When ignorance plagues your mind, you find it difficult to remove the rose colored glasses from your eyes and let the clarity of reality seep in. We all have the ability to scratch the surface of any culture, to know that Egypt has the Great Pyramids or China with its Great Wall. But when we are fortunate to be given an opportunity to find out how, why, and when, it is then, that our minds have finally declared to be rid of those glasses of ignorance and obtain an insight into a world that is different, unique and scary as could possibly be imagined. The Joy Luck Club provides the gateway into a look at the mysteries of the Chinese culture, adding spice to the mundane of conventional traditions. When attempting to gain insight on a different and unique culture, it is found that the emic perspective is extremely beneficial. The emic is a native’s viewpoint of their culture. In the book and after viewing the movie to gain the perspective of the director, each character commentated on the events that took place during their lives. Lindo, who was the recipient of a faulty pre-arranged marriage, discussed her dislikes of the entire ordeal, while still being a submissive and respectful wife until she got out of the marriage.
With the use of the emic perspective, one was able to really sense and understand, not only the events taking place, but gain insight on what the character felt and thought. Being able to see the culture through the eyes of a native allowed for a true and concise understanding of what their world is all about because they were able to maintain the reality without crossing into fantasy. The idea of marriage is well displayed in The Joy Luck Club.
Everything from blind love, to pre-arrangement to polygamy are characterized as having an acceptable place in Chinese society. The marriage of blind love seems to serve its title well. Ying Ying is captured by the charm of a handsome Chinese man who ultimately sweeps her off her feet. After the birth of their first and only son, she begins to see exactly what she got herself into.
Deceit, betrayal, adultery - all of which contributed to a phase of emotional disturbance that lead to her mind becoming so occupied with the event that she carelessly drowned her son while bathing him, not realizing it until it was too late. This storyline seemed to have been pulled directly from an overly dramatic soap opera. But what gave it the Chinese touch came in the aftermath of her crumbling marriage. The importance of the personal spirit was clearly seen when Ying Ying realized that her daughter, Lena had no vitality in her. She was very much alive, yet had no life because her mother has no life in her to transfer to her daughter. Having seen this Ying Ying picked herself up and began to rejuvenate her spirit to help her daughter not to make the same mistakes she did while in China.
She hugged her daughter tightly as if to say ‘receive what I neglected to give you, my spirit.’ Polygamy did not seem to be the most favored of marital practices. When An Mei’s mother had become a widow, she was verbally attacked by her family for dishonoring her husband, by not remaining a widow. Instead she elected to become the forth wife of a very rich man. From the marriage, it was seen that the lower in the order of wife one is, the less honor and respect she receives. This was shown particularly when the mother conceives a son that was immediately given to the first wife to raise and keep for herself.
A tradition due to the inherent patriarchal society, a theoretical social system based on the complete authority of the father or an elderly male over the family group. Not only was the marriage not well accepted by the family, but also the mother, after realizing her mistake, killed herself for the shame she brought to herself as well as her daughter. By far, the pre-arranged marriage was the most unique and intriguing of the three. Arranged by her mother when she was five, Lindo lives out her childhood preparing for her wedding when she turned fifteen. Overly nourished, groomed properly, and maintaining a cheery disposition were the constant things her mother kept up with until the time of her wedding. When Lindo was finally of age, her mother, convinced that her duty regarding her daughter was done, took the remainder of her family and moved away, leaving her daughter to start her new life on her own. It was not until the night of her wedding when she saw her husband for the first time.
It had become quite apparent that age is not a determining factor in Chinese arranged marriages, for her husband seemed as if he had not yet hit puberty. Regardless, she remained obedient to him as was expected of her, even when she was told to sleep on the floor, something not too many woman would have taken for very long. But then again, neither did Lindo, for she used her intelligence and slyness to convince her husband and his family that the marriage was all wrong and should be ended.
A subtle, yet most intriguing aspect of Chinese culture is their reverence for their ancestors. Ancestors are honored, respected, praised, and feared; it is as if their spirit is ever-present. And if this sprit “speaks” to anyone, the message must be carried out. When young Lindo was in the act of ending her marriage, she proclaimed to all that the marriage was in no way good and that her husband would die if they continued to remain together.
Everyone believed her, for they were afraid of angering their ancestors and followed what was revealed to Lindo even though the entire event was a product of her creativeness and lying ability. In a similar event, An Mei, after deciding to live with her mother instead of her extended family, saw how her mother was treated in the home of her husband as a fourth wife and how her mother had been violated early on, swore by her ancestors that the husband and other wives would experience severe vengeance from the ancestors for causing her mother’s suicidal death. Out of fear, they heeded her words and begged for forgiveness from the ancestors. What makes the ancestors demand so much reverence, no one can understand? All that can be said is that power can change the most powerful and authoritative being into a submissive and humble nothing. That power is truly beyond comprehension. The role of family in the Chinese culture seems to have a great presence in one’s life.
Even when the family became spiteful and cruel, one was still expected to pay them respect and offer their obedience. For example, when Lindo was married, her mother-in-law was very unkind to her, blaming her for not having any grandsons when it was the husband who elected not to sleep with Lindo. The mother-in-law slapped her and spoke very harshly to her. Yet despite all that, she did what they wished of her. This signified the respect she had for her elders although the mother did not present herself as deserving of it.
Even in the way Lindo spoke to the mother, never raising her voice or sometimes just keeping silent, it showed the power of elder family members as well as the ability of them abusing this power. This situation shows the gender stratification and age grade of the society. Due to the gender stratification the woman occupied a position of inferiority to men in the class and also different classes existed due to the age of individuals; elders having more power then the young. Throughout any culture, symbols often have a cherished place in every member of society. The Chinese are no exception. One of the first uses of symbolism is a story that is told of a single swan feather that carried with it all a mother’s good intentions to give to her daughter. The feather is a symbol of a mother’s hope in her daughter, hope that these good intensions reach her and become part of her.
Suyuan left her daughter June a swan feather after she died in which her father said symbolized the hope she had for June and whatever good came from her mother’s life was in that feather. When she arrived to China and saw her sister for the first time, she told them that their mother was dead, but that June’s presence with them would serve the place of her mother and that the hope that was given to her would also be given to the sisters. Her trip, as well as being there, symbolized her mother’s presence with her lost sisters and that everything her mother gave June would also be given to the sisters who did not have a mother for the majority of their lives.