother Ying-ying. She grew up in a biracial household with two languages, and subsequently acted like an interpreter between her white father and Chinese mother. The role led her to feel guilty about not always perfectly translating important conversations, affecting the family’s relationships. Lena also has a difficult marriage as an adult, with her husband Harold, who is oblivious to her sensitivities. Lena tries to maintain an equal partnership between them, but loses track of what equality actually looks like in a marriage, and finds herself disillusioned and silenced in his presence.

Lena St. Clair Quotes in The Joy Luck Club

The The Joy Luck Club quotes below are all either spoken by Lena St. Clair or refer to Lena St. Clair. 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

All these years I kept my true nature hidden, running along like a small shadow so nobody could catch me. And because I moved so secretly now my daughter does not see me. She sees a list of things to buy, her checkbook out of balance, her ashtray sitting crooked on a straight table. And I want to tell her this: we are lost, she and I, unseen and not seeing, unheard and not hearing, unknown by others

Related Characters: Ying-ying St. Clair (speaker), Lena St. Clair
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

In this strange story, we learn that Ying-ying has acted meek, quiet, and lost for most of her life. Furthermore, for many years, Ying-ying didn't even remember why she felt so lost. As a result, Ying-ying never really connected with her daughter, Lena. Instead of feeling a deep connection with her mother, Lena acted aloof and distant, and focused on material things like shopping lists instead of her almost-invisible mother.

The passage conveys the tragedy of broken down communication: Ying-ying loves her daughter, and yet she can't fully express her feelings, for reasons she can barely recall. The divide between Ying-ying and Lena is cultural as well as psychological: it's her past experiences in China, experiences that Lena knows nothing about, that have kept Ying-ying feeling so lost and secretive.

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Part 3, Chapter 1 Quotes

To this day, I believe my mother has the mysterious ability to see things before they happen. She has a Chinese saying for what she knows. Chunwang chihan: if the lips are gone, the teeth will be cold. Which means, I suppose, one thing is always the result of another.

Related Characters: Lena St. Clair (speaker), Ying-ying St. Clair
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Lena discusses her mother's apparent ability to predict the future. Over the years, Lena has noticed that her mother can predict when something bad is going to happen to a family member. Notice that the events Ying-ying can predict are almost always bad--a fact reflected in the wording of the proverb she quotes here. If the "lips are gone," we're told, "the teeth will be cold"; suggesting, perhaps, that tragedies are always tied to one another.

The notion that one tragedy breeds another is important to the plot of the book. Many of the events in the novel are cyclical: characters who were wronged later cause similar wrongs for other people, whether they're trying to do so or not. Thus, the passage could be interpreted as an observation not just about tragedies predicted by Ying-ying, but about the interconnectedness of all tragedy and suffering.

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Lena St. Clair Character Timeline in The Joy Luck Club

The timeline below shows where the character Lena St. Clair 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
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Storytelling and Tradition Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Ying-ying regrets that she kept her true nature hidden while raising her daughter, Lena, and instead acted so meek and quiet that Lena stopped noticing her. For many years,... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Storytelling and Tradition Theme Icon
Ying-ying as an adult has pushed this memory away until she sees Lena suffering in a loveless marriage. At that moment, Ying-ying remembers the wish she wanted to... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2: The Voice from the Wall
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
Lena comes from a biracial family: her father Clifford is American of English/Irish descent, and her... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
While growing up, Lena sees her mother slowly turn into a ghost, first speaking in gestures and halted thoughts,... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
...that the new apartment is full of negative omens, but Clifford doesn’t understand Chinese and Lena ignores her. At night, Lena hears Teresa Sorci, a neighbor girl about her age, argue... (full context)
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Soon after the promotion, Clifford tells Lena that they’re expecting another baby. Though her father is overjoyed at the news, Lena hears... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
...is stillborn, missing part of his brain. After the birth, Ying-ying is hysterical, confessing to Lena in Chinese that the baby’s death was due to bad decisions in Ying-ying’s past. Clifford,... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
...baby. She wanders around like a ghost, and retreats from social life, worrying Clifford and Lena. Lena tries to convince herself that her life is at least happier than Teresa Sorci’s,... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 1: Rice Husband
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
Lena believes that her mother Ying-ying has a mysterious ability to see things before they happen;... (full context)
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
Driving back to their new house, Lena’s husband Harold gets annoyed by Ying-ying’s constant criticism of his driving. Lena is secretly glad... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
Lena shows Ying-ying around the new house, pointing out the architectural highlights, but her mother can... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
At the time, Lena knew of a bully named Arnold, who was covered in acne marks. Every meal, Lena... (full context)
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
By the time she’s thirteen, Lena has developed anorexia and has mostly forgotten about Arnold and her marital fate. One morning,... (full context)
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
As an adult, Lena wonders if she really was fated to marry Arnold, and received her husband Harold in... (full context)
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
Lena believes that she’s not good enough for Harold, who seems like the perfect man. Rose,... (full context)
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
Later in their relationship, Lena encourages Harold to start his own architectural business. She leaves her job at her initial... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
Back in the present day, Ying-ying finds a running total of domestic expenses that Lena and Harold will evenly split at the end of the month. Ying-ying sees ice cream... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
As they fight that night about whether their marriage exists around a balance sheet, Lena and Harold hear a crash from Ying-ying’s guest room. Lena goes to find her mother... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2: Waiting Between the Trees
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
As Ying-ying visits Lena’s new home, all she can see are bad omens, including the rickety end-table that breaks... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Storytelling and Tradition Theme Icon
Ying-ying bitterly notes that Lena has no idea about Ying-ying’s first marriage, or how beautiful Ying-ying once was. Her first... (full context)
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
Lena thinks that her father saved her mother from China, but Ying-ying actually made Clifford wait... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
...also born in a Tiger year, without any spirit. But now, with Clifford deceased and Lena on the brink of divorce, Ying-ying is finally ready to embrace her fierceness again, and... (full context)