“People thought we were wrong to serve banquets every week while many people in the city were starving. . . . Others thought we were possessed by demons—to celebrate when even within our own families we had lost generations, had lost homes and fortunes. . . . “It’s not that we had no heart or eyes for pain. We were all afraid. We all had our miseries. But to despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable.”
Suyuan explains why she organized the original Joy Luck Club in war-torn China and how others reacted. The mah-jongg game and meal provided camaraderie for four women and helped them maintain their hope even after trauma. Suyuan is naturally a hopeful and forward-looking woman, and the club reinforced and spread this hope to others. The American iteration of the club similarly helped herself and three other, different women.
Your mother was a very strong woman, a good mother. She loved you very much, more than her own life. And that’s why you can understand why a mother like this could never forget her other daughters. She knew they were alive, and before she died she wanted to find her daughters in China.
Suyuan had been forced to leave twin daughters by the side of the road as she became ill while fleeing the Japanese invasion during World War II. Here, after Suyuan’s death, her friends explain to her daughter, June, that Suyuan never stopped searching for those children. June feels somewhat surprised to learn of Suyuan’s search. The odds that they would still be alive and that she could find them would seem extremely slight.
“She bring home too many trophy,” lamented Auntie Lindo that Sunday. “All day she play chess. All day I have no time do nothing but dust off her winnings. . . . You lucky you don’t have this problem,” said Auntie Lindo with a sigh to my mother. And my mother squared her shoulders and bragged: “Our problem worser than yours. If we ask Jing-mei wash dish, she hear nothing but music. It’s like you can’t stop this natural talent.”
Suyuan and Lindo compete via their daughters. Unfortunately for Suyuan, Waverly Jong’s chess talent is genuine, while Suyuan is deceiving herself about her daughter June’s musical abilities. On the other hand, she might recognize June’s natural talent, and June just chooses not to apply herself enough to nurture her skills. Suyuan’s brag may also be meant to encourage June’s confidence in herself.
A few years ago, she offered to give me the piano, for my thirtieth birthday. I had not played in all those years. I saw the offer as a sign of forgiveness, a tremendous burden removed. . . . “Always your piano. You only one can play. . . . You pick up fast,” said my mother, as if she knew this was certain. “You have natural talent. You could been genius if you want to. . . . You just not trying.” . . . And she was neither angry nor sad. She said it as if to announce a fact that could never be disproved.
After a disastrous recital exposed June’s lack of musical skills, or at least lack of practice, June refused to play the piano ever again. Here, when Suyuan offers June the piano, June begins to think that Suyuan actually believed in her talent. Suyuan truly believed that if June had applied herself she could have been great. In the past, June felt her mother’s expectation as a burden, but now she appreciates Suyuan’s belief in her.
“Suyuan!” called Auntie Lindo to my mother. “Why you wear that color?” Auntie Lindo gestured with a crab leg to my mother’s red sweater. “How can you wear this color anymore? Too young!” she scolded. My mother acted as though this were a compliment.
Suyuan’s love of bright colors exists as a source of embarrassment to her friends and her daughter, June. At this time in her life, she wears those bright colors in sweaters, often hand-knit. But in her youth, Suyuan loved to wear fancy dresses. She fled the Japanese wearing three of them at once and later left China with a trunkful. Although no longer able to wear silk party dresses, Suyuan still uses color to show her positive and bright personality.
My mother looked at me and smiled. “Only you pick that crab. Nobody else take it. I already know this. Everybody else want best quality. You thinking different.” She said it in a way as if this were proof—proof of something good. She always said things that didn’t make any sense, that sounded both good and bad at the same time. . . . And then, as if she had just now remembered, she unhooked the clasp of her gold necklace and took it off. . . . She grabbed my hand and put the necklace into my palm[.]
Suyuan knows, and appreciates, that her daughter, June, possesses the rare trait of putting others before oneself, as shown in this scene. Due to her broken English, Suyuan’s attempt to explain her appreciation comes out as unclear to June. Possibly realizing June’s confusion, Suyuan proceeds to give her the jade necklace that she wears, explaining that the object represents “your life’s importance.” Suyuan feels the need to make clear to June that she appreciates her daughter for who she is.
When the road grew quiet, she tore open the lining of her dress, and stuffed jewelry under the shirt of one baby and money under the other. She reached into her pocket and drew out the photos of her family. . . . And she wrote on the back of each the names of the babies and this same message: “Please care for these babies with the money and valuables provided. When it is safe to come, if you bring them to Shanghai, 9 Weichang Lu, the Li family will be glad to give you a generous reward. Li Suyuan and Wang Fuchi.”
When Suyuan realized she had to abandon her twin daughters because she was too ill to carry them anymore, she left them with the means to be taken care of and eventually returned to her. When she later displayed the hope that they still lived, her belief seemed far-fetched but not delusional: Her hope had a basis in reality thanks to her own careful planning. Suyuan created her own optimism.
“Look at these clothes,” she said, and I saw she had on a rather unusual dress for wartime. It was silk satin, quite dirty, but there was no doubt it was a beautiful dress. “Look at this face. . . . Do you see my foolish hope? I thought I had lost everything, except these two things. . . . And I wondered which I would lose next. Clothes or hope? Hope or clothes? But now, see here, look what is happening,” she said, laughing, as if all her prayers had been answered. And she was pulling hair out of her head[.]
When Suyuan meets her second husband, she is near death. The fancy dress she wears represents both her past wealth and her hope for a future in which a party dress will once again be appropriate. When she thinks she might lose her clothes or her hope, she ends up losing her hair instead—thus the clothes and hope both remain, making her happy despite her wretched health. With hope still intact, Suyuan can recover.