Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
“Go on… Do it! It will be so funny!” said Johnny.
“C’mon, Richie! It will be great!” prompted another classmate.
So I did it.
I went up to Casey, who was walking to class, and shoved him against the wall. Sure, he was a big guy, more than twice my size, but he was a chicken. He never fought back: an easy target.
“Hey, fat boy, going to get a sandwich?” I said between shoves. He tried to walk away, so I punched him in the face. As I made contact, something in his face changed from annoyance to hate. I saw him come at me, and I tried to get away, but it was too late. Casey is way faster than he looks.
The next thing I knew, I was flying through the air upside down. I could only dread what was going to break my fall.
The feeling of cement tearing your knee cap out of place is not something you can forget.
My leg hit a cement curb before the rest of me landed on the sidewalk. I was afraid there was more to come, but Casey just walked off.
I jumped up, only to realize I couldn’t do more than limp. My friends were not impressed.
A week later I heard that Casey had committed suicide; hung himself in his family’s barn. I couldn’t help but feel responsible.
There were rumors around school that Casey left a note saying that I was next, but that was just ridiculous. He was already dead. What could he do to me now?
At night I began seeing bodiless shadows float across my walls. Maybe I was just paranoid… Then there were the voices… Well, it was just one voice- Casey’s. But there were so many competing: some whispering, others yelling over each other. Day and night, they wouldn’t quit.
One night, though, it was finally quiet. I lay in bed. There were no shadows; no voices. Just quiet and dark. Then
BANG! And a blinding light burst through my window with a great bloody arm. It grasped my throat and dragged me out into the night.
My parents found my body on the ground, bloody and lifeless, the next morning. Suicide, they said, because I felt so bad about Casey… I guess he got his vengeance.
Colonialism is not satisfied merely with holding a people in its grip and emptying the native’s brain of all form and content. By a kind of perverted logic, it turns to the past of the oppressed people, and distorts, disfigures, and destroys it.
Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (134)
The Postcolonial Homeland: A Creation of the Mind
The purpose of postcolonial literature is for a colonized society to try to regain a lost culture that has been inevitably changed permanently from the colonization. The only culture to be regained is what is remembered, and what is remembered is personal experience. Oftentimes, prior to colonization, a “national culture” shared by the colonized does not exist. It is not until a culture is denied by the colonizer that the colonized claim a common “national culture.” Frantz Fanon expands these ideas in The Wretched of the Earth. He explains: “The native intellectual who decides to give battle to colonial lies fights on the field of the whole continent. The past is given back its value. Culture, extracted from the past to be displayed in all its splendor, is not necessarily that of his own country” (134). Instead, the culture that grows out of colonialism is a broader culture that all of the colonized (the entire continent) identify with.
The common culture remembered by the colonized society is often referred to as a figurative “homeland.” The “homeland” is a creation of the postcolonial mind that is a result of the colonizer trying to replace the native culture, or repressing the history of the colonized. The colonized, then, create a common “homeland” or culture from the memories they have of tradition and lifestyles that are no longer in practice. However, there are also those who were colonized and choose to adopt Western perspectives of their culture and “homeland.” These
characters are exemplified with Ariel in A Tempest, by Aimé Césaire, and the “husband” in Song of Lawino, by Okot p’Bitek.
The mind of the colonized does one of two things: it can either rebel against the ideals being enforced by the colonizer, or it can embrace them. In A Tempest, Césaire illustrates these differences with the characters of Caliban and Ariel. While Caliban recognizes that his captor, Prospero, is wrong to insult and repress the cultures of Caliban and Ariel, Ariel agrees with the Western ideas that Prospero instills. Because of this, Prospero favors Ariel. He refers to him as “my loyal servant” and says, “Go, my sweet. I hope you will not be bored,” (138). Because Ariel has been loyal to Prospero and has faithfully followed him and inherited his beliefs, Prospero is kind to him. He plans to free his slaves, and even uses terms of endearment with Ariel, until he speaks to Caliban, who makes it obvious his hatred of Prospero. Caliban angrily recounts to Prospero the abuses he and Ariel have endured at his hands (Ariel, of course, does not feel the same way Caliban does). He says, “Prospero, you’re a great magician: / you’re an old hand at deception. / And you lied to me so much, / about the world, about myself, / that you ended up by imposing on me / an image of myself: / underdeveloped, in your words, undercompetent / that’s how you made me see myself! / And I hate that image…and it’s false!” (139). Caliban explains precisely how colonizers destroy the culture, history, and “homeland” of those they colonize; this is what sparks the advent of a “national culture.” Without the repression and distortion of the colonized history, a new culture and remembered history would not be necessary.
