Study Guide

The Joy Luck Club Foreignness and 'The Other'

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Foreignness and 'The Other'

Part 2, Chapter 1
Waverly Jong

At the corner of the alley was Hong Sing’s, a four-table café with a recessed stairwell in front that led to a door marked "Tradesmen." My brothers and I believed the bad people emerged from this door at night. Tourists never went to Hong Sing’s, since the menu was printed only in Chinese. A Caucasian man with a big camera once posed me and my playmates in front of the restaurant. He had us move to the side of the picture window so the photo would capture the roasted duck with its head dangling from a juice-covered rope. After he took the picture, I told him he should go into Hong Sing’s and eat dinner. When he smiled and asked me what they served, I shouted, "Guts and duck’s feet and octopus gizzards!" Then I ran off with my friends. (II.1.8)

Hong Sing’s is an aspect of Chinatown that exists outside the purview of white America, and as "American" as Waverly is, she still belongs to the world of Chinatown – a world that a white man finds exotic enough to capture on film.

Part 2, Chapter 3
Rose Hsu Jordan

And then she spoke quietly about Ted’s future, his need to concentrate on his medical studies, why it would be years before he could even think about marriage. She assured me she had nothing whatsoever against minorities; she and her husband, who owned a chain of office-supply stores, personally knew many fine people who were Oriental, Spanish, and even black. But Ted was going to be in one of those professions where he would be judged by a different standard, by patients and other doctors who might not be as understanding as the Jordans were. She said it was so unfortunate the way the rest of the world was, how unpopular the Vietnam War was. (II.3.14)

To Ted’s mom, Rose is foreign – not an American like Mrs. Jordan’s son – and her foreignness could give Ted a bad reputation. This is the most overt instance of racism in the book, most notable for its mention of the war in Vietnam.

Part 4, Chapter 3

"What is this nonsense?" I asked her, putting the strips of paper in my pocket, thinking I should study these classical American sayings.

"They are fortunes," she explained. American people think Chinese people write these sayings."

"But we never say such things!" I said. "These things don’t make sense. These are not fortunes, they are bad instructions." (IV.3.60)

An example of America inventing its own ideas about China.

Lena St. Clair

I was still screaming after two laughing men grabbed this man and, shaking him, said, "Joe, stop it, for Chrissake. You’re scaring that poor little girl and her maid." (II.2.38)

Seeing an Asian woman and what appears to be a white girl, people’s first conclusion is that the Asian woman is the girl’s maid.

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