Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Joy Luck Club Read-Along Check-In #2

There is a Joy Luck Club (by Amy Tan) Read-Along hosted by 
Rachelle at The Reading Wench!
For this second Check-In we have read the last two chapters in the Feathers From a Thousand Li Away section: "The Red Candle" and "Moon Lady."

I am in disbelief about the (what I consider to be) bizarre beliefs accepted as 'traditions' in the Chinese culture as described by on this book. It would be a huge adjustment to live in a society based much more on accepted knowledge which disproves many of these superstitious beliefs. 

"The Red Candle" begins with a dramatic statement,
  I once sacrificed my life to keep my parents' promise. (49)
Wherein Lindo describes her betrothal at the age of only two years to a male infant one year younger than herself! Unbelievable, right?!? Lindo notes that her birth was not the result of a soldier promising her mother to return to her, and then marries someone else back in his own country, but rather "an earth horse for an earth sheep" as the matchmaker bragged of her--"the best marriage combination." This "earth sheep" was named...Tyan-yu--tyan for "sky," because he was so important, and yu, meaning "leftover," because when he was born his father was very sick and his family thought he might die. Tyan-yu would be the leftover of his father's spirit. But his father lived and his grandmother was scared the ghosts would turn their attention to this baby boy and take him instead. So they watched him carefully, make all his decisions, and he became very spoiled. 
  But even if I had known I was getting such a bad husband, I had no choice, now or later. That was how backward families in the country were. We were always the last to give up stupid old-fashioned customs. (51) 
Lindo's family then started treating her as if she belonged to the Huang family rather than their own,
  My mother did not treat me this way because she didn't love me. She would say this biting back her tongue, so she wouldn't wish for something that was no longer hers. (51)
Yikes! No way I could see myself doing that to my own child--any of it! Though I say that with the perspective of a 21st Century American, born and bred, and not a person living in the Chinese culture of this time. So who knows what I might have done as a matter of 'tradition.' Different times, different places, call for different actions. 

When Lindo is 12 years old, her family is flooded out of their home and land, with the current year's crop a total loss; they have nothing and are forced to relocate, though they decide she is now old enough to live with the Huang's. All their household belongings (covered with mud and soaking wet) are left as her dowry. I cannot imagine being given away to another family at the age of 12! Much as I might complain about my own mother, at least I had my grandmother as my main caregiver and she was kind and sad for Lindo! She basically became a slave in her future mother-in-law's house, learning how to do all the housework, cooking, etc., to the woman's expectations. The Huang's 
almost washed their thinking into my skin[.] I came to think of Tyan-yu as a god, someone whose opinions were worth much more than my own life. I came to think of Huang Taitai as my real mother, someone I wanted to please, someone I should follow and obey without question. 
  When I turned sixteen on the lunar new year, Huang Taitai told me she was ready to welcome a grandson by next spring. Even if I had not wanted to marry, where would I go live instead? Even though I was strong as a horse, how could I run away? The Japanese were in every corner of China. (57)
Then the Japanese invade their province and hardly anyone attends Lindo and Tyan-yu's wedding, which was quite the social affront at that time! As she prepares to be wed she thought to herself
I was strong I was pure. I had genuine thoughts inside that no one could see, that no one could ever take away from me. I was like the wind.
  I threw my head back and smiled proudly to myself. And then I draped the large embroidered red scarf over my face and covered these thoughts up. But underneath the scarf I will knew who I was. I made a promise to myself: I would always remember my parents' wishes, but I would never forget myself. (58)
And this is ultimately what saves Lindo--she saves herself! 