Many of these same elements are present in Song of Lawino. The poem is from the point of view of a colonized African wife, who fondly remembers the “homeland;” however, her husband
has adopted the Western views of Africa and is university educated. Because of his Westernized outlook, he resents his wife, as she seems to represent Africa. Thus, he imposes his new Western views on her and insults her because the colonized mind makes him do so. The poem says, “With the rubbish in the rubbish pit, / You say you no longer want me / Because I am like the things left behind / In the deserted homestead,” (894). Because he has adopted the Western ideals, the husband no longer finds any worth in his wife, or in his own history and culture. “The deserted homestead” implies that many Africans, like the husband, have forsaken their pasts and thrown away their cultures and traditions.
This is much like Césaire’s situation with Ariel and Caliban. While the husband is like Ariel and is willing to abandon his culture in favor of oppressive Western ideals, the wife is like Caliban who still values the history and tradition from which she came. The poem says, “My husband pours scorn / On Black People, / He behaves like a hen / That eats its own eggs / A hen that should be imprisoned under a basket,” (896). In a way, the husband is behaving cannibalistically, as the wife views it, because he traitorously denies his own people and his own culture. She feels that he should be prohibited from thinking such thoughts against her and their heritage and culture. She laments, “He says I am blocking his progress, / […] / He says I am only wasting his time,” (897). Not only are his remarks indicative of his disdain for his wife, but also of his contempt for his own heritage and traditions. He feels that, if he were not Westernized and formally educated, he could not have made any progress. This progress, of course, is measured by the Western definition of progress; progress, however, is a relative term.
The husband feels that the old traditions and customs his wife still cherishes are foolish and are not productive ways of spending time, completely disregarding the sentimental value of
upholding long-standing cultural traditions. He expresses this when he says, “Black people are primitive / And their ways are utterly harmful, / Their dances are mortal sins / They are ignorant, poor, and diseased!” (896). Not only does he express Western views, but also Christianized views, by referring to the dances as “mortal sins.” Most likely, his Western experience instilled Christian beliefs, so he now views traditional religious and celebratory dances as sinful. These Western views are the result of colonialism, as are the abuses the wife must endure, not only from the colonizer, but also from her own husband. This is typical of colonialism, according to Fanon. He says:
The settler paints the native as a sort of quintessence of evil. Native society is not simply described as a society lacking in values. It is not enough for the colonist to affirm that those values have disappeared from, or still better never existed in, the colonial world. The native is declared insensible to ethics; he represents not only the absence of values, but also the negation of values. He is, let us dare to admit, the enemy of values, and in this sense he is the absolute evil. (132)
This is the belief that caused the husband to identify his cultural traditions as mortally sinful. Because of the views imposed upon him that he adopted as his own, the husband ingrained the notion that his wife and their past shared beliefs were evil.
Fanon describes this character that becomes Ariel and the husband in the poem as an “intermediary.” He says, “The intermediary does not lighten the oppression, nor seek to hide the domination; he shows them up and puts them into practice with the clear conscience of an upholder of the peace; yet he is the bringer of violence into home and into the mind of the native,” (131). This intermediary feels that the best way to keep peace between the colonizer and
the natives is to conform to the Western lifestyles and beliefs forced upon them. However, this not only fails to keep the peace between the natives and the colonizer, but it goes as far as to insight more tension, between both the natives and the colonizer and the natives and the intermediaries. Just as the intermediaries come to resent the natives because of the colonizers, the natives feel just as much, if not more, resentment towards the intermediaries as they do towards the colonizer.
