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Deterioration of Mothers’ and Daughters’ Relationships in Bone by Fae Myenne Ng and The Joy
Luck Club by Amy Tan and their Improvement

Nasrin Akther
Prof. J. Entin
English 5103

 

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Table of Contents
Introduction ...................................................................................................................................3
Preface ........................................................................................................................................3
Historical Background ..............................................................................................................6
The Chinese Exclusion Act .....................................................................................................6
The Chinese Family ................................................................................................................9
The Women’s Movement .....................................................................................................10
The Critical Reception ............................................................................................................11
Bone .......................................................................................................................................11
The Joy Luck Club .................................................................................................................13
Thesis ...........................................................................................................................................14
Structures of Bone and The Joy Luck Club ...........................................................................14
Structures of Bone .................................................................................................................14
Structures of The Joy Luck Club............................................................................................15
Relationship between Bone and The Joy Luck Club............................................................16
Analysis of the Texts................................................................................................................19
Analysis of Bone....................................................................................................................19
Analysis of The Joy Luck Club..............................................................................................24
Conclusion ...............................................................................................................................30
Works Cited ................................................................................................................................32

 

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Introduction

Preface
As an immigrant from Bangladesh, I wished to do my senior thesis on Asian American
immigrant literature. Since I am not aware of any Bengali-American immigrant literature books,
I wanted to work with Chinese American immigrant literature. The two works I focused on were
Bone by Fae Myenne Ng and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan.
Bone is about a Chinese family in which Mah and Leon are the mother and father,
respectively, and Ona and Nina are their daughters. Leila, the main character and the narrator, is
Mah’s first daughter from her previous marriage and Leon’s stepdaughter whom he treats like his
biological daughter. Mason and Osvaldo are the boyfriends of Leila and Ona, respectively.
Mason is Chinese while Osvaldo is Spanish. While growing up in Chinatown in San Francisco,
Leila, Ona, and Nina search for their individuality in between Chinese and American cultures
and values. As a result, they go through family conflicts with their parents, specifically with their
mother, Mah. As the daughters’ relationships with their parents deteriorate, specifically with
their mother, Ona commits suicide, Nina moves to NY, and Leila marries her boyfriend, Mason,
without informing her mother and stepfather. This displays their independence and freedom of
choice and action in opposition to their parents and their Chinese heritage.
The Joy Luck Club by Tan is about four mothers and their four daughters. The four
mothers are Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lino Jong, Ying-ying St. Clair, and their four daughters
are Jing-mei “June” Woo, Rose Hsu Jordan, Waverly Jong, and Lena St. Clair, respectively. The
book consists of four sections with four stories in each section either from the mothers or their
daughters. The first section consists of four stories from the mothers where they speak about
their lives before coming to the USA and their relationships with their parents. The second

 

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section consists of four stories from the daughters where they narrate their childhood and their
relationships with their mothers in Chinatown in San Francisco. This section also highlights how
the daughters’ relationships with their mothers start to deteriorate while the daughters search for
their individuality in between Chinese and American cultures and values. The third section
consists of four stories from the daughters about their adulthood and their relationships with their
mothers. The forth section consists of four stories from the mothers and their relationships with
their four daughters. Additionally, the last two sections show how the relationships between the
mothers and daughters improve as the daughters realize in their adulthood that their happiness
depends on their acceptance of their mothers and the mothers’ Chinese heritage. This is because
they are all part of each other.
I can relate to these two books in different ways. For example, just as Rose faces her
mother’s resentments for dating a boy who is not Chinese, I have faced my mother’s resentments
every time I desired to marry a man who was not Bengali. Additionally, my relationship with my
mother deteriorated as I remained stubborn in wanting to marry a foreigner just as in the case of
two of the daughters in The Joy Luck Club, Rose and Waverly. My mother does not want to give
me in marriage to a man whom she cannot relate to on a cultural level just like the mothers of
Waverly and Rose. Also, just like Rose, June, Waverly, Nina, Ona, and Leila, I went through a
phase when I did not appreciate my Bengali culture and ethnicity. Although I did not want to be
American in lifestyle, I preferred to be amongst those who appreciated diverse cultures and
ethnicities. However, just as June, Rose, Lena, and Waverly realize that the harmony of one’s
life depends on one’s harmony with one’s mother, her language, and her culture, I realized that I
am a Bengali regardless of how much I reject it. Thus, I hope to find peace of mind and
happiness in my life with other Bengalis and Bengali culture.

 

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I aim to examine in this thesis how the daughters disobey and disregard their mothers and

the mothers’ Chinese culture and values by seeking their individuality through American
lifestyle and values in both of these texts. In Bone, Ng focuses on the relationships between one
mother and her three daughters. Ng shows that their relationships deteriorate when the daughters
seek their individuality through American lifestyle and values opposing their mother’s Chinese
culture and values. On the other hand, in The Joy Luck Club, Tan focuses on the relationships
between four mothers and their four daughters. The four daughters seek their independence
through assimilating into the mainstream American culture as young girls. However, as grown
up women, the daughters reconcile with their mothers realizing that their happiness depends on
their acceptance of their mothers and the mothers’ Chinese culture and values.
Before I start the analysis on the main thesis statement, it is necessary to look into some
historical background, such as the Chinese Exclusion Act, the Chinese family structure, and the
women’s movement. The information on these historical topics will provide insight into the
background of the mothers and daughters’ upbringing and ideologies. For instance, the mothers
have expectations from their daughters based on the way they grew up, the hardships they lived
through, and the Chinese traditional family values they nurture within themselves. On the other
hand, the daughters either conform to or oppose the mothers’ expectations based on the way they
grow up in American society with various movements that promote women’s voice and
individuality, such as the women’s movement.
While analyzing the main topic, the deterioration of mothers’ and daughters’
relationships and their improvement, I will have a section that discusses the role of the structure
of the texts in supporting the main topic. Thereafter, I will have another section, which will
examine why these authors, Ng and Tan, wrote about this topic in different ways. For example,

 

