The novel, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan takes place in a couple of different places. All of Suyuan Woo’s childhood memories take place in China. After coming to….
What Is the Main Theme of the Joy Luck Club?
In Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, as in most other existing novels, the titles of each chapter holds a distinct significance in regard to the content of that chapter. It could be argued that Amy Tan selects the words for her titles carefully in order to attain the highest level of analogical, and metaphoric purpose from them. An analysis of each of the chapter titles in regard to the main ideas and messages Amy Tan is putting across highlights the purpose of each of them, and displays the metaphoric and analogical concepts that each hold.
The title of the first chapter is a repetition of the title of the book. Amy Tan probably does this deliberately so as to focus the reader. The title itself, The Joy Luck Club, directly refers to the name of a club formed by all the four mothers in the book. At this club, all the mothers who are the co-main characters in the book are members. Around the Mah Jong table, the four women gossip and gamble. This is the most likely cause of the name, The Joy Luck Club, in the way that it was fun and enjoyable talking and telling tales, but one also needed luck in order to win the games of Mah Jong. The Joy Luck Club is founded by the women immigrants, so as to keep a part of Chinese tradition alive in the new world they were in. This is backed up partially by the quote in the book, “My mother started the San Francisco version of the Joy Luck Club in 1949” (6). The chapter is mainly focusing on the human needs to be surrounded with feelings of familiarity; the reason the club was founded in America.
Scar is the title of the second chapter. As a representation of the sequences in the chapter, the title gives us a good basis as of what to expect in the chapter. For example, a scar is the result from someone receiving a deep wound. This is the case as the plot in this part of the book is about a little girl who gets burnt, has a mother who left her, and whom she eventually sees again. The title also holds an analogy. That is the analogy of the emotional healing process. Amy Tan uses this analogy in describing the pain inflicted upon the girl, by the mother, in relation to the pain inflicted on the girl by the hot soup. This analogical and metaphoric purpose Amy Tan intends with this can be directly drawn from the chapter itself
In two years time, my scar became pale and shiny and I had no memory of my mother. That is the way the way it is with a wound. The wound begins to close in on itself, to protect what is hurting so much. And once it is closed, you no longer see what is underneath, what started the pain(40)
This seems to be the way, in the human emotional and physical healing process, it takes time.
Amy Tan uses the title, The Red Candle for her third chapter. In the plot of this part, a daughter of one family is being married to a man from another family. In the festivities, it is Chinese tradition to light a candle that has two ends. This represents the longevity of the marriage, and the commitment of the two involved. As the main plot in the chapter is the marriage the title reflects the content, and so is another good selection by Amy Tan. In regard to the theme of this chapter, the red candle, is representing the strength of the marriage, stated in the book, “That red candle was supposed to seal me to my husband and his family, no excuses afterward”(55).
If the candle goes out the marriage is not strong, where as if it doesn’t the marriage can never be broken, “‘This candle burned continuously at both ends without going out. This marriage can never be broken'”(54). As the burning candle represents the impermanence of a marriage, as there is no way a candle, in the situation as the one in the book, could burn to the end without going out, the girl who actually blows it out, along with the wind, and the servant who leaves the candle unattended all represent the intangible forces a marriage encounters. In all, the red candle has a very metaphoric purpose in this chapter, as a title, and theme.
The Moon Lady is the title of the next chapter. The title comes directly from the name given to a particular demigod in the Chinese tradition. As the plot of this area focuses mainly on the Moon festival, celebrating the Moon Lady, and the little girls wish to the Moon Lady, it would appear that Amy Tan has chosen an appropriate title for this part. The main idea the author is trying to put across here is the reliance and desire for hope that human society has. Therefore beliefs that support the idea of hope, even in an irrational form, such as the idea of a moon lady, are popular. The idea of this is backed up in the book, “It is my earliest recollection: telling he moon lady my secret wish.”(65). The Moon Lady is symbolic of hope.
