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“The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan Literature Analysis Essay


Introduction: Across the Generation Gap

The misunderstanding between the representatives of different generations is, perhaps, the oldest conflict that will most likely never go away. In her novel The Joy Luck Club, Tan touches upon the issue of generation gap and the following culture clash.

Thesis statement. With a careful choice of stylistic devices and a metaphor for the cultural and age differences create with the help of a clever bilingual setting, well-written characters, and a unique plot, Tan manages to convey her key argument regarding the possibility of communication and conveying an idea in general.

Characters and Their Interactions: Across the Language Barrier

There are many ways to expose the conflict between the characters and Tan choose by far the most subtle one. Instead of setting an open conflict between the representatives of different generations and cultures, she drops a range of hints and innuendoes, making the reader notice the nuances of how a character moves or talks. It would be quite a stretch to claim that what Tan’s characters say does not matter; however, their words should be taken with a grain of salt.

On the surface, the people inhabiting Tan’s universe may seem stock characters that are supposed to represent two opposite concepts (e.g., old – young, traditional – modern, etc.) (Bloom 156). However, as soon as the characters get involved into conflict and the plot unwraps, one may notice that tan’s characters are, in fact, very diverse and fleshed out; moreover, Tan uses a range of different stylistic approaches in order to display the colorfulness of the characters. For example, the aforementioned characteristics of the mother of one of the characters, i.e., “the living ghost” (Tan 59) is a very powerful oxymoron to use in a story that has such a cozy, family-like setting.

The descriptions of the characters are so accurate, and the choice of words is so careful that Tan manages to create an entire universe as believable as the reality, which the reader lives in. For example, describing the look of the Uncle’s wife, the author specifies not only her looks, but also the way that she walks, creating a very vivid image: “fat wife, who still plucked her forehead bald and always walked as if she were crossing a slippery stream, two tiny steps and then a scared look” (Tan 38) seems very realistic because of such a literary device as a comparison.

What Lurks Behind the Background: Setting and Their Significance

Though the concept of the gap between generations and the cultural issues are mostly conveyed through the specifics of the characters’ interactions, the setting has also contributed greatly to the creation of the unique atmosphere, and the careful choice of stylistic devices used by Tanto describe these settings makes the conflict even tenser (Loos 17).

Following the Twists of the Plot: Where Conversations Take Place

One of the key elements that point directly at the difference in the two cultures concerns the imagery used in the novel. As the stories of the women and their daughters unwind, Tan adds unique imagery to each of the pieces of narrative, and these images, related closely to the Chinese culture, not only symbolize the aforementioned conflict between the two cultures but also convey the author’s attitude towards the issue. For example, the swan, which is mentioned at the very start of the story, is a perfect metaphor for being lost in the ocean of the alien world and alien culture: “The woman and the swan sailed across the ocean many thousands of li wide, stretching their neck toward America” (Tan 3).

The opening renders the fear of losing one’s identity and being torn away from one’s roots perfectly well. The purity and beauty that a swan symbolizes in the Chinese tradition contrast roughly with the vast and mysterious world that the woman and the bird are heading towards. At this point, the difference between the Chinese and the American culture becomes absolutely clear, though none of the characters has said a word by that point.

The careful use of metaphors continues as the story unwinds. It is remarkable that, to contrast the young generation, which is willing to abandon their culture for the sake of a more “advanced” one, to the representatives of the older generation, the author uses such metaphor as the game of chess in “Twenty-Six Malignant Gates.” Though the description of the tournament, which one of the narrators lost, is not exaggerated to the scale of a personal tragedy, Tan still manages to create a peculiar metonymy by linking the chess tournament and the life of the narrator; as a result, the tragedy of the defeat becomes even more bitter, and the air of despair that the entire story is shot through becomes especially clear:

I was horrified. I spent many hours every day going over in my mind what I had lost. I knew it was not just the last tournament. I examined every move, every piece, every square. And I could no longer see the secret weapons of each piece, the magic within the intersection of each square. I could see only my mistakes, my weaknesses. (Tan 96)

While the link between this small personal tragedy and the problem of the generation gap might seem somewhat obscure at first, a closer look at the contrast between the intense atmosphere of the tournament and the life that the narrator’s mother has chosen – the life of the “living ghost” (), as the narrator defines it, – comes out in full blue. The thrill of the game, as well as the excitement of a music competition, which the narrator takes part in, contradicts the “living ghost” state of her mother. The tragedy of the situation is stressed by the fact that the daughter feels obliged to follow what her mother tells her to do: “I am crying now, sobbing and laughing at the same time, seeing but not understanding this loyalty to my mother” (Tan 17).

Again, the power of the idea that Tan is trying to get across is not only in its meaning but also in the way that this idea is represented. Tan could have conjured a dialogue between the mother and the daughter, thus, allowing for the conflict to erupt; however, instead, the author chooses to convey the emotions of the character in a silent monologue. Thus, the gap between generations and the root of the tragic misunderstanding between them becomes even more evident and more upsetting.

Conclusion: Across Time and Despite Culture Differences

A powerful story about a culture clash and the following misunderstanding between two generations, which Tan offers to her audience, is not a new theme, yet the author has managed to add a unique feel to it with the help of a range of original stylistic choices.

Works Cited

Bloom, Harold. Amy Tan, New Edition. New York, NY: Infobase Publishing. 2009. Print.

Loos, Pamela. A Reader’s Guide to Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. New York, NY: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 2008. Print.

Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York City, NY: J. P. Putnam’s Sons. 1989. Print.

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IvyPanda. (2020, March 31). "The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan Literature Analysis. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-joy-luck-club-by-amy-tan-literature-analysis-essay/

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""The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan Literature Analysis." IvyPanda, 31 Mar. 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-joy-luck-club-by-amy-tan-literature-analysis-essay/.

1. IvyPanda. ""The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan Literature Analysis." March 31, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-joy-luck-club-by-amy-tan-literature-analysis-essay/.


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IvyPanda. ""The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan Literature Analysis." March 31, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-joy-luck-club-by-amy-tan-literature-analysis-essay/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. ""The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan Literature Analysis." March 31, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-joy-luck-club-by-amy-tan-literature-analysis-essay/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) '"The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan Literature Analysis'. 31 March.

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