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Tan shows resolution to the conflicted relationships between the mothers and daughters while Ng
does not show any improvements in the relationships between the mother and her three
daughters. Next, I will analyze each text closely, examining each daughter’s relationship with her
mother and how it deteriorates while the daughter seeks her individuality through the American
lifestyle and values in opposition to the mother and her Chinese heritage. I will further analyze
The Joy Luck Club to show how each daughter’s relationship with her mother improves while the
daughter realizes that her happiness depends on her acceptance of her mother and the mother’s
Chinese heritage. Finally, the conclusion will give an overview of the thesis paper. It will also
show how the main topic relates to today’s society, and what possible role these texts can play in
mothers’ and daughters’ relationships in everyday life.
Historical Background
The Chinese Exclusion Act
Ng and Tan portray various effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act in their books, such as
menial labor, illegal immigration, and Chinese bachelor society. The Chinese Exclusion Act of
1882 was a law that legally prohibited the Chinese from entering the USA (Song 2). Before this
law, the Chinese were allowed to freely enter the USA to join the work force in various
capacities, such as railroad construction, mining, and agriculture. The USA welcomed Chinese
laborers as cheap labor during the railroad construction. Additionally, about 110,000 Chinese
entered the USA between 1850 and 1882 to join the labor forces either temporarily or
permanently (Calavita 5).
After the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Chinese immigration to the USA decreased. As
Calavita says, “according to the census of 1890, there were 102,620 Chinese men and 3,868
Chinese women in the United States, the vast majority of whom settled in California” (5). The

 

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Chinese who went back to their country for temporary visits could not come back to the USA
due to the Exclusion Act. Moreover, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 comprised offensive
discrimination against the Chinese after the implementation of this law. For instance, during the
process of this law, Senator Farley said, “these hordes of heathens that swarm like rats in a cellar
and live in filth and degradation … the Chinese are neither Caucasian nor American, but are
alien to our race, customs, religion, and civilization” (Calavita 12). The derogatory sentiments
against the Chinese people not only drove them out of the USA but also closed many valuable
opportunities in the society, including respectable jobs and marriage with white women.
In Bone, Leila’s stepfather’s, Leon, life reveals the effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act
in Chinese American society. Due to the Exclusion Act, Leon pays $5,000 dollars to an old
Chinese American to bring him to the USA as his son. Leon also adopts the old man’s last name,
which is “Leong”. Additionally, Leon agrees to send back the old man’s bone after his death to
China for agreeing to be his son on paper (Ng 50). Leon legally enters into the USA through this
transaction. However, due to the discrimination against the Chinese, Leon never lands a stable
job to support himself and his family. In this regard, Kung adds in his book, Chinese in American
Life, “…because of riots, expulsion, and even lynching, the Chinese were forced to seek
employment that brought them into little, if any, direct competition with their white coworkers”
(30). Thus, Leon works menial jobs, such as assistant laundry presser, prep cook, busboy, waiter,
and porter (Ng 103).
Leon breaks down mentally after his daughter, Ona, commits suicides and exclaims, as
Leila narrates, “he blamed all of America for making big promises and breaking every one.
Where was the good job he’d heard about as a young man? Where was the successful business?”
(Ng 103). This shows how depressed and shattered Leon feels as a Chinese immigrant to the

 

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USA. Leon tries his best to find a suitable job to maintain his family and live a happy life with
his children. However, his identity does not allow him to find stable work in the USA (Ng 58).
Thus, he takes temporary menial jobs one after another to provide for his family. He fails to
spend quality time with his daughters and family due to the natures of the jobs as well.
In a similar way, Tan explores long-term effects of the Chinese Exclusion Act in the
Chinese community through the immigration of the mothers and their menial jobs. For instance,
Lindo enters the USA with false identity. She pays an American-raised Chinese girl to help her
with the interrogation questions upon her arrival in the USA (Tan 258). This shows how Chinese
people found a way to cheat the immigration system to enter into the USA that released a law to
exclude them. Also, when June relates, “my mother got these magazines from people whose
houses she cleaned. And since she cleaned many houses each week,” shows that as a Chinese,
June mother’s is left to find menial jobs (Tan 133). June’s mother does not work as a cleaner in
one family but many families to earn her living. This suggests that her work is unreliable and
unstable.
Another long-term effect of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the defamation of the Chinese
that Ng explores is the Chinese bachelor society. During the early years of the Chinese
immigration to the USA, in what was called the Gold Rush era, more Chinese men immigrated to
the USA compared to the Chinese women (Young 14). Since Chinese men were prohibited from
marrying white women, they enjoyed themselves with prostitutes while remaining as bachelors
(Yung 18). During this period, the prostitute trade was a thriving business, as about 85% of
Chinese American women were prostitutes in 1860 (Yung 18). Even though the characters in
Bone does not live in the Chinese Exclusion Act’s period, the old bachelors mentioned in Bone
serve as a reflection of the Chinese Exclusion Act and the prohibition of marrying white women

 

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in the Chinese society. Leila says, “A group of old men stood at the base of the stairs, playing
cards. …More than once, an old guy has come up and asked, ‘My room? Date?’” (Ng 8). This
shows that the old Chinese bachelors do not have wives to fulfill their sexual desires. They spend
their time playing cards “at the Square” while they enjoy looking at beautiful women (Ng 7).
The Chinese Family
Ng and Tan explore the traditional Chinese marriage and family in their books Bone and
The Joy Luck Club. In the old Chinese tradition, marriages took place through the help of
fortunetellers and matchmakers. In Bone, Leila explains her mother’s first marriage saying, “The
old way. Matches were made, strangers were wedded, and that was fate. Marriage was for
survival” (Ng 35). This demonstrates that Leila’s Mah does not marry her first husband out of
love for him but out of necessity. He picks her, and she does not have a choice but to marry him.
Leila’s Mah also marries her first husband to escape from the warzone area of China to the USA
just as she marries her second husband to obtain a US green card (Ng 35, 184).
In The Joy Luck Club, Lindo’s first marriage takes place through a village matchmaker.
She says, “the village matchmaker came to my family when I was just two years old. … Because
I was promised to the Huangs’ son for marriage, my own family began treating me as if I
belonged to somebody else” (Tan 51). In this regard, Yung says that the women are married off
at an early age through a matchmaker and are not allowed to see their fiancés until the night of
the wedding (Yung 10-11). This shows the extent to which a girl does not have choice in her
future marriage. She is promised to a man for marriage at the age of two, an age where she is
incapable of helping herself. Furthermore, her family normalizes the matter by treating her as if
she is no longer a member of her own family. She grows up with detachment to be able to move
to her future husband’s family.

