The main focus in The Joy Luck Club is the complex relationship between mothers and daughters, and the inherent bond that’s always between them despite generational and cultural conflicts. The novel follows June Woo’s search to understand her deceased mother Suyuan’s life, supplemented by stories from her mother’s three best friends, Lindo, An-mei, and Ying-ying. June’s memory of her mother is complicated by the revelation that Suyuan had twin baby girls during World War II, but had to leave them in China for their own safety during the Japanese invasion. June questions whether she ever truly knew her mother, but the three older women insist that Suyuan exists deep in June’s bones. The novel, in fact, suggests that the connection between mother and daughter exists beyond the knowledge of personal events; it’s steeped in inherited behaviors and selflessness over the course of a lifetime. An-mei tells a related story about her banished mother returning home to care for An-mei’s dying grandmother, Popo; her mother goes so far as to cut out a piece of her arm to prepare special medicine. The physical sacrifice represents the lengths that some daughters go to honor their mothers.
In contrast, the daughters of the Joy Luck Club members share stories about the difficulties of growing up with immigrant mothers. Cultural values clash as the American-born daughters want freedom from their mothers’ old-fashioned beliefs. Yet by the end, the daughters discover their overbearing mothers have always had their best interests at heart. Ying-ying’s daughter Lena tries to hide her impending divorce, but her mother wants to help her rediscover the “tiger side” of her Chinese identity, which fights and does not yield to sadness. Though initially ashamed to reveal such a failure to her mother, Lena realizes her mother fundamentally understands her decisions, as they share similar personal histories and values. As the standalone stories weave together in The Joy Luck Club, they expose how boundless maternal love can be, even when daughters misunderstand or undervalue it. As June meets her half-sisters for the first time in China, she feels her mother’s presence with them, dispelling any doubt about understanding her mother’s lifelong intentions. Though she cannot know every detail of her mother’s history, June preserves the lessons that Suyuan taught her as a child, and the deep love for family to share with her new half-sisters.
Mother-Daughter Relationships ThemeTracker
Mother-Daughter Relationships Quotes in The Joy Luck Club
In America I will have a daughter just like me. But over there nobody will say her worth is measured by the loudness of her husband’s belch. Over there nobody will look down on her, because I will make her speak only perfect American English.
“This feather may look worthless, but it comes from afar and carries with it all my good intentions." And she waited, year after year, for the day she could tell her daughter this in perfect American English.
I’m shaking, trying to hold something inside. The last time I saw them, at the funeral, I had broken down and cried big gulping sobs. They must wonder how someone like me can take my mother’s place. A friend once told me that my mother and I were alike, that we had the same wispy hand gestures, the same girlish laugh and sideways look. When I shyly told my mother this, she seemed insulted and said, "You don’t even know little percent of me! How can you be me?" And she’s right. How can I be my mother at Joy Luck?
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. She opened Popo’s mouth, already too tight from trying to keep her spirit in. She fed her this soup, but that night Popo flew away with her illness. Even though I was young, I could see the pain of the flesh and the worth of the pain.
I once sacrificed my life to keep my parents’ promise. This means nothing to you, because to you promises mean nothing. A daughter can promise to come to dinner, but if she has a headache, if she has a traffic jam, if she wants to watch a favorite movie on TV, she no longer has a promise.
I had no choice, now or later. That was how backward families in the country were. We were always the last to give up stupid old-fashioned customs. In other cities already, a man could choose his own wife, with his parents’ permission of course. But we were cut off from this new type of thought. You never heard if ideas were better in another city, only if they were worse.
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
"I don’t believe you. Let me see the book."
"It is written in Chinese. You cannot understand it. That is why you must listen to me."
“You can’t tell me because you don’t know! You don’t know anything!” And the girl ran outside, jumped on her bicycle, and in her hurry to get away, she fell before she even reached the corner.
I was six when my mother taught me the art of invisible strength. It was a strategy for winning arguments, respect from others, and eventually, though neither of us knew it at the time, chess games.
I saw what seemed to be the prodigy side of me – because I had never seen that face before. I looked at my reflection, blinking so I could see more clearly. The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful. This girl and I were the same. I had new thoughts, willful thoughts, or rather thoughts filled with lots of won’ts. I won’t let her change me, I promised to myself. I won’t be what I’m not.
“You want me to be someone that I’m not!” I sobbed. “I’ll never be the kind of daughter you want me to be… I wish I wasn’t your daughter. I wish you weren’t my mother,” I shouted. As I said these things I got scared. It felt… as if this awful side of me had surfaced at last... And that’s when I remembered the babies she had lost in China, the ones we never talked about.
“I wish I’d never been born!” I shouted. “I wish I were dead! Like them.”
It was as if I had said the magic words Alakazam!—and her face went blank.
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.
That’s what she is. A Horse, born in 1918, destined to be obstinate and frank to the point of tactlessness. She and I make a bad combination, because I’m a Rabbit, born in 1951, supposedly sensitive, with tendencies toward being thin-skinned and skittery at the first sign of criticism.
And my mother loved to show me off, like one of the many trophies she polished. She used to discuss my games as if she had devised the strategies… and a hundred other useless things that had nothing to do with my winning.
The minute our train leaves the Hong Kong border and enters Shenzhen, China, I feel different. I can feel the skin on my forehead tingling, my blood rushing through a new course, my bones aching with a familiar old pain. And I think, My mother was right. I am becoming Chinese.
"You don’t understand," I protested.
"What I don’t understand?" she said.
And then I whispered, "They’ll think I’m responsible, that she died because I didn’t appreciate her."
And Auntie Lindo looked satisfied and sad at the same time, as if this were true and I had finally realized it.
I look at their faces again and see no trace of my mother in them. Yet they still look familiar. And now I also see what part of me is Chinese. It is so obvious. It is my family. It is in our blood. After all these years, I can finally be let go.