In the next chapter, the title is relatively straight forward in its relation to the
Content. The Rules of the Game, is referring to the rules of chess, the game that the young
child is playing. This chapter is also showing the learning that is coherent in life, that the
girl is experiencing. So this chapter title was selected for that purpose, showing the rules
the girl is learning. The author uses the word rules, as a metaphor for life’s experiences,
and how to deal with them. In human society, there are many different situations which
require a certain way to act, that is not written, or spoken, but expected, and needed
in order to survive. In Chinese society however, there are many ways to approach situations
that are spoken about. These are the rules. The game is a metaphor for life. So Amy Tan
uses the title in a very blatant and a very subtle metaphoric way.
In chapter six, the title The voice from the wall is given. In the physical sense, the voice from the wall is the voices of the mother and child fighting next door, to the girl in the story. In a metaphoric sense, the title is given as to represent a different side of thought. For instance, in the story, the girl misinterprets what she is hearing from next door as murder rather than just a fight occurring between a mother and child, “She didn’t seem like a girl who had been killed a hundred times. I saw no traces of blood-stained clothes…”(115). This title is hinting at the human side of us that limits our way of looking at things. It is suggesting that at times we perceive one thing when really it is another, grabbing the wrong end of the proverbial stick. The voice in the title is the other view of the situation, and the wall can be seen as the situation. Amy Tan here again uses her title to perform a discreet metaphoric purpose.
The chapter title, Half and Half arises from the daughters realization of how fate is formed. She sees fate as being the result of two things, expectation and inattention, “And I think now that fate is shaped half by expectation, half by inattention”(140). This title is used to reflect the troubled marriage of the daughter in this story, and the loss of a little boy. The author is focusing on the area of human behavior that leads to events caused by our unlimited expectations and ignorance leading to inattention. The title has no sense of physically describing anything in the story, as in previous chapter titles.
The next chapter is a story of a child, whose mother forces her to learn the piano, in the hope of her becoming a prodigy. This chapter is entitled Two Kinds. As a title it holds little significance physically until the end where the daughter finds two halves to a piece of music she once played, “And after I played them both a few times, I realized they were two halves of the same song”(155). In relation to theme, the title holds a strong relation to the main points of emotional duality that the author is touching on. The main idea, being, the two sides of a mind that see things from different perspectives. There is the side that always an endless capacity to desire, and the side that makes us grateful for what we already had. This is summed up in the book, “”Pleading Child” was shorter but slower; “Perfectly contented” was longer but faster”‘(155). This supports the idea of the daughter of the seeing the two sides of her life as a child, the way she saw it then, ‘Pleading Child’, being pushed around and wanting more than she had, and the way she sees it now, ‘Perfectly Content’, she realizes she had a good mother and a good life.
The ninth chapter in The Joy Luck Club, is called Rice Husband. The title comes from a story the daughter was told by her mother. This was about the grains of rice she left in her bowl becoming the number of pockmarks on her future husbands face. The title relates to the main plot, as the story is set when the daughter has now married her husband, and is having her mother to stay with her for a while. The title has little other significance, other than the quality of the daughter husband reflecting the times she left rice in her bowl. The husband is not very nice, “I’m sitting on the sofa, seething, and I don’t know why. It’s not that Harold has done anything wrong. Harold is just Harold”(178). If a husband can annoy you with out even doing anything he must really not be a good husband. The pock marks in the fable meaning the impurities of your husband, of which the daughter’s obviously has many.
As with the last chapter the title Four Directions holds very little significance in an analogical or metaphoric sense. There seems to be no underlying or hidden reason for Amy Tan using the title, other than it is the name of the restaurant that the mother and daughter go to. Four Directions is the name of the place, “I said as we waited for the lunch bill at Four Directions”(184).