This resentment fuels an even stronger resistance that leads to the development of the “national culture.” Fanon explains:
The native intellectual who has gone far beyond the domains of Western culture and who has got it into his head to proclaim the existence of another culture never does so in the name of Angola or of Dahomey. The culture which is affirmed is African culture. The Negro, never so much a Negro as since he has been dominated by the whites, when he decides to prove that he has a culture and to behave like a cultured person, comes to realize that history points out a well-defined path to him: He must demonstrate that a Negro culture exists. (134)
Because it is not just the native’s home city that has been colonized, a culture arises out of the commonalities of the colonized people; in this case the commonality is that they are African. Thus, an African culture must be created and defined as such. According to Fanon, “This rush of negritude against the white man’s contempt showed itself in certain spheres to be the one idea capable of lifting interdictions and anathemas. […] The unconditional affirmation of African culture has succeeded the unconditional affirmation of European culture,” (135). He describes New Guinean and Kenyan intellectuals praising and admiring each other in order to combat the
ostracism they faced as a result of colonialism. This is how a national culture, a remembered homeland, comes to be.
The advent of a shared national culture is how the natives are able to decolonize themselves and it is the purpose of postcolonialism. In order to resist Westernization, the colonized must adopt and implement a counter-culture comprised of a common remembered, pre-colonial past. They must reinvent their homeland.
Parents: if you thought you were already paying an arm and a leg for diapers, think again.
Cloth diapers, such as bumGenius 3.0, are a cute,
Following their competitor’s lead, Pampers and Luvs producer, Proctor & Gamble also announced a seven percent price increase, according to MarketWatch.com.
Kimberly-Clark attributed the price increase to the inflation of raw material prices and energy costs. MarketWatch.com added that Kimberly-Clark is facing sluggish sales as consumers buy off brands and the North American birth-rate is declining.
Procter & Gamble also blamed their price hike on increasing ‘key material’ costs.
Instead of switching to cheaper brands of disposable diapers in response to the price increase, some parents are cloth diapering.
“Huggies and Pampers already cost a fortune! It’s ridiculous,” said mother-of-one Holly Kelsch. “I just switched my 18-month-old over to cloth and could not be happier!”
She continued, “I’m saving money, the environment, and it’s much better for my baby’s skin. As far as I’m concerned, I’m never going back!”
Jennifer Labit is the creator of one of the world’s best selling cloth diaper brands, bumGenius, and CEO of Cotton Babies, Inc. She said she believes the price increase on disposable diapers will cause more parents to consider cloth diapering.
She said, “With so many families struggling to purchase diapers already, the disposable diaper companies are really forcing the consumer to make a new buying decision; an unfortunate position that companies try to avoid during a recession.”
According to Labit, cloth diapers will not only save families money, but in doing so, will also relieve some stress. She said, “Our babies deserve good food. They deserve parents who can sleep at night because they know that the mortgage is paid and that they have money to fill the gas tank tomorrow.
“It's time for parents to stop throwing a portion of their ability to provide for their children in the trash.”
Labit also added that cloth diapers are “easy to use and significantly cheaper than disposable diapers.”
Both Procter & Gamble and Kimberly-Clark say they are also raising prices on baby wipes and Charmin, Cottonelle, and Scott bath tissue.
A recent survey showed that 16 percent of respondents said their sex education was ineffective.
“My sex education was provided by the school by a religion-based organization. In the class they taught nothing about the use of condoms or birth control, but instead only taught abstinence,” said 17 year old Ian Young.
He continued, saying, “Regardless of people’s religious view points, prevention of teen pregnancies and the spread of STDs should be taught by teaching teens about methods of which to prevent them along with abstaining from sex.”
A survey about sex education revealed that 60 percent of respondents said they wish they would have learned about the costs of parenting. Fifty-four percent said they wish they would have learned where to get birth control.
The online survey polled 50 people.
Thirty-eight percent of participants are high-schoolers, 49 percent are college students, and eight respondents are out of school.
While 74 percent said they were taught about abstinence, only 17 of them said they were told how to get birth control.
“I'm 16. I became pregnant at 15. Why? Because we simply thought ‘pulling out’ was good enough. We heard about STI's, but no one ever taught us about pregnancy,” said high school junior Emily Kate.
