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A Conflict Of Culture Essay, Research Paper

A Conflict of Culture The Joy Luck Club is a novel written by Amy Tan. This novel happens to be Tan’s most widely read piece of work as well as her first published book. This one book has been nominated for the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as the recipient of the Commonwealth Gold Award and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award. The Joy Luck Club was very much influenced by Tan’s own childhood. Tan’s mother and father moved from China to Oakland, California two years before she was born. So, Tan was born in America and could be considered Chinese-American. Tan was raised as Chinese in a Caucasian world. Besides dealing with the problems of being different from her peers and wanting to fit in, she had to deal with serious family issues. When she was only 14, her father and older brother died of brain tumors within months of each other. It was then that her mother, Daisy, revealed that she had been married before, in China, to an abusive husband, and that Tan had three half-sisters there. Tan’s ties to China mainly have to do with her mother. Though her father was a deeply religious (Christian) man, her mother always kept her Chinese traditions on reserve. In reading The Joy Luck Club, I can see how the story line is very much a reflection of Tan’s life. The book is made up of the interlocking stories of four Chinese women and their American daughters. These four women all fled from China to America in the 1940’s, which is exactly what Tan’s mother did. Their stories are filled with joy, pain, most certainly struggle and hardships, but most of all, ‘hope’. This ‘hope’ was a yearning [for something] (more than what they had) with a feeling of confident expectation. The book basically dealt with eight characters, each having their own personality. Four of the characters were Chinese mothers. The other four characters were American born daughters with Chinese parents. The four mother’s names were Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-ying St.Clair. The four daughter’s names were Jing-mei “June” Woo, Rose Hsu-Jordan, Waverly Jong, and Lena St. Clair. The ‘Joy Luck Club’ was a club started in San Francisco by Suyuan Woo, June’s mother, in 1949. Suyuan met the other three mothers in church and decided to have them become a part of the club. All four of these mothers had several things in common. They all of course came from China to America; another thing is that they all brought with them ignorant expectations; and yet another is that they all wound up giving birth to daughters in America. This club was not about joy or luck but was about hope. They had each hoped to be lucky, week after week, and that hope was their only joy. Each of the mothers immigrated to America, leaving everything behind except their traditional culture, which became a major problem for them and their Chinese-American daughters (being raised in an American society). These Chinese-American daughters suffered from culture conflicts. While their American spouses were active and assertive, they were passive and placed their happiness entirely on the goodness of their husbands. On one hand, this passiveness can be seen as a virtue; but on the other hand, it can be seen as a weakness. The two characters I found to be most influenced by this culture conflict were Ying-ying St.Clair and Lena St.Clair. After studying the personalities of Ying-Ying and Lena St. Clair, a Chinese mother and a half-Chinese daughter, one can see these conflicts more clearly and determine why they exist. Ying-Ying St. Clair was born into a rich family. She was very pretty when she was a young girl. She was educated like every Chinese woman used to be: To be obedient, to honor one’s parents, one’s husband and to try to please him and his family. Ying-Ying was not expected to have her own will and make her own way through life. he result of this education was a disaster. She was married to a bad man who left her after a short time for another woman. Her love for him turned to hate, and she even killed her unborn baby. This act gave her remorse for all her life because she considered herself to be a murderer. Tortured by this incident, she had a mental breakdown, (for a period of time) when her second son (with her second husband, St. Clair) died at birth. She saw this as a punishment for her previous behavior.After leaving her first husband’s house and returning home, Ying-ying decided to live off of whatever life offered her. She lived her life letting other people and events make decisions for her. When she met St. Clair, she passively let him believe that she was from a poor family. Ying-Ying also allowed him to believe that by her marrying him, he was saving her from some catastrophe (since she did seem to be in a desperate state of mind when she married him). She could not tell her husband, and later, her daughter Lena, that the catastrophe they imagined was only the news of the death of her bad and unloving former husband, and the emptiness she felt after hearing that news. She let St. Clair make all decisions for her, since she wanted to give up her “chi” (her spirit or her strong will) because the only time she exerted it was to do a bad thing in her eyes, like killing her unborn first son. Ying-Ying did not want to let her husband and daughter know more about herself, since it would mean she had to confess her shameful secret. So, both her husband and daughter did not know about her first marriage.