 

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In the traditional Chinese family, the wives are expected to be obedient not only to their

husbands but also to their mother-in-laws. Also, their happiness rests on giving birth to male
heirs and on serving in-laws, specifically the parents-in-laws (Ling 85, Yung 11). Therefore,
when Lindo moves into her husband’s family, her mother-in-law treats her like a slave to cook
and clean to please both the mother-in-law and her husband (Tan 56). Her mother-in-law also
pressures her to have a son (Tan 61). Since the wives do not have a choice of divorce under the
feudal system, Lindo deceitfully escapes her first marriage (Yung 11). She makes up a nightmare
curse story where her husband will die if he does not divorce her.
In the Chinese traditional family, the daughters are required to be obedient to their
parents. Ying-ying’s mother guides her, saying, “A girl should stand still. If you are still for a
very long time, a dragonfly will no longer see you. Then it will come to you and hide in the
comfort of your shadow” (Tan 72). This shows that in Chinese culture, a girl is supposed to be as
invisible as her shadow through her obedience of the rules and regulations of the parents and
culture. She is expected to obey without asking questions or making any inquiries. Additionally,
when June disobeys her mother’s instructions to become a smart girl in one aspect or other, her
mother threatens her, saying, “Only two kinds of daughters, those who are obedient and those
who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient
daughter” (Tan 142). This demonstrates that if a daughter does not obey her parents, her status as
a daughter diminishes as she becomes less valuable. Thus, she is left with no choice but to obey
her parents.
The Women’s Movement
Bone and The Joy Luck Club portray the influence of the women’s movement in the
traditional Chinese family. The women’s movement of the 1960s to the 1980s made it possible

 

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for women of every race and ethnicity to progress in terms of economic equality and social roles
(Evans 36). Additionally, the men, specifically husbands and fathers, possessed less power over
women’s lives in the USA after the late 1980s (Evans 36). Therefore, when Nina faces problems
from her parents, she leaves San Francisco’s Chinatown for New York City. She leads an
independent life where her father has no control over her. Additionally, the four daughters, June,
Waverly, Rose, and Lena, of The Joy Luck Club are well established in terms of jobs. For
example, June works as a business writer while Waverly, Lena, and Rose work as a tax attorney,
a project coordinator at her husband’s company, and an artist, respectively. Despite marital
problems, Rose and Lena hold some authority over their husbands and their future goals. Evans
says, “the book is, in many respects, a celebration of the power and resourcefulness of women,
especially their ability not only to survive but also, eventually, to thrive difficult circumstances”
(37). This is true for all five mothers in both texts. For instance, Leila’s mother runs a store on
her own to support herself while her husband lives separately. Also, the four mothers in The Joy
Luck Club work alongside their husbands to support their families. Their husbands do not
constrict their lives but live with them in mutual agreement and cooperation.
Critical Reception
Bone by Ng
Mei Cheng completed a scholarly research study on Bone called, “Translation: Writing
Beyond Dualism.” One of the aspects of Bone that Cheng looks into is symbolism. Cheng says
that the symbolism enables Ng to depict the complex world around her, specifically immigrant
life in Chinatown. Cheng also states that the historical and cultural contexts found in the
symbolism convey a powerful history and culture of an overlooked ethnic minority. Cheng says,
“the text uses names, objects, and physical surroundings to symbolize lifestyles, social standing,

 

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and old and new forms of social patterns” (110). Cheng relates that Ng uses specific elements
and embeds within them symbolic meanings to show a complex immigrant world (110). Some of
the ordinary terms that Ng uses as symbols are bones, papers, and a few “Chinglish” words. Ng
embeds new insights and meanings into ordinary terms to provide fresh perspectives of the
historical and cultural reality. Cheng further states, “the mixture of ordinary symbols and their
powerful symbolic meaning conveys a mixed meaning in terms of characteristics, plot,
development, and conflict solution” (111). Thereby, Ng shows a different way of conveying
cultural dilemmas and family conflicts (Cheng 111). Ng also blends quarrels, struggles, sadness,
happiness, and everyday experiences to construct an immigrant cultural identity, “a confrontation
with the American marginalization, [and] a deconstruction of a dominant discourse” that
alienates the Chinese immigrants as “others” (Cheng 111). Hence, the Chinese American identity
is composed of struggles between Chinese and American cultures.
Along with symbolism, Cheng discusses how Ng explores an immigrant family problem
based on the social space of San Francisco’s Chinatown. Cheng says that while Ng shows
Chinese American experiences and familial problems, she demonstrates how different characters
find different ways to escape the familial problems. The fact that Ng depicts the spaces, such as
Salmon Alley, the open market, apartments, streets, workshops, restaurants, the square, and the
San Fran hotel, as old, narrow, and messy show that these places are at odds with the characters
and push them to move out. Therefore, the characters feel stuck and search for a way to leave
this environment. Cheng says that the characters’ ways out are either physical journeys, such as
going to NY, or destructive actions, such as suicide. Cheng further states, “the central pursuit of
searching for a way out is fundamental” to the characters’ conditions in Ng’s novel (143).