Another respondent said, “I can say for sure that the sex education in my adolescent education was entirely inadequate.”
Planned Parenthood recently lost federal funding after a vote of 240-185 by the House of Representatives.
According to ABC News, Planned Parenthood has been prohibited from using federal funds to perform abortions. However, the amendment to that bill “takes away the money they use to provide for family planning, birth control, medical and preventive services.”
According to the survey, 51 percent of respondents said the Planned Parenthood funding cut is an awful idea.
Of the 50 respondents, 30 said they think the funding cut will cause an increase in teen pregnancy.
One participant, Allyson Cooper, 20, said, “Many teens find it difficult or even impossible to talk to their parents or other adults about their sex lives. Planned Parenthood grants these teens confidentiality and allows them to have sex SAFELY at a very low cost, then helps them out if something goes wrong.
“Without this option, many teens wouldn't feel that they had any other way to get birth control. And let's face it...people have sex.”
She continued, “I believe that if they don't have proper contraception, they're going to do it anyway, and some will get pregnant. Planned Parenthood is simply keeping them protected.”
Many other respondents expressed similar opinions. One college student remarked, “Many young sexually active girls rely on Planned Parenthood for birth control. When that source is removed or limited, I fear many girls will stop using birth control instead of approaching their parents/guardians or physicians for another means to get it.”
Another respondent added that “with funding getting cut, teens that need counseling due to abortion, adoption, pregnancy, or even rape may not be able to get it.”
“Planned Parenthood is an extremely important part in so many women's lives and health, and I think the bill to cut funding is absolutely ridiculous and needs to be stopped,” said a 19 year old participant.
A 20 year old respondent raised a different issue. She said, “I believe that the budget cuts will cause more of a problem when it comes to STDs that go untreated.”
Some respondents offered solutions to teen pregnancy. One respondent suggested putting condom machines free of charge in all schools.
Another participant recommended that schools “speak more about having sex than preventing it.”
A 16 year old high school freshman concluded, “There is already an increase in teen pregnancy lately, if you want to stop it you need to offer education and teens trust Planned Parenthood. Teens receive better sex ed. from the internet and clinics than they do school. All teens should have this resource.”
The Purpose of Prologues in The Joy Luck Club
In each of the four sections of her book, The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan begins with parable-style anecdotes. These anecdotes closely relate to the themes presented in each section, and they are all expressive of maternal worries and warnings. Moreover, they work to provide authenticity to the “Chinese sensibility” that is prevalent throughout the book. According to Catherine Romangnolo, of Studies in the Novel, “Narrative beginnings, as suggested by the example of The Joy Luck Club, assume a symbolic primacy in relation to social identity”(90). That is, they inform the way readers are to interpret the context of the stories that follow. By outlining the themes of the following stories, the anecdotes influence the way the stories are read.
Literary critic Stephen Souris, of Texas Women’s University, examines the usefulness of the prologues even further. He explains that “They serve […] as a universalizing backdrop against which to see the particularized monologues. Each monologue can be set against the preface, and each cluster can be taken as an Iserian ‘theme’ set against the ‘horizon’ of the respective preface. The prefaces also help the reader pick up on what Tan calls the ‘emotional curve’ of each ‘quartet’” (111). The prologues not only set up the themes displayed in the following chapters, but they also work to set up the emotions that ensue throughout the section.
The story that begins the book, in the section “Feathers from a Thousand Li Away,” speaks closely to the mother-daughter relationships between the characters. The Chinese mothers
struggle with miscommunication between themselves and their Chinese-American daughters. The story clearly expresses this struggle.
The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum. This bird, boasted the market vendor, was once a duck that stretched its neck in hopes of becoming a goose, and now look!—it is too beautiful to eat.
Then the woman and the swan sailed across an ocean many thousands of li wide, stretching their necks toward America. 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. And over there she will always be too full to swallow any sorrow! She will know my meaning, because I will give her this swan—a creature that became more than what was hoped for.”
