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.