Lena St. Clair, on the other hand, was born in America and lived like an American girl, “But when she was born, she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and had been swimming away ever since” (p. 274). Lena knew that her mother had been keeping a secret and could not share it. She saw her mother as a weak-minded woman who needed her help. She learned American ways and thought of herself as being more suitable to American life than her mother. However, conversely, her mother saw the fragility of Lena’s marriage and happiness.For all her life, Ying-Ying lived on a superficial level with St. Clair, her husband. Lena inherited this attitude from her mother. In St.Clair’s family, they never had real communication. They only tried to be good to each other. The daughter and her father never knew who Ying-Ying really was, and what past she carried to America with her. Lena chose American ways, not realizing that her Chinese family education and tradition are really important to her happiness as well. Children learn to act as their parents dobefore them. The relationship between Ying-Ying and St. Clair was superficial, so is that of Lena and Harold, her husband. Lena never questioned her mother about Chinese tradition, or about her parents’ relationship.Despite the exterior resemblance between the two marriages, Harold is very different from his father-in-law. While St. Clair was an honest man who courted Ying-Ying for four years before marrying her, and he did not abandon her when she had her breakdown, Harold seemed to be more egotistical and uncaring. For instance, he and Lena would write separate shopping lists and pay for their groceries separately. Harold never paid attention to the fact that his wife never ate ice cream but continued to make her pay for it. In the American society, many people would consider this marriage to be petty. He also exploited her. Lena worked for Harold’s company and regardless of all the success she brought to him by inspiring him with her creative ideas, he still paid her a very low wage compared to his. Lena knew all about it, but she did not question his behavior, because of her Chinese culture (although she was not even conscious of the influence of this Chinese culture).This Chinese traditional culture was based partly on Confucius teachings. Confucius taught that every woman had to follow three persons during her whole life: At home, she had to follow her father; married, she was to follow her husband; and when her husband died, she had to follow her son. Normally, in the case of Ying-Ying, she had to give birth to her first son and stay forever in her in-law’s house, waiting for her husband to come back. Ying-Ying went against tradition by doing what she did. She chose not to stay in her husband’s house, and to do every possible thing to return to her father’s house.As for Lena, she let Harold have his way. Lena thought she was right in doing this, until her mother brought up his unfair ways toward their money. Then she began to see that there was actually something wrong with her marriage, and its foundation was not as solid as she thought. The money accounting between the two of them was proof of the lack of love, sharing and trust within their marriage. This accounting basically meant that they could leave each other any time, without worrying about dividing their monies. This was not the case for St. Clair and Ying-Ying. In looking back on her life, Ying-Ying sees that it was broken up by the unhappiness of her first marriage and the things that followed as a consequence. She sees the gap in the education she received, and how she had rebelled against it. She also sees how it confused her and made her feel guilty for so long. However, she now sees that instead of that feeling, she must feel guilty for not having a strong will, for wasting her life and her husband’s life, giving a bad example for her daughter with her lack of vitality and self-confidence, and lack of communication with her family members. Eventually, Ying-Ying decided to tell her daughter about her life and induce Lena to take responsibility for her own fate, not to rely on someone else, and not to live in the shadow of anybody. In closing, Amy Tan has exposed some of the major concerns Chinese-American women have to face. This is due to the strong influence of their culture keeping them from becoming self-confident, ambitious, and better integrated into American society. Although the daughters were born in America, they cannot assimilate American culture and sacrifice their own culture without harm to their happiness and their balance. They need to know about their original culture in order to understand themselves and deal with their weaknesses. This will help them to become better and happier citizens of the American society, which will result in a culture combination instead of a


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