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.
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. 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)
...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
...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
Part 4, Chapter 2: Waiting Between the Trees
Part 4, Chapter 4: A Pair of Tickets