 

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The Joy Luck Club by Tan
The Joy Luck Club has been critically looked at as a text that shows how the East’s values
versus the West’s values are portrayed (Evans 26). Some critics complain that Tan romanticizes
China and its people, spreads stereotypes about Chinese people, and “demoniz[es] the East”
(Evans 26). However, the critic Tamara Silvia Wagner says Tan critically looks at the behaviors
of the Americans as well as the Chinese. For instance, when Waverly’s boyfriend, Rich, visits
her family, he asks about the Chinese customs like a tourist at the dinner table while Waverly’s
family judges Rich’s manners of dealing with her family as rude (Evans 26). Furthermore,
Wagner says Tan questions the American ideal of the “melting pot” when she brings in the
example of the Chinese and Jewish style of playing Mahjong (Evans 26). Tan clearly shows that
the Chinese people disregard the way Jewish people play mahjong, which suggests separations of
people based on ethnicity, culture, and religion.
The critic Megali Cornier Michael approaches The Joy Luck Club from the perspective of
the privilege of the community over the individual (Evans 29). She closely studies the role of the
San Francisco Joy Luck Club in the novel to support her idea (Evans 29). Michael argues the
club gives the women agency. The women choose to help each other through constant support
and power in their adopted country instead of being consistent losers and winners (Evans 29).
Additionally, the women pull together enough money to support a younger generation to fulfill
June’s mother’s task of meeting her lost twin sisters. This also conveys a sense of community to
the younger generation (Evans 29).
Tan’s use of multiple narrators and multiple time periods encouraged many critics to
study The Joy Luck Club based on the theories of the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin. The
critics say, “a dialogical work is in conversation not only with itself and its own multiple

 

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perspectives but also with other works and other authors” (Evans 24). Due to the conversation,
the single source authority is prevented while encouraging change, exchange, and clarification.
In this way, each work improves itself while coming in contact with the other (Evans 24).
Thesis
Bone and The Joy Luck Club are two immigrant Chinese American texts that can be
studied from multiple perspectives, such as as historical and cultural artifacts,in the role of
social space and family conflicts, the role of the Joy Luck Club in building a community, and the
symbolism found in both books. However, one of the central themes of both texts is the
relationship between mothers and their daughters. In Bone, Ng shows that the daughters disobey
their mother and disregard her Chinese culture and values when they seek their individuality
through American lifestyle and values, which is not dependent on their acceptance of their
mother and her Chinese heritage. On the other hand, in The Joy Luck Club, Tan shows that as
inexperienced youth, the daughters disobey and disregard their mothers to claim their
individuality. However, as grown up women, the daughters realize their happiness depends upon
their acceptance of their mothers, and the mothers' Chinese culture and values for they are parts
of each other.
Structure of Bone and The Joy Luck Club
Structure of Bone
The structure of Bone emphasizes the fact that the daughters disobey their mother and
disregard her Chinese culture and values. They seek their individuality through American
lifestyle and values, which is not dependent on their acceptance of their mother or her Chinese
culture and values. The main structure of the novel is based on a backward unfolding of events.
Leila is the narrator in Bone. She is also the oldest daughter of her mother, Mah, who has two

 

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other daughters, Ona and Nina from another father. The fact that Leila chooses to narrate her
story from her present life to the past shows that she is satisfied with her current American
lifestyle and culture. She is confident about her American identity such that she can assert herself
against her mother’s requests to be amongst Chinese, to eat Chinese foods, and to follow Chinese
cultures without questioning. Also, she is happily married with her boyfriend whom she has
dated for a few years. Even though she fears her mother’s resentment for marrying him without
informing her, her happiness is not reduced. Additionally, when Leila mentions that Nina, who
lives in New York instead of San Francisco’s Chinatown, is trying to form a relationship with a
Chinese boy, she shows that at the present, Nina enjoys a pleasant life away from her family (Ng
11). Nina is independent like an American and lives her life to the fullest, just like Cheng says,
“Nina is the most Americanized among the three sisters” (159). Also, at the present, Ona is dead,
and this does not seem to hinder anyone’s life. However, as Leila unfolds the past events in a
backward method, the three sisters’ struggles for their individuality through the American
lifestyle and values become clear when they disobey their mother and disregard her Chinese
culture and values.
Structure of The Joy Luck Club
The fragmented structure of The Joy Luck Club emphasizes the four daughters’ - June,
Rose, Waverly, and Lena - disobedience of their mother and disregard for their mothers’ Chinese
culture and values to claim her individuality based on American culture and values. Also, the
fragmented structure emphasizes the actions of the daughters as to how as grown-up women they
realize their happiness depends upon their acceptance of their mothers, and their mothers’
Chinese culture and values. Tan organizes the stories of four mothers and their four daughters
into four sections. The first section contains stories of the four mothers about their mothers,

 

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childhood, and how they immigrated to the USA. The last section contains four stories of the
mothers with regard to their relationship with their daughters and how they come to terms with
each other.
In the first section, June narrates her mother’s story before the other three mothers. In the
last section, June relates her mother’s story last after the other three mothers narrate theirs. In this
way, June’s mother’s story frames the other stories in the book. Since June’s mother, Suyuan, is
the founder of the San Francisco Joy Luck Club, she is given the authoritative figure and her
stories stand as a frame surrounding all of the other stories. The position of other mothers’ stories
from section one to section four is different, as if randomly inserted into the sections. The second
and third sections contain stories of the four daughters. In section two, the daughters narrate their
childhood relationship with their mothers as to how they disobeyed their mothers to claim their
individuality. In section three, the daughters relate their unhappy life and how their mothers help
them to improve their conditions. In sections two and three, June’s story comes last like a frame
from the first section to the next. The fragmented order of the stories gives them individuality
and uniqueness. Since the reader can barely connect each story with the story that precedes it, the
conflict and resolution within each story becomes heightened. The reader is also forced to
concentrate more to grasp the connection between each story. Even though the daughters’
conflicts and resolutions are similar to each other, the random fragmented order of the stories
blurs these resemblances.
Relationship between Bone and The Joy Luck Club
As Chinese American immigrant texts, Bone and The Joy Luck Club portray the mothers’
and daughters’ relationships deterioration and improvement in different manners. They also
present the daughters’ flight away from their mothers’ Chinese heritage for the American

 

