The Theme of Identity Crisis in The Joy Luck Club, a Novel by Amy Tan

Last Updated: 24 Apr 2023
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Who am I? What is my purpose? These are questions humans ask themselves every day. The women in the novel Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, do the same. The story surrounds the lives of four mothers and their daughters. The four mothers who grew up in China, have gone through serious struggles to discover who they are. The four women must go against their family-centered culture in order to find their own identity. The mothers eventually move to America to secure a better life for themselves and their daughters. That is when the Joy Luck Club is created, obviously it gives them hope through the transition from China to America The mothers help one another to answer humanities biggest questions apart from the culture which had previously defined them As their daughters grow up, they search for the same answers in their individual lives. The theme of identity crisis is examined by the mothers in China, then later reexamined by the daughters growing up in America.

All four mothers while living in China had the identity of their families, and because the family was their identity, they had no chance to discover their own personality. Identity was based fully on who their husband is and what he does, Somehow, despite all of the external pressure trying to define them; the four women find their individual identities. For example, the night that Lindo gets married, she is extremely distressed, She does not want to marry this man or be a part of the family. As she is crying just before the wedding, she looks into the mirror, Lindo does not see a worthless weak girl, bttt as she put it “I was surprised at what I saw. I had a beautiful red dress on, but what I saw was even more valuable I was strong I was pure. I had genuine thoughts inside that no one could see, no one could ever take away.”

Lindo finds that in this difficult situation, she does not have to conform to what her family or husband wants, but who she truly is Lindo can now see that her value is based on herself and nothing else This translates to the other mothers as well; they discover that the culture tells them that they are a certain way, but they do not have to be what society tells them. For An—mei, one of the mothers, she was taught this by her own mother. An-mei’s mother is the fourth of five wives to Wu Tsing, a wealthy businessman; her mother is ashamed of this. An-mei’s mother sees her situation as it is, she has no rights as the fourth wife, not even enough to be able to sleep with her husband before the “low-class” “dark-skinned” girl who is Wu Tsing’s fifth wife.

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This makes An-mei’s mother want something better for her daughter. Because of the difficult life An~mei’s mother ends up committing suicide, but intern leaves a better life for her daughter, An-mei, must now work to build her own individuality apart from her family and mother. It is amazing in a culture that is so focused on family identity that these women can go into this culture and find out who they are. In the novel, the mothers see that though they have found strength in China, the best option for their daughters to find themselves would be in America. Out of love and respect for their families, they go to the United States with no idea of who they will meet and what they will do with themselves there. When the mothers come to America, they struggle with finding themselves in a new culture, but their daughters struggle with finding themselves in both cultures.

All four daughters; Waverly, June, Rose and Lena, must work through both American culture and Chinese culture to find their identity. For example, Lena looks back at her youth and remembers her mother’s tales about children not listening, and how they would hurt themselves. When she goes to school, all she can see are those stories told to her by her mother, through her “Chinese eyes.” Lena says “I saw things through my Chinese eyes, the part of me that I got from my mother. I saw devils dancing feverishly beneath a hole I had dug in the sandbox . . . When I became older I could see things Caucasian girls did not”. Lena’s Chinese heritage haunts her; the thoughts that come from her mother scare her. Lena must choose to fight what she believes to be from her mother, or use it to help shape her identity.

This is a battle that all of the daughters must fight, They must choose to deny their past and their culture, or incorporate it into who they are. Another conflict the daughters have with identity occurs when they must battle their mothers, Because of the Chinese culture the mothers in this novel have certain expectations of their daughters that they do not really understand. This happens in June’s life at a very young age, her mother wants her to become a prodigy, Suyuan believes that if June works hard enough she can be a prodigy at whatever she wants. For some time June believes this too, but as she fails at more and more of the activities that her mother put before her, she becomes discouraged and no longer wants to be a prodigy At one point in this story, she says: “I looked in the mirror above the bathroom sink and when I saw only my face staring backeand that it would always be ordinary , . t and then I saw what seemed to be the prodigy side of me—because 1 had never seen that face before.

The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful. This girl and l were the same, I had new thoughts, willful thoughts, or rather thoughts filled with lots of won‘ts. I won’t let her change me, I promised myself. I won’t be who I’m not” (134) June no longer wants to go along with the high expectations that her mother has for her, she now sees that her identity is found in herself. That her identity is something that her mother can never change or take away from her, that she will always be herself and her mother cannot change that. When the daughters grow older they begin to see something very different about their mothers.

They no longer see them as hindrances to their personal identities, but the people who have shaped them into who they are.  They see that what their mothers bring to them in ideas, experience and culture, is not something that takes away from who they are as people. These things have allowed the women in this novel to become who they are now the mothers in this story through heartbreak and struggle have made their daughters better people and vice versa. Through the battles of their lives, these women have come out with a clear picture of their identity that lives in harmony with their past and culture. In conclusion, though things in life may change, your identity, who you are, stays the same.

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The Theme of Identity Crisis in The Joy Luck Club, a Novel by Amy Tan. (2023, Apr 24). Retrieved from

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