The next chapter called Without Wood, is given to describe a characteristic, or lack of that the daughter has. The title has no physical relation to any of the events in the story here, but has the purpose of describing the type of person the women is. In the Chinese tradition, people contain certain elements, such as metal, water, fire and wood, to name just a few. Each of these holds a certain key to some ones character, and each need to be balanced with on another. In the story, the woman has a very indecisive side, and relies on others to make important decisions in her life, this is supported in the book, “I sat there quietly, trying to listen to my heart, to make the right decision. But then I realized I didn’t know what the choices where”(213). This, in Chinese tradition is due to the fact that she has not got enough wood in her. This is the reason Amy Tan has used the title she has, taking something from her culture and introducing it to the reader. This is at first difficult to see but after recalling earlier parts of the book the title makes sense. In regard to theme, the title again is just pointing out what the author is trying to convey, and that is the varying characteristics that separate us as human beings in to individuals.
The Best Quality, the name of the twelfth part of the book, is given for to reasons. As a title it touches the theme in a sense that mothers always want the best for their offspring, which is no different to the mother in this story. The best quality meaning the best quality of life that a mother can give her children. The title is also given in relation to the events held in the story. In the plot the mother is holding a diner where crab will be served and whilst picking the crabs, she picks one which is missing a leg, which is served at dinner. At the diner, the mother and daughter are last to pick, so the daughter goes to pick the crab with the missing leg, but her mother insists she takes the good one, “I thought I was doing the right thing, taking the crab with the missing leg. But my mother cried, “No! No! Big one, you eat it. I cannot finish””(227). Hence, the mother always wants the best for her child.
The next title named Magpies, has very little relation to the theme in this area of the book. It rather holds as a direct reference to a story within the story. A story of birds mocking peasants, who revolted and killed the birds, is told,
The birds became more exhausted, unable to land, unable to eat. And this continued for many hours, for many days, until all those birds-hundreds, thousands, and then millions!-fluttered to the ground, dead and still, until not one bird remained in the sky(273)
So again in this chapter the title holds no significance in regard to the theme in this story.
Waiting Between the Trees, the title given to the fourteenth part, is significant in terms of the theme here. This part of the book is describing a mother’s actions in her life, and using the analogy of a tiger to make us further understand the authors main points. In this chapter Amy Tan is commenting again on the duality of the human mind. She is saying that there is a part of humans that makes itself visible and conspicuous in its actions and another part that is more hidden and subtle in its actions. This is explained in the tiger analogy the author uses.
Then she told me why a tiger is gold and black. 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 comes(282)
This is another example of Amy Tan’s creativeness in her titles, subtle but very meaningful.
The next chapter entitled, Double face. This is in reference to the part of this story where the mother and daughter are comparing their faces and seeing how much they look like each other. Double faced means a person who has two ways of acting, which are done in different situations. This is the main them in this part. Amy Tan, again, is commenting on the twin sidedness of human behavior. How we are nice to some one to them, and nasty to them when they are not around. This is explained in the book, “It means we’re looking one way, while following another. We’re for one side and also the other. We mean what we say, but our intentions are different”(304). This is a trait of humanity, and a necessary one in some circumstances. So in regard to the theme, the title holds significance in the way that it is using a term that describes a characteristic of human conduct.
The last chapter title, as with many in the second half of the book has little significance to the theme of the story. The name A Pair of Tickets, is really just a physical explanation of what to expect I the story, in which a daughter and her father fly to China from America. Two tickets, two people, and a logical choice for representation of the plot in the story, however not for any thematic reasons. This is also a good selection of title by Amy Tan, as it rounds the book off, as the first chapter is about the woman getting tickets to meet her family, the last is about her using the tickets.
Overall, Amy Tan has used a wide variety of chapter headings, ranging from ones with deep analogical, metaphoric, and thematic meanings, others with simple physical pointers to events in the story. The selection and timing of the headings also leads to provoking a strong thought process of the reader as to the author’s intentions with the names of her chapters. Amy Tan has written a clever, thought inciting book, which although at times is exceedingly boring, is still none the less an intelligently written piece of literature.