2. I . . . looked in the mirror. . . . I was strong. I was pure. I had genuine thoughts inside that no one could see, that no one could ever take away from me. I was like the wind. . . . And then I draped the large embroidered red scarf over my face and covered these thoughts up. But underneath the scarf I still knew who I was. I made a promise to myself: I would always remember my parents’ wishes, but I would never forget myself.
In this quotation, which is from Lindo Jong’s narrative “The Red Candle,” Lindo introduces what will become an important link between herself and her daughter Waverly. Here she narrates how she first came to recognize her inner invisible strength, a strength that her daughter will inherit and come to use in her chess matches.
This strength gives Lindo the power to endure the hardships that a restrictive and patriarchal society forces upon her. She stares into the mirror as she prepares for her arranged marriage to a man she does not love, knowing that to flee the marriage would be to go back on her parents’ promise to her husband’s family. Yet she also makes a promise to herself, which she determines to honor with equal devotion.
Lindo’s lesson in balancing duty to one’s parents and duty to oneself also links her to her own daughter, and to all of the daughters in the book, who must learn to revere their heritage and their elders without becoming passive, without giving up their own desires and aspirations. While the struggle for this balance often alienates mothers and daughters, it also brings them closer together, for all of them have faced this challenge at some point in their lives, whether or not the mothers choose to recollect it.
The central event in this passage—Lindo’s recognition of her value and her subsequent covering of it with her scarf—symbolizes another lesson in balance. She learns to listen to her own heart and maintain her strength even as she hides these away beneath the scarf. She knows that sometimes the strongest force is a hidden one. Although this gesture of concealment can also easily become a gesture of passivity, Lindo escapes the passivity that characterizes so many of the other female characters in The Joy Luck Club because she knows when to expose what she hides.