But when she arrived in the new country, the immigration officials pulled her swan away from her, leaving the woman fluttering her arms and with only one swan feather for a memory. And then she had to fill out so many forms she forgot why she had come and what she had left behind.
Now the woman was old. And she had a daughter who grew up speaking only English and swallowing more Coca-Cola than sorrow. For a long time now the woman had wanted to give her daughter the single swan feather and tell her, “This feather may look worthless, but it comes from afar and carries with it all my good intentions.” And she waited, year after year, for the day she could tell her daughter this in perfect American English. (Tan 3, 4)
The story is representative of so many conflicts within the relationship between the Chinese mother and her Chinese-American daughter. The daughter becomes much more American than her mother had hoped, and cannot understand or appreciate her cultural background; nor can the mother adequately express this in her broken English. The story speaks not only to
miscommunication, but also to things lost, forgotten, and left behind. Each of these elements is explicitly shown with the chapters that follow.
In the first chapter, The Joy Luck Club, the story of Suyuan Woo is presented by her daughter, Jing-Mei. As she was trying to escape from China, Suyuan had to leave everything she valued behind on the side of the road, including her twin baby girls (14). Because she struggled to tell her husband and Jing-Mei about her tremendous loss, Suyuan died without ever reuniting with her long lost daughters. This is reminiscent of the preface to the chapter; the old woman was never able to adequately express herself to her daughter, so all of her efforts seem to have been in vain. The other Joy Luck mothers realize this is true of themselves, too, when Jing-Mei expresses that she knows nothing about her mother. Jing-mei realizes:
They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they have brought to America. […] They see that joy and luck do not mean the same to their daughters, that to these closed American-born minds ‘joy luck’ is not a word, it does not exist. They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation. (31)
This is the metaphorical lost swan from the prologue. The mothers fear they will be forgotten by their daughters, and what little Chinese culture their daughters have retained will be lost before their granddaughters are born.
The next chapter, Scar, is the story of An-mei Hsu, the mother of Rose. An-mei’s mother was disowned for becoming the third wife of a man after Rose’s father passed away. An-mei’s mother lost her name, as they were forbidden to speak it, and she lost her face, because they were
supposed to forget her. But when she returns for Rose, Rose describes her voice as a “familiar sound from a forgotten dream” (37). Like the daughters’ Chinese ancestry in the prologue, she cannot forget it completely, and it is never truly gone, but put far out of mind in a distant place. An-mei explains, “The pain you must forget. Because sometimes that is the only way to remember what is in your bones” (41). The American-born daughter in the preface cannot deny her heritage, but in order to appreciate her mother, she must put aside the language and cultural barriers to see their commonalities.
The story that begins the section “The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates,” speaks of a mother’s warning to try to keep her daughter from harm. The daughter does not heed her mother’s warning, and she fulfills her mother’s prophecy.
“Do not ride your bicycle around the corner,” the mother had told the daughter when she was seven.
“Why not!” protested the girl.
“Because then I cannot see you and you will fall down and cry and I will not hear you.”
“How do you know I’ll fall?” whined the girl.
“It is in a book, The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates, all the bad things that can happen to you outside the protection of this house.”
“I don’t believe you. Let me see the book.”
“It is written in Chinese. You cannot understand it. That is why you must listen to me.”
“What are they, then?” the girl demanded. “Tell me the twenty-six bad things.”
But the mother sat knitting in silence.
“What twenty-six!” shouted the girl.
The mother still did not answer her.
“You can’t tell me because you don’t know! You don’t know anything!” And the girl ran outside, jumped on her bicycle, and in a hurry to get away, she fell before she even reached the corner. (87)
The story alludes to troubles the daughters will get themselves into in the proceeding chapters as a result of not listening to, or really not hearing, their mothers. Souris explains, “The preface to Part Two, “The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates,” helps organize the way we think about the daughters’s [sic] monologues in that section by suggesting that Chinese mothers can be overbearing in their attempts to protect and control their daughters, and that this will result in rebelliousness on the part of their daughters, as well as misfortune” (111). The story causes the reader to expect the Chinese-American daughters to bring about their own unhappiness by trying to spite their mothers.
