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The Joy Luck Club

Ying-ying and Lena St. Clair
by

Juliet Dale

on 1 December 2013

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Transcript of The Joy Luck Club

Ying Ying
Lena
BALANCE
Falling
Dark & Light
Light & Dark
Falling
Water
Water
FALLING
The Moon Lady
Summary - Ying-Ying remembers how she first lost her innocence. She is a young girl living in China and she is going with her family to her first festival of the Moon Lady. Everyone is on a boat when Ying-Ying is startled by the sound of firecrackers and falls off into the water. She reaches shore with the help of some people on a fishing boat. Ying-Ying hears the story of the Moon Lady and her suffering, and makes a secret wish to the Moon Lady: "I wished to be found."
Title - The Moon Lady - This is a loss of innocence story. The Moon Lady, in the chapter, sings of sadness, which directly relates to Ying-Ying's despair and her wish to be found. Also, in Chinese culture, the moon is a symbol of of women, beauty, and brightness. However, there is a paradox found in the beautiful, graceful moon, and the clumsy, awkward fall into the water. Moreover, the moon has two sides, a dark and a light. The light side of the moon is represented in the Moon Lady herself, but the dark, ugly side is seen in Ying-ying's loss of innocence when she sees who the Moon Lady truly is.
Parable - The parable tells the story of a woman and why she came to America. We learn that she she wished to find her identity. This relates to Ying-Ying's ultimate desire to be found literally, by her family, but more figuratively be herself.
Voice - This chapter's voice is young and innocent sounding at the beginning at the chapter. The sentences are shorter and much of the dialogue is composed of questions, but by the end of the chapter, the voice sounds more like an adult looking back on their childhood.
The Voice from the Wall
Summary - Lena shares her views about her relationship with her husband, Harold, to her mother. Lena remembers how she inherited her mother's Chinese eyes, which makes her mind fear and see the worst side of everything. She remembers her family's move from Oakland to North Beach, California. Ying-Ying, who was constantly out of balance, became pregnant, lost the baby, and became a living ghost. Through the other side of her bedroom wall, Lena remembers hearing the Italian mother and daughter next door constantly fighting. From them, she realizes that her mother and herself might someday learn to communicate, and that their relationship could one day get better.
Title - The Voice from the Wall - Lena learns about the way other families communicate through "the voice." Lena feels "the terror of never knowing when it would stop," and loses her innocence by seeing conflict and fighting. However, she ultimately realizes that what may seem like a terrible fate is actually just a difference in the way families interact.
Parable - In the parable, a young girl learns stories from her mother to teach the little girl fear and caution. The fact that the mother in the parable puts fearful ideas in her daughter's mind relates directly to the "Chinese eyes" that Ying-Ying gives to Lena.
Voice - The voice of this chapter is youthful and innocent in the beginning, but is wiser and sounds more mature by the end, and shows a loss of innocence.
Rice Husband
Summary - Lena reflects on her unsatisfactory marriage. When she was young, her mother said that she would marry a bad man by predicting her future using what grains of rice were left over in her rice bowl. She and her husband Harold always try to act equal to one another, but Lena feels like Harold views himself as more powerful than herself. Lena doesn't know what she wants from her marriage anymore and feels lost. She wonders if her mother's childhood warning was right, and ponders the future of her relationship.
Title - Rice Husband - Lena's mother used rice to predict what her husband would be like, using her ability to see things before they happened. Because of her mother, Lena begins to see the flaws and imbalance in her marriage and wonders if her mother was right.
Parable - In the parable, a girl's mother warns her daughter about symbols of bad luck, like the way she hangs a mirror. Her daughter is annoyed by her mother's superstitions because she doesn't understand that she's saying them to protect her. In the chapter, the same mother/daughter misunderstanding occurs when the two of them discuss the faults in Lena's home and marriage.
Voice - Because Lena is no longer a child, the voice is less innocent and more adult and mature, with many upset and reflective moments.
Waiting Between the Trees
Summary - Ying-Ying reflects on why she became the way she is. She tells the story of how she learned to see things before they happened. Her first husband betrayed her, which caused her to lose her innocence and suffer. She ends up marrying St. Clair, moving to the United States, and slowly losing her identity. However, she wants her daughter to know of her hardships so that they can find their strength, escape their sadness, and become their inner tigers.
Title - Waiting Between the Trees - This shows Ying-Ying's life that she has spent waiting patiently for better things to come, like a better, more fulfilling life for her and her daughter. The waiting also shows how when she immigrated to America, her birth date was changed, so her zodiac was no longer a Tiger. The title shows how Ying-ying was hiding her inner strength, in the form of the Tiger. This is explained when Tan writes, "It has two ways. The gold side leaps with its fierce heart. The black side stands still with cunning, hiding its gold between trees, seeing and not being seen, waiting patiently for things to come."
Parable - The parable about the grandmother and the little girl was about losing innocence as a form to protect themselves and finding the balance between losing innocence, but not losing hope, and being able to laugh and be happy despite being able to see the evil in the world.
Voice - Because Ying-ying is looking back, the voice of this chapter is stronger and more experienced.
BALANCE
DARK AND LIGHT
WATER
Balance is seen throughout all four chapters our group analyzed in the novel. We found that mother/daughter relationships and symbols in the book represent balance and imbalance. In Chinese culture, Feng Shui is used to keep spaces in balance. It is defined as a system of laws that govern spacial arrangement and orientation in relation to the flow of chi, or good energy. Ideas of Feng Shui, which represents balance, are found in the following ideas:
Characters and symbols in the book fall both literally and figuratively, representing imbalance.
The Chinese yin-yang symbol is a common light and dark symbol in the chapters. The contrast and harmony of how light and dark work together is referenced in all of our chapters. The dark is represented in the yin which is the mother, Ying-ying, and light is represented by the yang, which is the daughter, Lena, whose name literally means The Bright One. Through the relationships seen between light and dark in the novel, we found moments of balance and imbalance.
Tracing water in our chapters, we noticed that whenever it appears, something, whether it be a character or a symbol, is out of balance. We found irony in the fact that water customarily symbolizes a cleansing, baptism, or purity, but in our chapters, water went hand in hand with ideas of instability and loss.
YING-YING.....THE MOON LADY
FALLING
"Selfish desires would not
fall
out" (67). In this quote, we see that Ying-ying's relationship with her daughter was quiet and strained because she was afraid of selfish desires
falling
out.
Ying-ying
falls
into the water "not hearing a splash" (78). This
fall
off of the boat is a loss of innocence and a
fall
from grace that occurred too early. It is a clumsy and awkward action that depicts the theme of imbalance and shows that Ying-ying was not ready for the jump into adulthood and maturity. Also, water is commonly known as a pure, balanced element of nature, but we found irony when Ying-ying, whose name incorporates both balanced sides of the yin-yang symbol,
falls
into the stabilizing water in an imbalanced maner. We hypothesized that maybe because Ying-ying is already so balanced, her
fall
offset her inner chi, and she never fully recovered.
The ultimate moment when Ying-ying loses her innocence is when she wants to tell the Moon Lady her wish ("secret wish
fell
") and follows the beautiful singer backstage. She watches as her "long gown
fell
" and discovers that the Moon Lady was actually a man (82). The repetition of
falling
secrets and gowns, or masks, suggests the idea that Ying-ying is learning something that she should not be learning at such a young age.

