The Joy Luck Club
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How the mothers’ past influences the children’s present
The mothers in The Joy Luck Club expect their daughters to obey their elders and so learn by obedience, by observation and by imitation, as they did in China. Their elders did not explain to them how they should act. Because of the mothers’ internalised values and knowledge, they seem to assume that knowledge is innate and that it is present in their daughters and only has to be brought out or activated. The internalization is so psychologically complete and so much a part of the mothers' identities that they speak of it as physical. Am-mei, for instance, sees in her mother "my own true nature. What was beneath my skin. Inside my bones" (p. 40); to her, connection to her mother or filial respect is "so deep it is in your bones" (p. 41).
Here the past influences that shaped the psyche of the mothers has a negative impact upon later on when they expect their progeny to hold similar beliefs and have similar lifestyles to them. This is the cause of conflict between the mothers and the daughters. This is conflict stemming from the past’s influence upon the present. The mother’s resent that they do not have a relationship with their daughters similar to the ones they as children had with their mothers/elders.
The Chinese mothers form a continuity with their mothers in China, a connection which they want to establish with their American daughters. The mothers' past lives in China affect their daughters' lives in this country, just as the daughters' childhood experiences affect their identities and adult lives.
Throughout the novel the daughters' connection to their mothers comes through the ghosts of their ancestors. When she meets her sisters, Jing-Mei experiences the realisation that she has been connected to her past and connected to her Chinese heritage all along in spirit, even if not in her actions. When Jing-mei and her sisters look at the Polaroid they see that as the picture sharpens and develops that together they bear a striking resemblance to their mother. By the end of the book Jing-mei, like the other daughters, realises that she is just as much a part of her mother's spirit as she is of her flesh. Furthermore, she is the only one who can save her mother from becoming a ghost, by learning from her strength and keeping her heritage alive. In this sense the past is influencing the present which in turn is helping to keep the past alive.
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In the phone box outside Tesco