In the first chapter of this section, Rules of the Game, Waverly, the daughter of Lindo, is a chess prodigy. However, her mother’s pride embarrasses her, so Waverly runs off to spite her mother, just as the daughter in the preface does. But, just like in the preface, Waverly really ends up hurting herself. Waverly imagines her mother, “first walking briskly down one street or another looking for me, then giving up and returning home to await my arrival” (Tan 102). However, when she returns home, Waverly is not acknowledged by her family. Waverly’s disregard for her mother only worsened her punishment, instead of guilting her mother into worrying as she’d hoped it would.
In the fourth chapter of that section, Two Kinds, Jing-Mei relates the story of how her mother pushed her to be a prodigy, and how she pushed back to teach her mother a lesson. Suyuan pushed Jing-Mei to learn piano after many attempts and failures at other talents. Her piano teacher was deaf, so Jing-Mei was able to fake her way through lessons; however, once her
mother started to brag, she devised a plan to make a fool of her. She entered a talent show, and failed miserably, but instead of the joy of retribution, Jing-Mei felt her parents’ shame. The disappointment her mother felt crushed Jing-Mei (151). Her mother tried to make her practice after the talent show fiasco, but Jing-Mei protested. When the argument escalated, Jing-Mei “remembered the babies she had lost in China, the ones we never talked about. ‘Then I wish I’d never been born!’ I shouted. ‘I wish I were dead! Like them’” (153). This statement so devastated her mother that she could not speak, and while Jing-Mei did not have to play piano any more, her relationship with her mother was changed forever. Her attempt at hurting her mother went too far and hurt even herself.
The story that begins the third section, “American Translation,” speaks to the Chinese sensibility and superstition that the American daughters do not understand. The Chinese mother looks in the mirror and sees a grandchild she desperately wants, while her daughter looks and sees only herself; the preface is all about the different perspectives of mothers and daughters, and the power the mothers hold.
“Wah!” cried the mother upon seeing the mirrored armoire in the master suite of her daughter’s new condominium. “You cannot put mirrors at the foot of the bed. All your marriage happiness will bounce back and turn the opposite way.”
“Well, that’s the only place it fits, so that’s where it stays,” said the daughter, irritated that her mother saw bad omens in everything. She had heard these warnings all her life.
The mother frowned, reaching into her twice-used Macy’s bag. “Hunh, lucky I can fix it for you, then.” And she pulled out the gilt-edged mirror she had bought at the Price Club last week. It was her house-warming present. She leaned it against the headboard, on top of the two pillows.
“You hang it here,” said the mother, pointing to the wall above. “This mirror see that mirror—haule!—multiply your peach-blossom luck.”
“What is peach-blossom luck?”
The mother smiled, mischief in her eyes. “It is in here,” she said, pointing to the mirror. “Look inside. Tell me, am I not right? In this mirror is my future grandchild, already sitting on my lap next spring.”
And the daughter looked—and haule! There it was: her own reflection looking back at her. (159)
This story illustrates, again, the miscommunication between the mothers and daughters. The daughters cannot understand the meaning behind their mother’s words, while the mothers cannot express their meaning any better in English so their daughters could understand them. This is a result of their different cultural backgrounds, and in turn, their different perspectives. Souris expands on this point:
Mothers see one thing; daughters see something completely different. But the metaphor here is actually only relevant to the daughter’s perspective: it suggests that mothers project their own subjective preferences upon what they see whereas daughters see objectively, which is itself is a distorted notion. From the mother’s perspective, they see clearly and daughters distort reality. Because this preface is designed to make us sympathetic to the daughters, it is slanted towards them; the ‘emotional curve’ is with the daughters. (112)
The purpose of the story is to concentrate on the daughters’ confusion of their mothers’ superstitions, and to sympathize with it throughout the section.
In the chapter, Without Wood, in that section of the book, Rose struggles with the dissolution of her marriage. She said that she used to believe everything her mother told her, regardless of whether or not she understood her meaning. She said, “All of these things seemed true to me.