YING-YING.....THE MOON LADY
WATER
Ying-ying is described in the beginning of the chapter as "sitting by the
water
," which we found important (68). The subtle difference between sitting by the
water
and touching or being in the
water
shows that at the start of the chapter, Ying-ying did not have the knowledge that
water
symbolized. However, later on when she falls in and she becomes fully submerged by the
water
, and ultimately loses her innocence in the gaining of knowledge.
Right before the fall, Ying-ying is startled by the sound of the firecrackers, which is what shocked her into the water. In Chinese culture, during the Moon Festival, firecrackers represent dragons, which are a sign of knowledge and power in China. As we learn later on in the novel, Ying-ying was born in the year of the Tiger, but her birth date is changed when she immigrates to the United States, so her birth symbol falsely becomes a Dragon. Because her fall into the
water
was caused by a dragon firecracker, Amy Tan foreshadows the idea that Ying-ying's true self (the tiger in America, and her innocence as a young girl) is going to masked by a dragon (her new birth symbol in America and her loss of innocence in China).
We can also see duality and balance between the
water
that Ying-ying falls into and the firecracker that propels her in. The opposition between fire and
water
that we can see here is represented in the recurring idea of the yin-yang symbol. In this connection between fire and
water
and yin and yang, we see that even when something may seem imbalanced, like Ying-ying's fall, there is always another side of the situation that balances it.

