The Joy Luck Club
Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes:
I often lied when I had to translate for her, the endless forms, instructions, notices from school, telephone calls. "Shemma yisz?" – What meaning? – she asked me when a man at a grocery store yelled at her for opening up jars to smell the insides. I was so embarrassed I told her that Chinese people were not allowed to shop there. When the school sent a notice home about a polio vaccination, I told her the time and place, and added that all students were now required to use metal lunch boxes, since they had discovered old paper bags can carry polio germs. (II.2.32)
Lena doesn’t deliver perfect translations because she often has her own agenda or feelings about the issue.
I could not tell my father what she had said. He was so sad already with this empty crib in his mind. How could I tell him she was crazy?
So this is what I translated for him: "She says we must all think very hard about having another baby. She says she hopes this baby is very happy on the other side. And she thinks we should leave now and go have dinner." (II.2.76)
Ying-ying’s English must be really bad if she can’t tell that her daughter is lying. In any case, Lena functions as an interpreter/mediator between her parents, placing her in an uncomfortable position in which she is somewhat dishonest to both parents in order to preserve family harmony.
My mother has a wounded sound in her voice, as f I had put the list up to hurt her. I think how to explain this, recalling the words Harold and I have used with each other in the past: "So we can eliminate false dependencies…be equals…love without obligation…" But these are words she could never understand.
So instead I tell my mother this: "I don’t really know. It’s something we started before we got married. And for some reason we never stopped." (III.1.84)
Lena can’t hide behind fancy English words, and so has to tell her mother a version closer to the truth.