The Joy Luck Club

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Ghosts Symbol Analysis

Ghosts Symbol Icon
Unlike in other novels, ghosts in The Joy Luck Club rarely represent people who have physically died. Instead, they are people who cannot speak freely or who cannot be talked about. In the novel, having an opinion means having the power of self-agency; if someone isn’t allowed to voice her opinion, then she loses any substance that makes her meaningful, and exists emptily like a ghost. For example, An-mei’s mother is called “a ghost” in “Scar,” not because she’s dead, but because she has committed a social taboo that exiles her from her family’s home. Relatives shun her opinions and remove all discussion of her, rendering her invisible. Memories of her haunt the household, but no active communication exists as if she were truly dead. Ying-ying self-identifies as a ghost following her marriage to Clifford St. Clair, knowing that she must hide her personal beliefs to protect herself in a new country. She silences herself out of fear, and her daughter Lena imagines her as a meek, unopinionated parent.
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Ghosts Symbol Timeline in The Joy Luck Club

The timeline below shows where the symbol Ghosts appears in The Joy Luck Club. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 2: Scar
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
...mother. Popo, Chinese for ‘grandma,’ would regularly frighten her by saying An-mei’s mother was a ghost; in those days, a ghost meant anything they “were forbidden to talk about,” not that... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
...memory of her mother’s face. While other relatives ridicule her or ignore her like a ghost, An-mei watches her mother urge Popo out of her near-death slumber, telling her “your daughter... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 2: The Voice from the Wall
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, and then eventually not speaking at all. (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
...same after coming home from the hospital without her baby. She wanders around like a ghost, and retreats from social life, worrying Clifford and Lena. Lena tries to convince herself that... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 1: Magpies
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Storytelling and Tradition Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
...scaring the very superstitious Wu Tsing. Rather than be haunted one day by her angry ghost, Wu Tsing appeases Second Wife with anything she wants. One thing she can’t give him... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
...new year, or vengeful spirits will attack. Wu Tsing is so scared of An-mei’s mother’s ghost that he promises to raise An-mei as his most honored child and shun Second Wife... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 2: Waiting Between the Trees
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
...though she does not love him. She becomes “pale, ill, and more thin… a tiger ghost.” She goes to America with her new husband and raises a daughter, but lacks any... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 4: A Pair of Tickets
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Storytelling and Tradition Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
...Canning believes the thought grew inside her mind until it burst. He also believes Suyuan’s ghost led one of Suyuan’s old friend to bump into two twin women at a department... (full context)