Symbolism in The Joy Luck Club

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Symbolism in The Joy Luck Club

Symbolism is defined by the dictionary as “the practice of attributing symbolic meanings or significance to objects, events, or relationships,” which means creating an importance and special meaning in objects that normally would not be important. In The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, a story of four Chinese immigrant women and their four American-born daughters, many symbols are presented. Throughout the many stories in the novel objects begin to hold significant importance to the women they are attributed to. Objects such as Suyuan Woo’s pendant, Lindo Jong’s red candle, and Lena St. Clair’s vase become symbolic for the relationships between these women and people and events that are important in their lives.

The jade pendant given to Jing-mei “June” by her mother Suyuan Woo is symbolic for the relationship June has with her mother before and after Suyuan’s death. In the story narrated by June entitled “Best Quality,” she says, “my mother gave me my life’s importance, a jade pendant on a gold chain” (197). June describes it as, “too large, too green, and too garishly ornate” (197), she did not understand the pendant and in the same way she did not understand her mother. At this point it is a symbol of their differences. In the same chapter, June recalls the conversation she had with her mother when June received the pendant, “For a long time, I wanted to give you this necklace. See, I wore this on my skin, so when you put this on your skin, then you know my meaning” (208). The meaning she describes is her maternal instincts to guide her daughter, but June is unable to understand this and mistakenly labels it as criticism. Suyuan is trying to tell June that her criticisms are really love and concern, but she cannot express it in words. In the same conversation Suyuan describes the pendant, “This is young jade. It is a very light color now but if you wear it everyday it will become more green” (209). This description represents June’s naivety towards her mother, the “young jade” being June. After Suyuan’s death, June begins to “wear that pendant every day” (197) as a sign that she is starting to understand her mother and her gestures for what they really were and as a sign that her light color is becoming more green. Another object that holds an interesting symbolic message is the red marriage candle of Lindo Jong.

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The red candle of Lindo Jong holds many symbolic messages. When Lindo was first married a special candle was lit. This candle had two ends to light, one end had the name of the bride and the other end had the name of the groom. If neither end of the candle were to extinguish before the next day Chinese customs say that the wedding would be successful. The candle already has a symbolic meaning within the Chinese culture, the success of the marriage. Within the story it also represents the beliefs, customs, and superstitions behind the marriage. That night after ...

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