1. “What will I say? What can I tell them about my mother? I don’t know anything. . . .” The aunties are looking at me as if I had become crazy right before their eyes. . . . And then it occurs to me. They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant. . . . They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese . . . who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation.
This quote, which is found at the end of the book’s first story, “The Joy Luck Club,” establishes some of the central themes of the novel. The passage establishes Jing-mei Woo as a representative of the book’s younger generation, the American-born daughters who feel largely out of touch with their Chinese identities and with their Chinese mothers. As Jing-mei acknowledges this, she also shows a deep sympathy with the older generation. She understands their fears about their daughters, their distress at the idea that their hopes and dreams may not survive them in these modern American women for whom so many of the old values no longer have meaning.
However, even while Jing-mei perceives the mother-daughter gap from both sides, this double perception ultimately serves not to accentuate the gap, but to bridge it. Throughout the novel, Jing-mei provides the connecting voice between the generations. She tells both the story of an American-born daughter longing for independence and the story of her mother, who fought hard to give her daughters the freedoms that she never had. Thus, by the last chapter of the book, Jing-mei will come to represent a figure of hope for both generations, that they might understand each other better than they had thought, that they might share in a dialogue of love that often transcends linguistic and cultural barriers.