LENA...THE VOICE FROM THE WALL
FALLING
The location of the St. Clair family relates to
falling
and balance in the novel. Living in San Francisco, their lives are always on a literal slant; the roads, their wobbly table, and even heir entire house is out of feng shui balance. The same sort of issues with balance is seen on page 109 when Tan writes, "My mother began to bump into things." This bumping happens when Ying-ying finds out about her pregnancy. Our group thought that being pregnant may have made Ying-ying out of balance, both literally and figuratively. Literally, when someone is pregnant, it is clear to see how their weight may not be evenly distributed and wobbly. On a figurative sense, Ying-ying's name, which blends both sides of the yin and the yang symbol is in perfect balance. However, carrying an unhealthy baby may have set her chi off balance, and led to her bumping and
falling
.
In addition, we learn that when Ying-ying immigrated to America, her name was changed to sound more American to Betty St. Clair. This
fall
from her true identity to a false one masked who she really was and set herself off balance.

LENA...THE VOICE FROM THE WALL
LIGHT
AND
DARK
In Lena's first chapter, the motifs of
light
and
dark
are seen often. For example, on page 105, Tan writes that when Ying-ying went to get her immigration picture taken, she was "scared of the flash." Literally, she had never gotten her picture taken before, and did not know what to expect. However figuratively, Ying-ying was afraid of the other side of the world that she had not been exposed to before. This sudden jolt into the shiny, bright new world sent Ying-ying's darker yin side of the yin yang symbol off balance.
For Lena, she is more usually shocked by the
dark
, because she is represented by the
light
, yang side of the yin yang symbol, and because her name means The Bright One. On page 103, Tan writes that when Lena was young, felt like she would "fall headlong into the
dark
." Here, we can see that Lena's
light
side was contaminated by her mother's negative,
darker
view of the world, which offset her balance as a child. Tan also writes that Lena had inherited her mother's eyes which were "carved like a jack o' lantern" on Lena's face (104). Jack o' lanterns, as we noticed, are pumpkins that emit a
light
, even though they have holes in them. Our group connected the idea that although Ying-ying may have given Lena her
dark
view of the word, or the eyes of the jack o' lantern, Lena can still emit her
light
.






LENA.....RICE HUSBAND
LIGHT
AND
DARK
As a child, Ying-ying warned Lena about all of the hidden,
dark
dangers that she could see with her "Chinese eyes." Ying- ying could "see only bad things" and passed that trait down to Lena (149).
When Lena is an adult and moves to a beautiful new house with her husband, Harold, Ying-ying comes to visit on page 151.However, she can only see the inconveniences and
dark
sides to her home. Because of her mother's doubt, Lena begins to notice bad things that she did not see in the house before, which shows how Lena becomes unbalanced. Her mother's
dark
side taints Lena's own
light
side, which makes her question her house, her choices, and even her marriage.
We found more imbalance between
dark
and
light
on page 165 at this point in the novel, Ying-ying has just seen the vase fall from the table and she is a "dark silhouette against the night sky." In the night sky is the moon, which is representative of Lena's
light
yang side of balance. However, because her mother's
dark
side is silhouetted against the
brightness
, we see how Ying-ying's
darkness
is staining her daughter's
light
point of view and turner her into a
dark
woman with Chinese eyes like herself.
On page 243, Lena describes a table that is made of "heavy white marble" that is balances precariously on "skinny black legs." The literal imbalance of the table's weight is seen in the description of the heavy and skinniness, but the white marble and the black legs adds to the stark contrast seen all throughout the chapter between Lena and Ying-ying.