The power of her words was that strong” (Tan 206). When she later ponders Chinese terms her mother uses, Rose comes to the conclusion that, “the words mean much more than that. Maybe they can’t easily be translated because they refer to a sensation that only Chinese people have” (210). This shows that perhaps Rose is starting to understand the superstitions her mother had been telling her all along. And when Rose thinks her mother is going to urge her to save her marriage, An-Mei instead says, “’I am not telling you to save your marriage,’ she protested. ‘I only say you should speak up’” (216). This leads Rose to the realization that her mother’s power was not in the words she said, but in the fact that she said them at all. Regardless of the superstitions, the maternal power and encouragement is what influences the daughters’ lives. Only if the daughters realize the willpower and influence they can have, will they be in control as their mothers are.
The prologue to the final section of the book, “Queen Mother of the Western Skies,” deals with the Chinese mother’s lament in her old age. She wonders what she would do differently if she had the chance to raise another daughter.
“O! Hwai dungsyi”—You bad little thing—said the woman, teasing her baby granddaughter. “Is Buddha teaching you to laugh for no reason?” As the baby continued to gurgle, the woman felt a deep wish stirring in her heart.
“Even if I could live forever,” she said to the baby, “I still don’t know which way I would teach you. I was once so free and innocent. I too laughed for no reason.
“But later I threw away my foolish innocence to protect myself. And then I taught my daughter, your mother, to shed her innocence so she would not be hurt as well.
“Hwai dungsyi, was this kind of thinking wrong? If I now recognize evil in other people, is I not because I have become evil too? If I see someone has a suspicious nose, have I not smelled the same bad things?”
The baby laughed, listening to her grandmother’s laments.
“O! O! You say you are laughing because you have already lived forever, over and over again? You say you are Syi Wang Mu, Queen Mother of the Western Skies, now come back to give me the answer! Good, good, I am listening….
“Thank you, Little Queen. Then you must teach my daughter this same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever.” (239)
Souris describes the mother as “self-critical and hopeful for her daughter” (112), and that she is; but, moreover, the story prompts the reader to have sympathy to a mother who feels she has failed.
In the following chapter, Magpies, An-Mei laments just as the mother in the preface does. She feels she has failed to teach her daughter to be more assertive than she was, because Rose claims to have no choice in her divorce. She laments:
She doesn’t know. If she doesn’t speak, she is making a choice. If she doesn’t try, she can lose her chance forever. I know this, because I was raised the Chinese way: I was taught to desire nothing, to swallow other people’s misery, to eat my own bitterness. And even though I taught my daughter the opposite, still she came out the same way! Maybe it is because she was born to me and she was born a girl. And I was born to my mother and I was born a girl. All of us are like stairs, one step after another, going up and down, but all going the same way. (Tan 241)
She sees her daughter making the same mistakes she had made, and wonders how she could have prevented them. She wonders what she could have done differently to spare her daughter the pain of divorce and indecision.
All of the prefaces speak directly to the maternal desire that one’s child has a better, easier, happier life than oneself. They examine the struggles of miscommunication between mothers and
daughters, as well as the conflict of daughters trying to assert their independence while their mothers try to protect them. The prefaces speak not only to the relationships between Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters, but more broadly to the universal struggles between all mothers and daughters.
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. Random House. New York, NY. 1989. Print.
Romangnolo, Catherine. “Narrative Beginnings in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club: A Feminist
Study.” Studies in the Novel. 2003. 35.1. 89-108. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12-05-11.
Souris, Stephen. “’Only two kinds of daughters’: Inter-monologue dialogicity in The Joy Luck
Club.” MELUS. 1994. 19.2. 99-124. Academic Search Premier. Web. 12-05-11.
Butterflies and Tourniquets
“You’re crazy!” That’s what I said when she suggested this… You don’t just go around sticking needles in people, much less your own mom.
“You’ll be fine, I’ll tell you what to do,” she insisted. My mom is a Medical Lab Technician, but she is also one of the best in the lab at drawing blood.
“But that’s crazy! What if I stab your arm off?!” I was nervous already.
“You won’t. We’ll use a butterfly needle. I’ll be fine; it doesn’t bother me,” she said as convincingly as she could.
