The American Dream represents diverse aspects of the millions of people in the United States. Being different for every individual person, the dream has no way of really being categorized or labeled under a single thought or idea neither can it be considered good nor bad. Amy Tan underlies her book Joy Luck Club with the American Dream message, how it is different for each person, how it disappoints them and also how the dream allowed them to find their true selves and realize truly who they really are. On the very first page of the book, the story of the swan introduces this theme of the American Dream.
The mothers that immigrated to America: Lindo, Suyuan, Ying Ying, and An Mei all wanted better lives for their daughters, wanted them to “speak only perfect American English” (1), wanted them to marry well and wanted them to be proud. They wanted freedom for their daughters and wanted them to be successful without all the restrictions of arranged marriages like the one An-Mei had, forced marriages like the one Ying Ying had or even restrictions on living your life in peace like Suyan had when she was stuck at home during the .
This freedom and this success was the mother’s image of the American dream and why they moved out of their comfort zone, half way across the world to fulfill this dream. During the life of the different characters in America you can see the mothers guiding their daughters life so they that in the future they will be successful. Jing Mei explains that her “mother believed that [she] could be anything you wanted to be in American” (132) and decided that her daughter, Jing Mei should become a piano prodigy. After that decision Jing Mei was forced to practice two hours a day and expected to turn out great.
I can totally relate to this because since I’m also and Asian American that has a culturally Asian mother. When she moved to America, even though she didn’t have a bad life in China, she also had plans for me to be successful and live a life better than hers. But due to the different backgrounds that I had with my mom and the daughters in the book with their moms, we have different aspirations than our mothers. American is the land of the free and we want to have this freedom to live a normal AMERICAN life (since we are American) and be independent.
The daughters also wanted to find themselves and figure out who they were in the world since they are sandwiched between Asian backgrounds with American lifestyle. This shows that the American dream is not just one specific dream of becoming successful, it’s a broad spectrum of dreams that people have when they are in America. Waverly is the perfect example of how her dreams of being a chess prodigy and her mother’s dream are different. Her mother wanted this chess skill that she has to be famous, and make her successful but Waverly just wanted this to be her own independent achievement without her mother’s help and guidance.
This dream about being independent and finding their identity is shown throughout the book with the daughters and shows how their dream is different from their mother’s dream of making their daughters successful. Due to this contrast of cultures and the differences in opinion about the American dream that the daughter and their mothers have, the dreams may not turn out the way they expected them to turn out. In the Swan story, the narrator explains how the old woman bought a swan from Shanghai to American.
The woman dreamed of having a daughter who, like the swan, “became more than what was hoped for. ” But when she arrived in America, the officials took the swan away from her. All she could save of it was a feather. This swan represent her high expectations of her dream and how it was shattered when she came to America because her daughter even though is living a comfortable life, has different ideas than she does, an American style living, and doesn’t know much at all about heritage at all. The mothers realize as their daughters get older that this American Dream and Chinese culture cannot mix.
Lindo, Waverly’s mother explains that she “wanted her children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character” but didn’t know that “these two do not mix” (254). She also explains that she tried to teach Waverly to think in a Chinese way and be a Chinese character, but didn’t work. The reason why her dream didn’t work out was because Lindo and Waverly’s dream were different. And for Waverly to find her identity of being an American and to fit in into society she didn’t want to learn the Chinese way of living.
The American Dream that Lindo and all the other mother’s kind of failed because their daughters have lost most of their heritage and due to the daughter’s stubbornness in trying to figure out their own American Dream. But this doesn’t mean that all American Dreams fail, not even close. I am a American born Chinese, as I said before and I believe that these two cultures can mix, the American way of being free to do what you want to do, and the Chinese way of working hard and respecting your parents is a great combination and can maybe make you chieve greatness. I haven’t lost my Chinese heritage, language or ideas, but have also acquired many American aspects in ideas and thinking. My mother’s success in her American dream is due me already finding my identity as an Asian American and having the same aspirations that my mom has for me. The daughters in the book are still struggling to figure out who they are and their dreams. This contrast with their mother’s dreams causes disappointment to some of the dreams that the mothers have of their daughters.
This challenge of accomplishing this American dream always has a happing ending though. At the end of the book, even though some mothers realize having both American and Chinese cultures might be hard, all the characters in the book found themselves and their identity during their journey when trying to accomplish their dream. Ying Ying through watching her daughter go through her unhappy marriage recalls her awful marriage and how she became so quiet and distant from everybody including her daughter.
She realizes that she needed to get over her fears and her past and in the end tries to “give her [daughter] her spirit” (252) or in other words her courage and her experience so that her daughter and truly find herself and marry a guy worthy enough for her. June also goes through an ah-ha moment when she went to China to find her sisters. Before going when the other mothers asked about how she will explain who her mother was, June didn’t know and said that she didn’t really know her and what she would say about her life here.
But when they were in China and when her dad told her the story about her mother, she knew who she was and “what part of her is Chinese” (287) She says that it’s so obvious and clear that she can see who she is, her mother’s daughter, and Chinese. So as this book comes to an end, the American Dream comes to an end, where all the characters figur out their identity and their place in the world and where we see the differences in the different dreams that are there.