LENA.....RICE HUSBAND
FALLING
As an example of the dark side that Ying-ying sees above, on page 151, she points out the "two lopsides" of the guest room. Later on, Ying-ying also points out the "slant of the floor." We noticed that the bad things Ying-ying points out all have to do with her own physical imbalance. Because her daughter is the
light
side of her own
darkness
, Ying-ying feels like she is always
falling
, and needs to point that out whenever she is with Lena.
We also found imbalance in Lena's relationship with her husband, Harold. When Ying-ying is remarking on all of the faults in Lena's house, when she looks around through her mother's Chinese eyes, she realizes "everything she's said is true" (151). The same thing can be said for her marriage. Because of her mother's comments on the couple's unbalanced grocery list on page 160, Lena realizes that it is impossible to be truly equal between Harold and herself.
LENA.....RICE HUSBAND
WATER
Near the end of the chapter, the black vase
falls
off of the broken, unbalanced table, and Amy Tan writes that the freesias were "strewn in a puddle of
water
." Although this may seem like a minor detail, our group looked up the Chinese significance of the freesia flowers, and discovered that they are common anniversary or wedding flowers. Tan shows the imbalance of the table that leads to the
falling
of the flowers into
water
which translates to the imbalance of Lena and Harold's marriage that is foreshadowed to fail. Also, we found it very significant that the freesias fall into
water
.
Water
is known a a symbol for purification and clarity, and Ying-ying's name translates into "clear reflection" (243). When Ying-ying comes to Lena's house, she is the one that sees through any fogginess and points out all of the flaws in the marriage, which ultimately leads to its destruction, or the freesias
falling
into the
water
.
WAITING BETWEEN THE TREES.....YING-YING
WATER
/
FALLING
"Her wisdom is like a bottomless
pond
. You throw stones in and they sink into the
darkness
and dissolve" (242). Here, Ying-ying is describing Lena's understanding of the Chinese way of thinking. By comparing her wisdom to a
pond
, Ying-ying is relating back to her own loss of innocence in The Moon Lady chapter, when she lost her innocence by
falling
into the water. Ying-ying is trying to say that when she
fell
into the
water
, she became aware of the Chinese way of thinking - seeing
darkness
and danger in everything. However, her daughter does not have the same type of gift, and she is unable to see all of the danger that Ying-ying faces every day.
"This is a house that will break into pieces" (243). In this quote, we see that Ying-ying is predicting and foreshadowing the
falling
apart of Lena's marriage. By having
dark
Chinese eyes that give Ying-ying the ability to see the bad side of everything, she knows that because of the "ceilings that slope downward toward the pillow...like a coffin" Lena's marriage is doomed to "break into pieces" (242-243).
BRAD
BECCA
ALEC
DAMIEN
JULIET
GRACE
JULIET
GRACE
YING-YING.....WAITING BETWEEN THE TREES
LIGHT
AND
DARK
"My daughter does not know that I was married to this man so long ago, twenty years before she was even born...my eyes, so
bright
and
flashy
at sixteen, are now yellow-stained,
clouded
" (246). This quote is a perfect representation of the absence of communication that Ying-ying and Lena have experienced their entire lives. We wondered why Ying-ying did not share the stories of her past with her daughter, and we realized that Ying-ying does not think that Lena will understand. As seen in the quote above, as a girl, Ying-ying was bright and light like Lena, but with age, she turned to the darker side of herself after many hardships. Lena, on the other hand, grew up being
light
, but has never faced the same hardships as her mother, so continued to be the
light
side of the yin-yang. Because Ying-ying does not see the
dark
side in Lena, she feels like she cannot communicate the
darkness
of her past with her.
"Her eyes looking back do not reflect anything" (242). Ying-ying's name directly translates to "clear reflection," which relates to water. Unlike Lena, Ying-ying can see through the
dark
, bottomless pond and gain a clear understanding of the Chinese danger, but because Lena is represented in
lightness
, she cannot see the reflection or gain the wisdom at the bottom of the pond.
ALEC
Sources:
Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
The Complete Book of Chinese Horoscopes by Lori Reid
Full transcript