Study Guide

The Joy Luck Club Visions of America

By Amy Tan

Visions of America

Part 1, Prologue

On her journey she cooed to the swan: "In America I will have a daughter just like me. But over there nobody will say her worth is measured by the loudness of her husband’s belch. Over there nobody will look down on her, because I will make her speak only perfect American English." (I.Prologue.2)

America represents a chance for this woman to, through her daughter, essentially start over.

Part 1, Chapter 1
Lindo Jong

"Chinese people do many things," she said simply. "Chinese people do business, do medicine, do painting. Not lazy like American people. We do torture. Best torture." (II.1.10)

Even if Lindo doesn’t know what torture means, she’s still totally willing to assert that Chinese people do it better than Americans. But is she asserting pride or contempt here?

Part 1, Chapter 3
Lindo Jong

I watched this same movie when you did not come. The American soldier promises to come back and marry the girl. She is crying with genuine feeling and he says, "Promise! Promise! Honey-sweetheart, my promise is as good as gold." Then he pushes her onto the bed. But he doesn’t come back. His gold is like yours, only fourteen carats.

To Chinese people, fourteen carats isn’t real gold. Feel my bracelets. They must be twenty-four carats, pure inside and out. (I.3.2)

According to Lindo, Americans don’t understand commitment.

Part 2, Chapter 1
Lindo Jong

"This American rules," she concluded at last. "Every time people come out from foreign country, must know rules. You not know, judge say, Too bad, go back. They not telling you why so you can use their way go forward. They say, Don’t know why, you find out yourself. But they knowing all the time. Better you take it, find out why yourself." She tossed her head back with a satisfied smile." (II.1.27)

Lindo obviously believes in America as a land of arbitrary rules that decide your fate – so she argues that you have to study and know the rules so you won’t be held back or taken advantage of by people that want to keep you down.

Part 2, Chapter 4
Jing-mei (June) Woo

My mother believed you could be anything you wanted in America. You could open a restaurant. You could work for the government and get good retirement. You could buy a house with almost no money down. You could become rich. You could become instantly famous. (II.4.1)

Suyuan believes in America as the land of opportunity. Despite not liking many Americans’ personal characteristics, she likes American circumstances.

Part 3, Chapter 4

And then she pointed her crab leg toward her future son-in-law, Rich, and said, "See how this one doesn’t know how to eat Chinese food."

"Crab isn’t Chinese," said Waverly in her complaining voice…

Auntie Lindo looked at her daughter with exasperation. "How do you know what Is Chinese, what is not Chinese?" And then she turned to Rich and said with much authority, "Why you are not eating the best part?"

And I saw Rich smiling back, with amusement, and not humility, showing in his face. He had the same coloring as the crab on his plate: reddish hair, pale cream skin, and large dots of orange freckles. While he smirked, Auntie Lindo demonstrated the proper technique, poking her chopstick into the orange spongy part: "You have to dig in here, get this out. The brain is the most tastiest, you try."

Waverly and Rich grimaced at each other, united in disgust. (III.4.40)

Rich is a stand-in for the average American here. Jing-mei doesn’t view Rich favorably because he doesn’t show a proper amount of respect, while Auntie Lindo wonders, quite reasonably, why Rich doesn’t eat the best part of his crab.

Part 4, Chapter 2
Ying-ying St. Clair

Saint took me to America, where I lived in houses smaller than the one in the country. I wore large American clothes. I did servant’s tasks. I learned the Western ways. I tried to speak with a thick tongue. I raised a daughter, watching her from another shore. I accepted her American ways.

With all these things, I did not care. I had no spirit. (IV.2.75)

Despite Clifford St. Clair thinking that he was saving Ying-ying by bringing her to America, Ying-ying doesn’t have an extremely positive opinion of the Land of Opportunity. In some ways, her life in China was better – she had a larger house, didn’t do "servant’s tasks, and would have been able to better relate to her daughter there.

Part 4, Chapter 3

"But if he is not a citizen, you should immediately do number two. See here, you should have a baby. Boy or girl, it doesn’t matter in the United States. Neither will take care of you in your old age, isn’t that true?" And we both laughed. (IV.3.44)

Chinese people believe that American children don’t respect or take care of parents.

"Religion, you must say you want to study religion," said this smart girl. "Americans all have different ideas about religion, so there are no right and wrong answers. Say to them, I’m going for God’s sake, and they will respect you." (IV.3.41)

There is no value judgment placed on this religious openness, but instead thoughts on how to utilize it to gain entry into the country and gain access to "American circumstances."

Lindo Jong

Americans don’t really look at one another when talking. They talk to their reflections. They look at others or themselves only when they think nobody is watching. So they never see how they really look. They see themselves smiling without their mouths open, or turned to the side where they cannot see their faults. (IV.3.18)

According to Lindo, American’s are really bad at seeing themselves for who they are. They don’t look other people in the eye so can’t see themselves as reflected by others. They also don’t even see their true selves in the mirror, because they are too busy posing at their most attractive angle, unwilling to see their faults.

I taught her how American circumstances work. If you are born poor here, it’s no lasting shame. You are first in line for a scholarship. If the roof crashes on your head, no need to cry over this bad luck. You can sue anybody, make the landlord fix it. You do not have to sit like a Buddha under a tree letting pigeons drop their dirty business on your head. You can buy an umbrella. Or go inside a Catholic church. In America, nobody says you have to keep the circumstances somebody else gives you.

She learned these things, but I couldn’t teach her about Chinese character. How to obey your parents and listen to your mother’s mind. How not to show your own thoughts, to put your feelings behind your face so you can take advantage of hidden opportunities. Why easy things are not worth pursuing. How to know your own worth and polish it, never flashing it around like a cheap ring. Why Chinese thinking is best. (IV.3.8)

Lindo understands America as a land of opportunity and possibility, but she’s sad that "Chinese character" didn’t stick to her daughter, because she believes that Chinese character is best. Did Lindo attempt the impossible by trying to give her children "American circumstances and Chinese character"?

And then I saw another sign across the street. It was painted on the outside of a short building: "Save Today for Tomorrow, at Bank of America." And then I thought to myself, This is where American people worship. See, even then I was not so dumb! Today that church is the same size, but where that short bank used to be, now there is a tall building, fifty stories high, where you and your husband-to-be work and look down on everybody. (IV.3.50)

Lindo believes that Americans care more about money than about God.

Part 4, Chapter 4

"My sons have been quite successful, selling our vegetables in the free market. We had enough these last few years to build a big house, three stories, all of new brick, big enough for our whole family and then some. And every year, the money is even better. You Americans aren’t the only ones who know how to get rich!" (IV.4.59)

Jing-mei’s great aunt in China (Canning’s aunt), believes that everyone in America – including Chinese immigrants in America – knows how to get rich.

Jing-mei (June) Woo

He flips through the pages quickly and then points to the menu. "This is what they want," says my father.

So it’s decided. We are going to dine tonight in our rooms, with our family, sharing hamburger, french fries, and apple pie à la mode. (IV.4.68)

For these Chinese people, hamburgers, french fries, and apple pie à la mode embody America.