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lifestyle and values in different ways. In The Joy Luck Club, Tan shows that the daughters as
young girls oppose their mothers and the mothers’ Chinese heritage. The four daughters from
four different families with different social and economic background share a common struggle
against their mothers. They all disobey and disrespect their mothers and the mothers’ Chinese
culture and values. For instance, June refuses to be the genius that her mother wants her to be.
June goes to the extent of dropping out of college to assert to her mother that she will not be
what her mother desires her to be. However, as grown up women, all four daughters come to
terms with their mothers and accept their mothers’ Chinese culture and values. For example,
Lena takes her mother’s advice to speak up for her rights to her husband, who plans to divorce
her. Because Lena accepts her mother and listens to her, she finds courage to face her husband.
In Immigrant Acts, Lisa Lowe says, “in the 1990s, we can afford to rethink the notion of
racialized ethnic identity in terms of differences of national origin, class, gender, and sexuality
rather than presuming similarities and making the erasure of particularity the basis of unity” (83).
Tan adopts Lowe’s ideas about hybridity, and multiplicity in The Joy Luck Club through the
organization of the text about four mothers and their four daughters of four different families.
These families have diverse social, economic, and educational background, such as Lena’s
mother is Chinese while her father is an Irish American, June’s mother studied nursing in China,
and Rose’s parents come from a poor family background. Even though Tan shows different
social, educational, and economic status with each mother and daughter, Tan essentializes the
conflict and resolution between the mothers and daughters. Each daughter resents her mother and
her mother’s Chinese culture and values while growing up in American society in San
Francisco’s Chinatown. Also, each daughter comes to terms with her mother as a grown up
woman and accepts the mother’s Chinese culture and values.

 

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On the other hand, in Bone, Ng seems to refute the essentialization of mothers’ and

daughters’ conflict and resolution found in The Joy Luck Club. In Bone, Ng focuses on one
family instead of multiple families as found in Tan’s work. Also, Ng shows the relationship
between one mother and her three daughters. Even though the main conflict is still assimilation
into the mainstream American society, the three daughters have different levels of conflict with
their mother. The daughters also differ in the way they face their situations. For instance, Leila,
the oldest daughter, is closer to her mother and the Chinese people of Chinatown in San
Francisco. Therefore, even though Leila distances herself from her mother by disregarding the
Chinese wedding banquet, Chinese language, and Chinese food, she still dates and marries a
Chinese boy and lives in Chinatown close to her mother. On the other hand, Ona, the middle
daughter, tries to please both her parents by being part of both Chinese and American culture.
However, when Ona realizes that her parents do not want to accept her Spanish boyfriend, she
asserts her independence drastically through suicide. Ona’s suicide leaves her parents devastated
and confused just as they caused her to be frustrated in terms of picking between her parents and
her beloved boyfriend. Unlike Leila and Ona, Nina leaves her family and hometown, San
Francisco, for New York City. She refuges to accept her parents and their Chinese culture and
values. She claims her independence and lives her life as an American to its fullest. Unlike Tan,
Ng also gives the father an important role in the daughters’ dissociation from the Chinese culture
and values and assimilation into American culture and values. Ng also seems to convey that the
father is often harsher than the mother about daughters’ decisions to marry outside of the
Chinese culture. The fact that Ng does not bring about reconciliation between the mother and her
daughters conveys a message that assimilation into American culture and society is often a one-

 

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way trip. The mothers and daughters do not come to terms with each other. There is not always a
happy ending in every family.
Analysis of the Texts
Analysis of Bone
Leila disobeys her mother as she marries her boyfriend without informing her and avoids
Mah’s Chinese wedding banquet in order to claim her individuality through American lifestyle
and values. After Leila gets married behind her mother’s back, she informs her stepfather about
her marriage first instead of her mother. This shows that she does not have a good relationship
with her mother. She seems to run away from her mother and tries to find comfort in her
stepfather’s company. Also, when Leila mentions her marriage for the first time, she says, “I
didn’t marry on a whim – don’t worry, I didn’t do a green-card number” (Ng 1). This shows that
Leila frees herself from following her mother’s steps in her marriage, as her mother married her
first husband out of necessity and married her second husband, Leon, for the green card (Ng
182). In this regard, Cheng says, “her marriage contrasts with Mah’s, who marries for survival,
as a result of a lack of choice” (164). Even though Leila acts like she worries about her mother’s
reactions, in actuality, she does not care whether her mother is happy or sad about her marriage.
In the scene where Leila informs her mother that she does not like banquets and describes a
Chinese wedding banquet as noise, trouble, and a waste of money, she clearly informs her
mother how much disregard she has toward Chinese traditions, specifically wedding parties (Ng
21). Also, this demonstrates what Cheng says, “the Chinese-born Mah and American-born Leila
have different cultural values” (155). The fact that Mah is silent and Leila realizes how quiet the
setting in which they are shows how heart broken her mother is to hear her daughter’s distaste
and disregard for her culture and values.

 

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As Leila makes her stance against her mother’s Chinese wedding banquet clear, she

asserts her individuality while embracing an American style of marriage. For instance, she
informs her mother in English that she and her boyfriend, Mason, got married in City Hall in
New York (Ng 21). On one hand, this shows Leila’s disregard for her mother’s language, as well
as the culture. On the other hand, this shows that Leila prefers to be American. When Mah
replies in Chinese, Leila shows her inability to communicate with her mother, saying, “Using
Chinese was my undoing. She had a world of words that were beyond me” (Ng 23). She has no
way to connect herself with her mother when Mah speaks in Chinese. Leila is distancing herself
from her mother in two ways: denial of both her mother’s language and the cultural wedding
banquet. At the same time, Leila is attaching herself to American culture, through a simple
wedding ceremony and the American language of English.
As the oldest daughter, Leila’s relationship with her mother is deteriorates because she is
not a good role model for her younger sisters based on her mother’s Chinese culture and values.
Leila says, “Mah said something about how everything started with me, since I was the first one,
the eldest, the one with the daring to live with Mason when I wasn’t married” (Ng 41). This
suggests that Leila’s mother holds Leila accountable for the incorrect decisions of her younger
sisters. Her mother thinks that since Leila is the role model, her younger sisters find courage
from her daring actions, such as living with the boyfriend before marriage. Leila’s words choice,
such as “irrational” hints to the tense relationship between Leila and her mother. Leila does not
feel comfortable in her mother’s company because of her mother’s accusations. Leila says, “I
didn’t want to get into a fight …but I couldn’t help saying something and my tone wasn’t the
kindest. ‘Nina wanted to go. Don’t blame me’” (Ng 41). Leila’s tone and words choices, such as
“get into a fight” and “my tone wasn’t the kindest,” reveal her inner turmoil and bitterness