Initially, she was quite relieved to learn that Tyan-yu had no interest in sex, though her mother-in-law became very impatient for her to be pregnant. Lindo uses these superstitious beliefs about marriage to her advantage, convincing the her husband's family that she has been visited in a dream which told her one of the servants was actually Tyan-yu's spiritual wife and that she actually carried the child to be born to him...for Lindo knew the woman was pregnant and unwed, so everyone was happy, including her when she was bribed with tickets and enough money to emigrate to the U.S. Problem solved! :)

Ying-ying begins "The Moon Lady" by complaining about her daughter's life and lifestyle:
...I want to tell her this: We are lost, she and I, unseen and not seeing, unheard and not hearing, unknown by others. 
  I did not lose myself all at once. I rubbed out my face over the years washing away my pain, the same way carvings on stone are worn down by water. (67)
I love this passage!! So true of humans, we can indeed lose ourselves in just this way. (It adequately describes the last 10-12 years of my first marriage! I just worked at overlooking my lack of happiness until any thought of or consideration for it disappeared.) I made a solemn vow to myself to never again lose myself...
Ying-ying describes her experience as a 4-year-old child falling off the boat her parents had rented for the Moon Festival (Held on the fifteenth day of the eighth moon--the same day chosen for Lindo's wedding!) and becoming totally lost from anyone she knew.

Again, we see fear used as a motivator for 'good' behavior among children, as Ying-ying's caregiver/governess demonstrates:
  "What is a ceremony?" I asked as Amah slipped the jacket over my cotton underpants.
  "It is a proper way to behave. You do this and that, so the gods do not punish you," said Amah as she fastened by frog clasps.
  "What kind of punishment?" I asked boldly.
  "Too many questions!" cried Amah. You do not need to understand. Just behave, follow your mother's example. Light the incense, make an offering to the moon, bow your head. Do not shame me, Ying-ying." (69)
One of my college literature classes included one story written by an Indian author which described a man who had shamed himself, his family, and his society by losing all his money, so he disemboweled himself as a sacrifice/penance for his failure. I realize societies of the past have been based much more upon the reputation you maintain, especially through appearances and 'following the rules.' I am very glad that humanity appears to be evolving beyond such beliefs and standards for behavior, hopefully focusing much more on the motivations behind our actions and the sincerity, compassion, and philanthropic intent of our behaviors. 

I had to laugh out loud at all the equipment and food these people took with them onto this "boat," which must have been huge to hold everyone plus their accoutrements! :) The description of the two boys using the large bird to fish for them was was the description of her father eating a shrimp with its legs still wriggling!! (Yuck!) I love to eat shrimp, but I definitely prefer them dead and cooked first! I cannot imagine how frightened Ying-ying must have been to fall off the boat and then land in someone's fishing net! Fortunately, they treated her well, though they just left her on shore for whomever to claim. But that is when she saw "The Moon Lady" show! 
Of the Moon Lady character:
An eternity had passed since she last saw her husband, for this was her fate: to stay lost on the moon, forever seeking her own selfish wishes.
  "For woman is yin," she cried sadly, "the darkness within, where untempered passions lie. And man is yang, bright truth lighting our minds." (81)
Admittedly, this made me shiver with sexist!!! Ugh!! Ying-ying thinks to herself,
  At the end of her singing tale, I was crying, shaking with despair. Even though I did not understand her whole story, I understood her grief. In one small moment, we had both lost the world, and there was no way to get it back. (81)
Afterward, the crowd was invited to make their wish known to the Moon Lady so she could grant it, for a small fee, of course! Ying-ying wants the Moon Lady to grant her wish,
  "I have a wish," I said in a whisper, and still she did not hear me. So I walked closer yet, until I could see the face of the Moon Lady: shrunken cheeks, a broad oily nose, large glaring teeth, and red-stained eyes. A face so tired that she wearily pulled off her hair, her long gown fell from her shoulders. And as the secret wish fell from my lips, the Moon Lady looked at me and became a man. (82)
I couldn't help but chuckle at this! Can you imagine being only four years old, lost from your family, in only your underclothes and bare feet, in an absolutely unknown location, and then that shock?!? Poor child! 
...I remember everything that happened that day because it has happened many times in my life. The same innocence, trust, and restlessness, the wonder, fear, and loneliness. How I lost myself.
  I remember all these things. And tonight, on the fifteenth day of the eighth moon, I also remember what I asked the Moon Lady for so long ago. I wished to be found. (83)

Such traumatic experiences in childhood. I always marvel at the ways individuals can recover and continue living their lives after such events! Are you reading this book with us? Or have you read it? It truly is a picture of a culture/society very different in many ways from the one in which I have been raised. 

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