“You’re a crazy person…” I said, but then hesitantly admitted, “But I honestly can’t think of anything better to do…”
During the following days, my mom brought home all of the things needed for a blood draw: tourniquets, needles, tubes, alcohol pads, cotton balls, and band-aids. She packed all of these things into a biohazard bag and left them on the table, so all day I had to look at them. They were taunting me, it seemed, jumping into my stomach and swirling around to make me ill.
The time finally came to do the draw. My mom took all of the equipment out of the biohazard bag and laid it out on the dining room table. She explained, “You’re only doing this once. I’ll explain it and then you’ll do it. First, take the tourniquet and tie it around my arm here,” she said pointing about three inches up from her elbow. “Here, tie it on there.”
I grabbed the neon orange elastic strip and tried tying it around her arm. “Just tuck one end underneath, and leave a tail sticking out,” she instructed. I did as she said: wrapped the tourniquet around her arm, criss-crossed the ends and tucked one side under.
She said, “Okay, now that’s a bit too loose; try again.” I pulled on the little tail to release the tourniquet and tried to retie it. My mom stopped me and said to try to keep it flat because a twisted tourniquet hurts. So I untwisted it and tried again, pulling tighter this time. Apparently, I finally got it right, because she said, “Okay, good. Now feel the vein.” I did, and then she took the tourniquet off.
“Then, you take an alcohol pad and clean the area where you’ll be drawing,” she said, opening the small paper pouch and cleaning the underside of her elbow with the pad. “Then take the needle, and, do you see the beveled end? Do you see how there is a hole on one side? That open part faces up, or else it will suction to the bottom of the vein.
“Make sure you put it in following the direction of the vein; don’t go sideways and stab through it.” My mom really knows how to put someone at ease.
She continued, “Then, once you’re in, you only have push the needle in a little bit, and the natural suction will pull the blood in just a little bit. When you see the blood go in, push this tube into the end here.” She was pointing to the contraption at the end of the tube connected to the needle. It has a sharp point to puncture the seal on a purple glass tube. The puncturing of the seal creates a vacuum that then pulls the blood into the glass tube.
“Just don’t pull it out after you see the blood go into the needle. If you pull it out with the tourniquet on, blood will squirt out.”
“MOM!” I exclaimed. Did she really have to say that? I could just see it: blood would shoot from my mother’s arm, and I would be scarred for life.
“Okay, it won’t squirt; it will run down my arm. But after you connect the tube, pull the tail on the tourniquet and just let it drop, grab a cotton ball, and put it over the needle as you pull it out. Okay?”
I got a bit faint. “Okay.”
“Are you ready?”
“I’m gonna die! Oh man…” I said as I tied the tourniquet around her arm.
“Okay, now clean it off.” I grabbed a new alcohol pad, and swiped over and around the large blue vein. “Now grab the needle…”
I picked it up and looked closely to be sure the beveled side was up. The butterfly needle is the smallest available, and has two blue wings to hold on to that make it look more like a dragonfly than a butterfly.
My mother instructed, “Now take the plastic cover off the needle. Just pull it off.” I did.
“What if I can’t do it?”
“What do you mean?”
I explained, “What if it won’t go through?”
“Then you have to push harder. That’s the hardest part: knowing how to push hard enough to break the skin, but not hard enough that you go straight through the vein. Okay, now hold the side of the needle.”
“With both hands?” I asked.
“No, just one. Now do it.”
Shaking, and with just one hand, I gently pushed the needle into the vein as my mom said, “Go, go, go… Okay.”
With her free hand, my mom pushed the glass tube so it connected with the tube from the needle, and it filled with deep red blood.
I took the tourniquet off and dropped it on the floor so I could grab a cotton ball. I held it on the needle as I drew it out.
“Okay,” said my mom, “Now hold the yellow part of the needle where your fingers are, and push it up to cover the needle. Push it until it clicks.” I did.
She just had to ask, “So, did you enjoy the feeling of a needle piercing skin? You couldn’t even tell could you?” She was right; it went in so smoothly that there was no resistance.
“Good draw, Devastasha!”
“Thanks. I almost cried, you know?”
It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I guess you can just go around sticking needles in people—it’s not that big of a deal—but only if you do it for a living.