 

21  

against her mother. It also implies that Leila has hard time to be a Chinese obedient daughter.
She almost bursts out with anger and resentment toward her mother. Leila says, “of course they
hit on me, too: I was the eldest; they thought I was responsible. ...Like with Ona, I figured it was
her own choice” (Ng 25). This shows she does not want to be responsible for her sisters’ actions.
She feels that their actions are based on their freedom of choice and action. She did not want to
act like the big sister. Leila says, “I was trying to break away from always being the Big Sister”
(Ng 15). This demonstrates that she does not want to act like a boss over her younger sisters
directing them to what to do and what not to do. She is in American society where everyone has
the freedom of choice to do what he/she desires.
Leila’s backward unfolding of events discloses how Ona disobeys her mother and father
by dating Osvaldo, a Spanish boy, and even more drastically in committing suicide in order to
claim her individuality through American lifestyle and values while disregarding Chinese values
and culture. Based on Chinese family values, Ona is supposed to be an obedient child. However,
as an American born and grown child, she follows her heart. In the scene when her sisters, Leila
and Nina, suggest her to lie about her love for Osvaldo to her father, who forbids her from dating
him, Nina openly informs her father that she loves Osvaldo (Ng 173). This shows that Ona
speaks her mind and does not fear her father’s resentment. Also, this shows that Ona disregards
the Chinese cultural familial values of obeying the father. In contrast to Tan, Ng shows that a
daughter has as much trouble with her father as with her mother. In fact, Ona has even more
problems with her father than her mother. Leila says, “Ona felt disappointed by Leon and
betrayed by Mah” (Ng 119). This shows that Ona expects acceptance of her father whom she
loves and cares for. Additionally, Ona expects her mother to support her just as she allowed her

 

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to date him initially. When Ona fails to receive any support from either of her parents, she
embraces her American identity firmly and leaves with Osvaldo (Ng 175).
Ona’s suicide becomes the ultimate disobedience to her father and mother just as it
defines her individuality and her relation to the American lifestyle. After Ona’s death, her father,
Leon, feels devastated. He says, “She’s my daughter, I’m her father. Why wouldn’t she tell her
father if something was wrong?” (Ng 147). This demonstrates that Leon feels disobeyed and
discarded to the utmost level. Ona not only leaves him forever through her suicide but also
leaves no answer to assure the hearts of her father and mother. Ona leaves them with nothing just
as they left her with no other choice but to break up with her beloved boyfriend. In a similar line,
Chen says, “the protagonists’ desperate search for a way out of their ill fate, is on the one hand,
part of their journey toward self-fulfillment” (143). This further shows that Ona embraces the
American values of freedom of choice and free decisions. She does not consult anyone before
she commits suicide. Leila’s saying, “I had to believe that it’d been Ona’s choice,” explains that
Ona claims her freedom and independence through her death (Ng 15). Ona leaves her mark of
individuality with her ultimate decision, death.
Nina asserts her individuality and her embrace of American culture and values in
disobeying her mother and father through an abortion and moving to New York to live
independently. Just like Ona, Nina openly follows an American lifestyle by dating and sleeping
with foreign boys. However, when Nina gets an abortion, her parents take the news as an insult,
humiliation, and degradation as parents who are disobeyed (Ng 25). Additionally, Nina’s
abortion stands as a cultural shock and disgrace. Leila says, “they forecast bad days in this life
and the next. ‘I have no eyes for you,’ Mah said. ‘Don’t call us,’ Leon said” (Ng 25). This shows
that the father has an active role in the family, just as the mother does, in resenting the actions of

 

23  

the daughter that are against their Chinese culture, tradition, and values. On the other hand, Nina
knows she does not have to live with her parents in the USA. She can move out of her parents’
house and live on her own. Thus, she does not fear to disclose her actions that go against her
parents’ Chinese cultural values. Nina’s honesty and toleration of the harms at the hands of her
parents show that her action is from her freedom of choice.
Nina also professes herself by avoiding her parents and talking back to them. Leila
relates, “Like with Ona, I figured it was her own choice” (Ng 25). This shows Nina’s choice of
action demonstrates her independence from her parents and their Chinese culture and values. Just
as Cheng states, “Though born into a Chinese family, she does not identify with her parents’
Chinese way of doing things” (159). Leila says, “I always thought Nina had the best deal because
she escaped the day-to-day of it: the every-single-moment. She got time away from the fright of
it” (Ng 15). This implies that Nina moves to NY to be away from family conflicts and troubles.
Additionally, in the scene where Leila relates that she can keep quiet about the way Mah and
Leon rant, Nina yells back at them instead of being silent, which shows she is outspoken (Ng
25). She does not value Chinese traditions and culture where a girl is supposed to do whatever
her parents order her to do. Also, a girl is not supposed to speak her mind, but should keep quiet
to be ruled over. Nina does not do this. This demonstrates how Nina is different from the
traditional Chinese girl who is supposed to obey her parents. Nina says, “They don’t want to
come into our worlds. We keep on having to live in their world. They won’t move one bit. …and
I know about should. I know about have to. …But I’ve learned this: I can’t” (Ng 33). This shows
that Nina initially wanted a balance between American and Chinese cultural life. However, her
parents do not want to live in between American and Chinese culture. Thus, Nina decides to
move out and be fully American just as Ona decides to express her freedom of choice. In a

 

