Although the characters recognize the hardships caused by a strict adherence to the patriarchal tradition, they value greatly the tradition of duty and loyalty. Their respect for custom is at odds with their sense of injustice. Thus, for example, Lindo deeply honors her mother’s allegiance to the marriage contract in word and deed, whereas she scorns her daughter Waverly’s American ideas about promises. To Waverly, Lindo complains that an American daughter might make a “promise” to come to dinner, but the moment that she has a headache, encounters heavy traffic, or finds that a favorite movie is showing on TV, this promise disappears. In contrast, Lindo viewed her parents’ promise as her own promise, and underwent degradation and humiliation in the Huangs’ home for years in order to fulfill it.
An-mei’s story is also about respect for the ancient ways and the elders. She understood that her mother’s attempt to cure Popo by cutting her own flesh and putting it in a soup was an act of deep love and reverence. An-mei, too, carries a scar that represents her tie to her mother. These bodily wounds function as symbols for An-mei of a daughter’s corporeal bond to her mother, as reminders that one’s mother is in one’s bones.
Even Ying-ying remains loyal to her ancestral traditions. She felt intense pain at the way her own mother left her in the care of her Amah, and she was traumatized by the fact that no one—neither her mother nor her substitute mother, her nurse—noticed when she fell off the boat. Yet, the only person for whom Ying-ying seems to harbor any contempt is her daughter Lena. She criticizes Lena for being too Americanized, for being “lost” to her mother and her heritage, even though Ying-ying herself feels lost because of her heritage.
In one respect, Lindo’s story diverges from An-mei’s and Ying-ying’s. In a manner that resembles Suyuan’s willful creation of her own happiness through the Joy Luck Club, Lindo took her fate into her own hands when she saw that the price of keeping her promise to her mother, and to tradition, had become too high. Lindo explains that before her wedding, she made a second promise, a promise to herself: “I would always remember my parents’ wishes, but I would never forget myself.” This promise maintained and even affirmed Lindo’s respect for the force of promises, but it also shows that Lindo refused to sacrifice her own identity to that force. The trick she plays on Taitai in order to extricate herself from the marriage demonstrates the power of language and imagination in directing one’s own life. At the same time, however, it was an understanding of tradition that enabled Lindo to assert her own power. By playing on Taitai’s cultural superstitions and reverence for her ancestors, Lindo escaped a situation of misery without suffering punishment. For, as An-mei’s mother’s story demonstrates, the rigidity of cultural expectation often penalizes a woman for breaking the bonds of marital sacrifice, punishing her attempt at independence with total ostracism.