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The Joy Luck Club
by Amy Tan
Ying-ying St. Clair Timeline and Summary
In 1918, when Ying-ying was four, she awoke to many preparations for the Moon Festival, i.e., she is dressed in pretty clothes. Relatives from all over arrive to celebrate the Moon Festival. They have rented a boat on Tai Lake, and Ying-ying’s nanny promises that she will meet the Moon Lady. Throughout the morning, Ying-ying is very impatient to get to the boat. Finally the family is brought to the lake by a team of rickshaws. Ying-ying has fun exploring the boat. She watches boys using a bird to catch fish. She watches an old woman gut and clean the fish. Ying-ying’s new clothes are completely soiled. Her nanny finds her, scolds her, and removes all her clothes. Ying-ying continues standing in the back of the boat, waiting for her mother to come scold her. No one comes, and when the fireworks go off, Ying-ying falls into the lake. She is caught by a fishing boat. They ask her to point to her boat, and she mistakenly points to a boat where the little girl is safe. Ying-ying feels lost forever. Her rescuers drop her off on shore. Ying-ying forgets her troubles when she watches a play about the Moon Lady. She is utterly entranced by the Moon Lady’s tragic tale; she sobs at the end of the play, drawing a connection between her own loss and the Moon Lady’s loss of the world. Ying-ying runs to tell the Moon Lady her secret wish, but as she runs closer and closer, the beautiful Moon Lady turns into an ugly figure. As Ying-ying declares her wish, she realizes that the Moon Lady is a man. In the present day, Ying-ying has forgotten both her secret wish and her eventual return to her family. As Ying-ying ages, she begins to remember how she lost herself. Her secret wish to the Moon Lady was that she be found. Ying-ying comes to America via Angel Island. From the picture, she looks scared, waiting for something to happen. Ying-ying’s husband, an American named Clifford, gave his wife a new name and birth date on her papers. Her family moves from Oakland to the North Beach neighborhood in San Francisco, where their apartment was on a very steep hill. Ying-ying is unhappy in this new apartment, muttering about things not being balanced, and spends time constantly rearranging the furniture and appliances. Clifford figures it to be "nesting instincts," because Ying-ying is expecting a baby. Ying-ying’s baby boy is stillborn, which she knew would happen but did nothing to prevent. In the present day, Ying-ying is in her adult daughter’s guest bedroom, and she sees her daughter’s house as ready to break into pieces. Ying-ying decides that the only way to save her daughter is to tell her about the past. We flash back to Ying-ying as a pretty young girl in Wushi, China. Ying-ying’s family is immensely wealthy, and she is stubborn and wild and independent. When she is sixteen, she meets the man she knows she will later marry. Six months later, she is married to this very bad man. Ying-ying comes to love her husband, and try to please him. She conceives a son. Meanwhile, her husband is out womanizing. He finally leaves her for some opera singer. In anger and hate, Ying-ying aborts her child. Back in the present, Ying-ying begins to speak of her daughter, saying that her daughter sees only a small old lady instead of a dangerous tiger lady. (Ying-ying was born in the year of the tiger.) Back in the flashback, Ying-ying lives with relatives in the countryside for ten years after her husband leaves her. Then she decided to work as a shopgirl in Shanghai. While working, she met Clifford St. Clair, who she knew she would one day marry. St. Clair courted her for four years, and after Ying-ying received word of her husband’s death, she consented to marry St. Clair. Upon hearing of her husband’s death, however, Ying-ying lost her spirit and became a ghost. The flashback ends. Now Ying-ying wants to give her spirit to her daughter so her daughter doesn’t become a ghost as well.