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similar way, Leila marries privately to reinforce her individuality and her embrace of American
culture and values.
Analysis of The Joy Luck Club
June refuses to follow her mother’s instructions to be a prodigy to claim her individuality
based on American culture and values. When June says that her mother believes she can be
anything in the USA, she states she does not believe that (Tan 132). She does not agree with her
mother’s goal. Even though June’s mother lacks the means to provide quality education or
training for June to be a genius, June’s mother does not give up. However, June’s saying, “after
seeing my mother’s disappointed face once again, something inside of me began to die,” shows
that she does not have the same motivation or interest as her mother to become a genius. In this
regard, Evans says, “…not all Asian Americans desire … to live up to the stereotype of the
‘docile whiz kid’” (40). June only wants to become a genius to live up to her mother’s
expectations. This also implies June is trying to satisfy her mother’s expectations instead of her
own. Thus, she says, “You want me to be someone that I’m not! … I’ll never be the kind of
daughter you want me to be” (Tan 142). This demonstrates that June takes full control of her life
and who she wants to be. As June claims her individuality, she disregards her mother and her
mother’s wishes. Thus, she becomes the disobedient girl who has no space in her mother’s house
(Tan 142).
As a grown up woman, June accepts her mother by realizing that her mother had been
right about her intelligence and by committing to fulfill her mother’s dream of meeting her lost
twin sisters in China. In the scene where June recalls her mother’s statement that she could have
been a genius if she wanted to because she has natural talent, June tries to play the piano her
mother gave her and becomes “surprised at how easily the notes came back to [her]” (Tan 143-

 

25  

144). This demonstrates that for the first time June realizes she has natural talent her mother
believes in. June realizes that if she sincerely tried to be a genius, she could have become one as
her mother desired. June says, “the minute our train leaves the Hong Kong border and enters
Shenzhen, China, I feel different. …And I think, My mother was right. I am becoming Chinese”
(Tan 267). Once again, June realizes her mother was correct. She is acknowledging her mother’s
intelligence and wisdom. The respect June lost as a teenager toward her mother, she regains as an
adult. Also, June understands, as Shen says, “[June] realize[s] that [her] mother [has] always had
[her] best interests at heart” (Bloom 13). As June lands in China to fulfill her mother’s dream of
finding her lost twin sisters and starts to understand the Chinese language, June shows ultimate
acceptance of her mother (Tan 281). June says, “my sisters and I stand, arms around each other,
laughing and wiping the tears from each other’s eyes” (Tan 288). This shows that June finds her
happiness not only in finding her twin sisters, but also in finding herself through accepting her
mother and her Chinese heritage.
Waverly disobeys and disrespects her mother by refusing to be her mother’s boasting
object, dating American man, and marrying American man to claim her individuality based on
American culture and values. As Waverly wins Chess games, her mother, Lindo, takes pride in
her achievements. Waverly says, “‘Lost eight piece this time. Last time was eleven. What I tell
you? Better off lose less!’ I was annoyed, but I couldn’t say anything” (Tan 97). This shows
Waverly does not appreciate her mother’s interferences into her Chess game. It also implies
Waverly disregards her mother’s tips because she feels her mother does not have knowledge of
the Chess. Even though Waverly feels annoyed with her mother’s tips, she does not say anything
to avoid being disrespectful to her. However, in the scene where Waverly’s mother boasts about
her in the market place to anyone who looks her way, Waverly speaks up against her mother,

 

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saying, “if you want to show off, then why don’t you learn to play chess” (Tan 99). On one hand,
this shows Waverly crosses the line of being an obedient Chinese daughter who does not speak
up against parents. She also accuses her mother of ignorance. On the other hand, this shows she
claims her individuality following the American culture and values. She decides how she wants
to be treated and looked at. She does not want to be a tool of her mother to be broadcast openly
in public. Furthermore, her mother’s saying, “We not concerning this girl. This girl not have
concerning for us,” shows Waverly disrespects her mother to the extent that her mother becomes
indifferent toward her (Tan 100). In a similar manner, Ho says, “in the face of rejection by
Waverly, [her mother] ignores her much adored but ungrateful daughter. She no longer advises
or hovers over Waverly” (Wiener 66). In the scene where Waverly tries to catch her mother’s
attention about her white American boyfriend, Rich, Lindo ignores the topic and circumstances
surrounding Waverly’s boyfriend or her plans to be married (Tan 168). This shows how Lindo is
disregarding her daughter’s American lifestyle and values just as her daughter disrespects hers.
Waverly, as a grown up woman, reconciles with her mother by accepting that half of her
characteristics come from her mother and by respecting her mother’s superior understanding and
wisdom. In the scene where Waverly goes to her mother to inform her about her marriage to her
white American boyfriend, her mother tells her that she knows the news already (Tan 181). This
shows that Waverly’s mother knows more about her than she expected. Also, her mother
understands her daughter to the extent that she does not need Waverly to inform her about every
detail of her life. Additionally, the fact that Waverly finds herself guilty of thinking negatively
about her mother shows that Waverly is not as knowledgeable, wise, and skillful as her mother
(Tan 181). This also shows that Waverly has a lot to learn from her mother. In the scene where
Waverly learns from her mother that half of her characteristics come from her father while the

 

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other half come from her mother shows that Waverly will always have the Chinese parts of her
parents within herself even if she denies her Chinese heritage. Waverly’s boyfriend says, “Can
you believe what comes out of her mouth? Now I know where you get your sweet, tactful
nature” (Tan 184). This confirms to Waverly her natural connection with her mother. Also, it
implies Waverly can be happy while accepting her mother and her mother’s Chinese culture and
values.
Lena disrespects her mother by replacing her mother’s Chinese manner of serving guests,
older people, and disregarding her mother’s superstitious statements for the American style of
serving guests and avoiding Chinese superstitions. Lena’s mother says, “my daughter has put me
in the tiniest of rooms in her new house. …I smiled. But to Chinese ways of thinking, the guest
bedroom is the best bedroom” (Tan 242). This shows how Lena adopts an American way of
thinking and living to the extent that she does not know how to accommodate her mother based
on Chinese traditions of receiving a guest. Also, Lena forgets her mother and her mother’s
Chinese values that state the honor that should be given to older relatives. Therefore, she finds it
normal to put her mother in the tiny guestroom of her house. On the other hand, Lena’s mother
notices how her daughter has become a foreigner who is moving only farther away from her and
her Chinese values and thinking. Additionally, Lena’s mother’s saying that Lena will not listen
to her advice of not putting any babies in the tiny guestroom with slanted roof for fear of bad
omens shows that Lena does not believe in her mother’s superstitions (Tan 242). It also implies
that Lena disregards her mother’s negative attitude based on Chinese superstitions. This becomes
clearer when Lena says, “and I knew that was not true. I knew my mother made up anything to
warn me, to help me avoid some unknown danger” (Tan 105). This shows Lena does not
appreciate her mother’s negative perspectives in everyday objects. Lena’s mother says, “I raised

