Study Guide

An-mei Hsu in The Joy Luck Club

By Amy Tan

An-mei Hsu

The Fierce Female

Even more than the other members of the Joy Luck Club women, An-mei believes in the mama-daughter bond:

"Not know your own mother?" cries Auntie An-mei with disbelief. "How can you say? Your mother is in your bones!" (I.1.134)

We might balk a little at the idea of our mom being imprinted on our very bones, but An-mei views the mother-daughter relationship as so intrinsic that it's corporeal. But hey: that might be expected from a woman who watched her mother carve out a chunk of flesh in an effort to save her grandmother.

And no, we're not joking:

My mother took her flesh and put it in the soup. She cooked magic in the ancient tradition to try to cure her mother this one last time. She opened Popo’s mouth, already too tight from trying to keep her spirit in. She fed her this soup, but that night Popo flew away with her illness. Even though I was young, I could see the pain of the flesh and the worth of the pain.

This is how a daughter honors her mother. It is shou so deep it is in your bones. The pain of the flesh is nothing. The pain you must forget. Because sometimes that is the only way to remember what is in your bones. You must peel off your skin, and that of your mother, and her mother before her. Until there is nothing. No scar, no skin, no flesh. (I.2.51)

And, in an even more intense moment of mother-daughter connection, An-mei’s mother commits suicide in order to give her daughter a better life. No wonder An-mei thinks of the maternal bond as stronger than iron.

The Meek Mama

But surprisingly, given the ferocity of the women in An-mei's family, the first piece of gossip we hear about An-mei is that she lacks wood in her character (meaning that she’s a pushover). That doesn’t mean that she’s all soft, though. One of An-mei’s strongest personality traits is her belief in her nengkan – her personal ability to accomplish anything she sets her mind to. An-mei applies her nengkan to cooking, to starting a life in America and raising seven children there, and even searching for her drowned son, Bing.

And even if An-mei isn't the most bombastic member of the Joy Luck Club, she has good reason for being a little meek sometimes. After all, she was taught to behave that way. When An-mei was a little girl, she learned from her repressed and unhappy mother that you have to swallow your tears and make yourself as inconspicuous as possible:

My mother smiled and walked over to me. She smoothed some of my wayward hairs back in place and tucked them into my coiled braid. "A boy can run and chase dragonflies, because that is his nature," she said. "But a girl should stand still. If you are still for a very long time, a dragonfly will no longer see you. Then it will come to you and hide in the comfort of your shadow." (I.4.52)

One of An-mei’s wishes for her own daughter, Rose, is that Rose will be able to stand up for herself—something which An-mei’s mother was unable to do, and something that led to terrible suffering.

An-mei's extremely worried about her daughter, who, despite being in America, seems unable to speak up for herself and lets life happen to her. An-mei also wants Rose to strive in her life, not because trying in a hopeless situation will change anything (it didn’t change the fact that Bing died), but because Rose’s life is worth fighting for.