Have you ever seen this movie? It came out in 1993, the book and screenplay written by Amy Tan. In interviews with Tan, it’s evident that Tan’s mother both spurred her on and drove her crazy with her enigmatic attitudes. This quixotic combination of Chinese mother-daughter patterns is played out by four sets of Chinese mothers and Americanized daughters in this film, “Joy Luck Club.” For some odd reason, I’ve had it in the back of my mind to see it again and I’m glad I did.
Flashbacks to life in China illustrate the plights of multi-generational women who suffer due to the war, to unfaithful husbands, concubinage and the limited options for women with no means for supporting themselves if widowed or cast out by their families. This history and lessons learned endow these Chinese mothers with an urgency to see that their Americanized daughters do not share the fate of being devalued or unhappy, even if they unwittingly do it to themselves.
One of the most poignant passages for me was a mother who explained to her daughter that she was “trained to be a girl the Chinese way” according to three rules:
~ “desire nothing,
~ swallow everyone else’s misery,
~ eat your own bitterness.”
Rose, her daughter, realizes that she’s subjugated her own identity in her marriage because she felt less worthwhile than her husband. Lena feels inferior because she doesn’t excel in anything. Waverly confronts her mother’s pride in Waverly’s achievements as a chess prodigy only to lose her self-confidence and gives up playing altogether.
Does this sound very Chinese? Maybe or maybe it reflects life all over. As for me, I’ve learned something from watching the movie again. And that’s the realization that I don’t have to be a safety net for everyone all the time. And that there’s still lots to do!