 

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a daughter, watching her from another shore. I accepted her American ways” (Tan 251). This
demonstrates that there is a barrier between Lena and her mother. Lena’s mother accepts her
daughter’s American ways even though she resents the fact that she has not raised her daughter
in way pleasing to her (Tan 243).
As a grown up woman, Lena reconciles with her mother by accepting her mother’s
Chinese superstitious statements and way of thinking. Lena says, “I believe my mother has the
mysterious ability to see things before they happen” (Tan 149). This shows that Lena has come
to accept and believe in her mother’s Chinese way of thinking and supernatural predictions.
Grice adds in this regard, “…Lena …believes that [her] mother [has] magical powers” (Wiener
83). It also implies that Lena’s mother’s supernatural predictions affect her either positively or
negatively. For instance, when Lena’s mother visits her, Lena is fearful of her mother’s
predictions about her renovated house and her relationship with her husband (Tan 151). This
shows that Lena believes in her mother’s predictions to be true and effective. Therefore, she is
afraid what her mother may say to her based on her mother’s observations of her house and her
relationship with her husband. Furthermore, when the flower vase breaks after falling off from
the flimsy end table, Lena says, “‘It doesn’t matter,’ I say, … ‘I knew it would happen.’ ‘Then
why you don’t stop it?’ asks my mother. And it’s such a simple question” (Tan 165). This shows
Lena has same intuition as her mother to comprehend a troublesome situation. Additionally, it
symbolizes Lena’s understanding that her mother notices her poor relationship with her husband
that may end up breaking. Therefore, Lena’s mother wants her to fix it before it breaks like the
flower vase. Lena realizes that her mother advises her with a simple question to take action
before the predicted negative event comes to pass. This shows that Lena finds a common ground
between herself and her mother and her mother’s Chinese heritage.

 

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Rose disobeys and disrespects her mother by challenging the Chinese notion of an

obedient daughter who listens to her mother and takes care of her younger siblings. As a young
girl, Rose follows her instincts against the desires of her mother asserting her independence. For
instance, during a dream, Rose avoids picking a doll that her mother wants her to pick,
demonstrating that Rose asserts her will and takes her own course of life against the wishes of
her mother (Tan 186). This also shows as Shen says, “the daughters’ battle for autonomy and
independence from powerful imposing mothers are relentless, and the confrontations between
mother and daughters are fierce” (Bloom 11). Additionally, the fact that Rose dates Ted, an
American boy, against her mother’s wishes shows that Rose decides to follow American culture
and lifestyle over her mother’s Chinese culture and values (Tan 117). It also implies Rose finds
peace of mind and comfort amongst American people instead of Chinese. Furthermore, when
Rose says, “Why? Why did I have to care for them?,” shows that she does not appreciate that her
mother forces her to take care of her younger siblings (Tan 123). She does not want to play the
role of an older Chinese sister who is responsible for the bodies of her younger siblings (Tan
123).
As a grown up woman, Rose comes to terms with her mother by listening to her mother,
and accepting her mother’s Chinese culture and values. Rose says, “back home, I thought about
what she said. And it was true. Lately I had been feeling hulihudu – confused. And everything
around me seemed to be heimongmong – dark fog” (Tan 188). This shows that Rose starts to
think over what her mother says instead of ignoring and disregarding her mother’s statement as
irrational Chinese statements. Also, Rose realizes that what her mother says is true as to how she
will feel if she listens to a psychiatrist instead of her mother (Tan 188). The truthfulness of her
mother’s statements inspires her to admire her mother and accept her mother’s Chinese culture

 

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and values. Additionally, Rose considers her mother’s advice to speak up to her husband for her
rights (Tan 193). This shows Rose starts listening to her mother unlike during her childhood
when she refused to listen to her mother. When Rose accepts her mother and listens to her
advice, she finds courage to speak up to her husband for her rights (Tan 196). Rose is able to
face her husband and convey to him that she will stand up for her rights in divorcing him. She is
not going to allow him to throw her away like unwanted weeds from the garden (Tan 196). This
demonstrates Rose’s determination and courage that she finds in herself by accepting her mother
and her mother’s Chinese culture and values. In a similar way, Foster says, “it is through [her]
mother that [she] find [her] voice…” (Bloom 19). Rose says, “That night I dreamt … I spotted
Old Mr. Chou and my mother off in the distance … ‘There she is!’ cried my mother. Old Mr.
Chou smiled at me and waved” (Tan 196). This shows complete reconciliation between Rose and
her mother. Because Rose accepts her mother and listens to her, Mr. Chou does not scare her
with nightmares. Mr. Chou waves at Rose peacefully as if Rose is a young obedient daughter of
her mother.
Conclusion
Bone and The Joy Luck Club share a central theme of the mothers’ and daughters’
relationships. Bone shows deterioration of the relationships between the mother and her three
daughters due to the daughters’ disregard of their mother’s Chinese culture and values in order to
claim their individuality based on American lifestyle and values. Due to the same reasons, the
mothers’ and daughters’ relationships deteriorate in The Joy Luck Club. However, unlike Bone,
The Joy Luck Club shows improvement of the relationships between the mothers and their
daughters. As grown up women, the daughters realize they are part of each other. Therefore,
their happiness depends on their acceptance of their mothers and their mothers’ Chinese culture

 

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and values. Even though these books are about the immigrant Chinese American families, the
conflicting relationships between mothers and daughters exist in every family, specifically in
immigrant families. As the daughters try to assimilate into the mainstream culture, the immigrant
parents differentiate from the mainstream culture by sticking to their native culture and values.
This assimilation and differentiation with regard to cultures between parents and children create
problems in the family. The seven different relationships between mothers and daughters
explored in Bone and The Joy Luck Club exist in American society in immigrant families. Books
like Bone and The Joy Luck Club serve as an educational tool to improve the relationships
between the mothers and daughters who are dealing with assimilation and differentiation
conflicts in the family. Reading these kinds of books will broaden the perspectives of the parents
as well as their daughters or children to guide them to interact with each other with
understanding and kindness.

 

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