‘Othering’ as an ‘extension of the self’ in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club

Hello there everyone. This is my second post. Also this one’s the second in my series of short papers that I published elsewhere. When I look back at these papers, it reminds me of those days and nights that I spent writing so many of these, of course, like many of you do. So these write-ups are kind of very close to my heart and I am sure many of you too have similar endearing thoughts for the things you create. Well, so here’s the second one that I would like to share them with you all.

In The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan presents an engaging description of the mother-daughter relationship through the employment of the concept of “othering” that is treated as an extension of the self. In spite of knowing the difference and in spite of othering her mother, the daughter Jing-mei Woo is put into situations that serve as a bridge or rather as a foundation for an extension of the self to be built in the future. At the opening of the section, Feathers from a Thousand Li Away, Jing-mei or June Woo says, “My father has asked me to be the fourth corner at the Joy Luck Club. I am to replace my mother, whose seat at the mah jong table has been empty since she died two months ago.” (5). Even though she has always considered herself different from her mother who is a Chinese woman, and even though she is a very “Americanized daughter”, yet she is to take her mother’s place after the former’s demise, in the business her mother created.

Amy Tan beautifully sketches the intricacies of a Chinese mother-American daughter relationship, which of course is founded on the strong emotions of love and companionship but however, both are able to understand their difference, which is huge indeed. In the preface to the section, the mother, Suyuan Woo is found recalling something from the past as she fled from China in expectance of a better life in America, where she, even before reaching America imagines about having a daughter. She thinks, “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. And over there she will always too full to swallow any sorrow! She will know my meaning, because I will give her this swan – a creature that became more than what was hoped for.” (4). The entire story seems to be revolving around these lines. Suyuan wanted a daughter in American to be “like her” and at the same time to be different, as in, she should be more American and speak “perfect American English”. It is evident that Suyuan wanted a daughter to be much better than her and to see a much better life than hers, to be independent and to not be looked down upon by others, or be rendered importance according to her husband’s status. However, her daughter, June Woo grew up to be very different from herself, probably something that Suyuan secretly wanted.

Later in the preface, Tan writes, “Now the woman was old. And she had a daughter who grew up speaking only English and swallowing more Coca-Cola than sorrow” (4). She is different. But the whole thing comes around to Suyuan after her demise, when her daughter is asked to take her place. The entire life’s experience of the mother-daughter duo that was based on difference and otherness, is invalidated at this point. June states, “…she died just like a rabbit: quickly and with unfinished business left behind” (5). And it seems that the “unfinished business” resonates with Suyuan’s original wish to see herself in her future-daughter and reminds of her initial thoughts, “In America I will have a daughter just like me” (5) – “an extension of herself.”

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