The Joy Luck Club is the stories of four families that migrated from mainland China in the last generation. It is the story of four mother-daughter relationships in the United States and the story of the four mothers’ lives in a repressive and sexist Chinese society. These stories are told in such a manner that illuminates the contrasts between the Chinese and American cultures. Each mother’s story shows the hardship placed on women in a country bound by ancient traditions. They are traditions that are particularly hard on women, giving them little choice as to their fate.
In the mother-daughter stories, each daughter faces, and of course overcomes, problems caused by freedom from the pre-set roles of the old country. So each of these stories is also about the changes that go on in a family adapting to a new way of life. I think these stories are representative of the difficulties experienced by real life families as they go through the process of assimilation. The four women, Suyan, Lindo, Ying Ying, and An Mei came to America many years ago to escape the social and political turmoil in China.
Now, however, Suyan has died and the three other members of the club invite her daughter June to take her place. June belongs to the new generation, to those of Chinese heritage who grew up speaking English and learning American customs. Also of this new generation are Waverly, Lindo’s daughter; Lena, Ying Ying’s daughter; and Rose, An Mei’s daughter. The Joy Luck Club revolves around these characters and tells of the varied difficulties and tragedies involved in these mother/daughter relationships. The movie opens with a gathering. Friends have gotten together in a celebration.
Several families are present. The families are Chinese-American, though it turns out that not all the people there are Chinese. At this point we’re given a quick glimpse at the level to which these families have assimilated. It’s obvious that these families have moved away from their customary family associations. At the center of the party we see four women playing a traditional Chinese game, in another room we see their daughter’s husbands gathered around a television set watching some kind of sporting event. The peculiar thing about it is that these husbands are all non-Chinese.
One of them appears to be of African-American descent, the other two are Caucasians. It was amazing to see such cultural diversity in these Chinese-American families. Traditionally, the Chinese have maintained very tightly knit family units. The communal life of Chinese-Americans has been quite different from most other immigrant groups in that they consider the family as the most important organization. Family associations and Chinese organizations were of great importance to them because they served to unite them and provide a form of “social control”.
It has been argued that Asian immigrant groups were “unassimilable” and / or that they did not wish to assimilate to American life and American standards. I’m not sure if there is or isn’t any truth to that argument. One thing is for sure though; the American environment has had its influence on the Chinese culture. As we saw with the characters in this movie, many Chinese immigrants have acculturated and assimilated into American life. Many Chines-Americans have moved out of the Chinatowns and into more integrated housing outside the inner city. A great number of them are college educated and occupy middle-class jobs.