Family faces are magic mirrors

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As Gail Lumet Buckley says, “Family faces are magic mirrors. Looking at people who belong to us, we see the past, present and future” (HeartQuotes).  One of the themes for Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club (alternately set in America and China) is the way that we are raised carries over to the way that we raise our children.  Some of the damage that was done to the mothers in this novel carries on in their children.

Or while some of the mother’s attempt to fix themselves, they can’t understand why their daughters can’t fix themselves.  The mothers can both see themselves and not see themselves in the hearts and souls of their daughters as Gail Lumet Buckley’s quote says.  Mistakes and successes are destined to play out over and over again in the lives of families only in different ways due to aspects like the generation gap.   Lindo Jong is a woman who sacrifices her life for that of her family.  She marries a man that she does not love and continues to live a charade so that her family can profit financially.  Ultimately, she realizes her own self importance (that her own family was never able to teach her) and finds a way out of the situation.  Lindo Jong makes the most difficult decision in The Joy Luck Club.  She sacrifices herself for the good of her family.  What she doesn’t realize is that later down the line, she will handle this situation in such a way as to promote the continuance of her family.  To her daughter Waverly she may have emphasized too much the importance of that lesson, since her daughter is extremely headstrong, almost to a fault.  Lindo Jong’s decision is the most difficult because it involves sacrificing oneself for the good of the family and because the lesson will change the dynamics of her own relationship with her daughter Waverly.

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The chapter about Lindo Jong called The Red Candle opens with “I once sacrificed my life to keep my parents’ promise” which seems like the ultimate sacrifice.  It is the most difficult choice of all to sacrifice one’s own individual wants and needs for the good of the family.  Living in the country in China meant following the old ways, one of which was arranged marriage.  While Lindo was originally “promised” to a boy when she was only two-years-old, it is not until the family faces catastrophe that she is given to this family in order to make financial ends meet.  The Fen River flooded ruining their crops, their land, and their family home.  Lindo is taken to the house of the Huang’s, who live richly to the outside world, although inside the house, there is almost nothing.  She must swallow her pride as she is treated like a servant for her young husband immediately and greatly looked down upon by her mother in law.

Because Lindo is so determined not to dishonor her family, she makes her new home

in the servant’s quarters uncomplainingly.  “I had finally arrived where my life said I belonged” (p. 40). She never questions her family’s idea of what is right for the family is right for her.  She learns to do all the things that a good wife does, like cook and clean and sew, etc.  she makes her family happy in her devotion to the Huang’s, but they have no real idea of what is going on in that home.  She has almost no contact with her future husband Tyan-yu, which is a good thing as he is immature and cruel.  Greatly spoiled by his mother, no woman will be good enough for him.  Lindo really doesn’t think twice about doing all this for her family because she has been brought up to obey her parents and that is just the way it is.

“Can you see how the Huangs almost washed their thinking into my skin? I came

to think of Tyan-yu as a god, someone whose opinions were worth much more than my own life. I came to think of Huang Taitai as my real mother, someone I wanted to please, someone I should follow and obey without question (p. 51).

This quote shows Lindo’s loyal devotion to her own family even if it means sacrificing herself.

            On the day of her wedding she finally begins to at least question the many sacrifices she has made.  She wonders why she “should have an unhappy life so someone else could have a happy one” (p. 53).   She begins noticing the power of the invisible wind and begins to think of herself like that wind, finally understanding that there is power underneath.  She stares at herself in the mirror and has a true moment of revelation about herself. “I was strong. I was pure. I had genuine thoughts inside that no one could see, that no one could ever take away from me. I was like the wind… And then I draped the large embroidered red scarf over my face and covered these thoughts up. But underneath the scarf I still knew who I was. I made a promise to myself: I would always remember my parents’ wishes, but I would never forget myself. (p. 53).  She learns how to hide her true self.  Despite her family and her circumstances, she has found some kind of sense of identity.  She is prepared to consummate her marriage, knowing that while her husband will have her body, he will never have her soul.  However, that is not to be. Her husband has no real interest in consummating the marriage, and ends up blaming her for not becoming pregnant.  This makes her mother in law downright wrathful, although her power, like the invisible wind, sustains her.  However this power of the invisible wind comes to be devious.

            This leads to Lindo’s “dream” in which she sees the wind come in and blow her husband’s end of the marriage candle out.   She also “sees” in this dream that her husband has impregnated the servant girl.  She is granted her divorce and comes to America.  Every year she buys herself twenty-four carat gold as a symbol of trueness to oneself, another theme of the novel.  However, once a year she takes off all her jewelry to remember when she found her power.  “I remember the day I finally had a genuine thought and could follow it where it went,” she says at the end of the chapter. “That was the day I was a young girl with my face under a red marriage scarf. I promised not to forget myself.”

            The lessons that she learns in life come to greatly affect her relationship with her daughter.  Lindo has learned to be devious in order to get what she wants, like the hidden wind.  Her daughter Waverly also learns to be devious to get what she wants, and therefore mother and daughter have a battle of the wills.  Because while Lindo grew up in China where obedience was expected, Waverly has grown up in America where children are not always obedient to their parents.  Waverly constantly struggles to find that balance between obedience to parents and family while not giving up her own dreams and aspirations.  Waverly learns that invisible strength from her mom and uses it to win at chess.  In the section called “Rules of the Game,” Waverley says, chess is “a game of secrets in which one must show and never tell” (p. 96).  The symbol of the invisible wind is used again and again.  Waverly uses her talent to get everything that she wants, to be excused from chores and other mundane tasks.  However, she cannot seem to get out of her weekly visits to the market with her mom where her mother brags about her.  Waverly strikes out against her mother in a power struggle, only one of which will continue her whole life.  In some ways that invisible strength of the wind whips up Waverly’s whole life over and over.  That “female” strength of gaining strength and influence outside the traditional realm of ways to gain power is seen in both these characters, and does not allow them to be close.

            In the words of an old Chinese proverb, ”To understand your parents’ love, you must raise children yourself” (HeartQuotes).  This struggle, this invisible strength, will continue to play out in generations to come.  However, Lindo Jong is one who began to see her true power and strength, and while this lesson becomes difficult in her relations with her own daughter, it is a good lesson.  She learns early on that she can be true to herself and also find a way to be loyal to her family.

Retrieved December 4, 2007 at Web Site:

Tan, Amy, The Joy Luck Club, Ballantine Books, 1990.

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Family faces are magic mirrors. (2016, Jun 13). Retrieved from

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