There are no simple or perfect relationships between mothers and daughters. Relationships are a delicate balance between the love and emotions of two individuals. They are ever changing and evolving, and are each unique as the people in them. Amy Tan’s novels offer an inside glimpse into several intricate mother daughter relationships. Her characters suffer hardships as well as times of joy. There are many similarities in the mother and daughter relationships in the books by Amy Tan.
One of the most difficult parts of maintaining a good relationship between mother and daughter is balancing the individual characteristics of each person. Even though daughters are truly a part of their mothers, this definitely does not mean that their personalities are at all similar. In Tan’s novels, the women that the daughters become are amazing. They face many challenges, such as homes with problems or no fathers, little to no money and problems adjusting to the American society, but they still become wonderful people in the end. Sometimes the daughters just want to be different from their mothers, to be their own independent people. This can sometimes be hard for the mothers to accept that their daughters take nothing from them. However sometimes the mothers’ personalities and traits aren’t the best to learn and take from.
Many of the mothers in Amy Tan’s novels are having difficult times balancing the people they really are and the face they choose to show. Many of them feel that they have to hide their different Chinese heritage and ugly pasts in order to find acceptance. Lindo found it hard to keep her Chinese face that she loved in America, and before she even arrived, she had to hide her true self (Tan, Luck Club 258). When the mothers try to conceal who they truly are and try to fit in, it is sometimes for their daughters’ benefit. Ying- Ying who tried so hard to please, impress, and not embarrass her daughter, that she has been quiet for so long that she blends into the shadows and her daughter no longer hears her (Tan, Luck Club 67). Even though she was just trying to help by not embarrassing her daughter, she is just hurting her daughter in the end by not only hiding who she truly is, but also not sharing her personality and traditions with her daughter. They fear the rejection and persecution that they faced in China. They want a fresh start in America, even if this requires hiding who they truly are.
Some of the traits that the mothers show are not always the best ones. The mothers aren’t perfect; they have negative sides to their personalities. Ruth’s mother, LuLing, got in fights because she didn’t understand others, and they didn’t understand her (Tan, Bonesetter’s 49). Winnie had a hard time forgiving people because of the horrible way she was treated in her past, and this often hurt her daughter (Tan, God’s Wife 22). Waverly’s mother always put her own feelings before her daughter’s, and decided that her daughter would be a prodigy, but whenever Waverly would fall short, her mother would make her feel horrible about herself (Tan, Luck Club 134).
The daughters frequently have one common problem, in that they don’t understand their mothers. Whether it is the way that they act or the things that they say, the daughters don’t understand their mothers’ motives, intentions or true meanings. Ruth doesn’t understand how her mother thrives on argument; she turns everything negative, and it only makes her unhappy (Tan, Bonesetter’s 49). Olivia does not see how her mother bounces from man to man, hurting both the men and herself (Tan, Secret Senses 61). Waverly is constantly put down by her mother, and doesn’t know why her mother cannot accept her for who she truly is (Tan, Luck Club 172).
The mothers try to hide their true personality from their daughters, only to find this hurts their relationship in the end. Their daughters end up not knowing who their mothers really are, and this ends up deeply hurting the mothers. The mothers try to not show their past or things that their daughters’ might be ashamed of. In the end though, the mothers really don’t know what would embarrass their daughters once they are grown. The mothers never realize their daughters’ maturity and wait too late to educate them. Then the project of discovering their mother’s hidden personality and past falls heavily upon the daughters’ shoulders.
The discovery of their mothers’ past and heritage is a task that the daughters in the novels have to face. The death of Jing-Mei’s mother is what makes her question who her mother was, as well as the meaning of her Chinese heritage that she was trying to pass along to her children (Tan, Luck Club 44). Jing-Mei realizes that she knows nothing about her mother or the heritage she was trying all along to teach her (Tan, Luck Club 44). Ruth decides that she must take it upon herself and find out who her mother really is so she can relate to her mother before her mind is gone forever (Tan, Bonesetter’s 347).
Accepting Chinese roots is one problem that most of the daughters face in the novels. As children they wanted to fit in, and therefore act and want to be American. However, this was also the time that their mothers were trying to implant the seeds of the Chinese wisdom and heritage in the girls’ hearts. These conflicting efforts usually made the girls unwilling to learn about their own history. It is not until they are older that they realize the impact and importance of their history upon them.
Lena, now an adult, is realizing the importance of knowing who she is, and that Chinese heritage makes her unique (Tan, Luck Club 103). Heritage and uniqueness are something that most of the daughters didn’t want to feel growing up, but as adults have begun to embrace. Before the daughters accept their heritage, their mothers’ traditional outlooks on life embarrass them. The mothers always try to keep American culture at bay, and try to have their families embrace their Chinese culture. An-Mei had grown up ashamed of her mother’s old fashioned Chinese ways, and having them forced upon her made her only want to repel the culture more and resent her Chinese past (Tan, Luck Club 47). The resentment formed by the daughters about the culture was a common theme among the novels.
Now in America, the daughters want to form their own identities separate from their mothers and become their own persons. They do not want to follow the traditional rules of their mothers; however their mothers do not understand this. They always had admired and respected their mothers’ back in China, but now their daughters wanted to be nothing like them. Lindo had wanted so much to be like her own mother when she was growing up; now that her own daughter is grown, Lindo doesn’t understand why she is ashamed to be told that she looks and acts like her mother (Tan, Luck Club 257). Ruth has known since she was a child that she wanted to be nothing like her mother; she wants to be happy and independent, not depressed like her mother has always been (Tan, Bonesetter’s 52). The daughters do not have the same values as their mothers did back in China.
Another area where the values of the mothers and daughters differ is in the daughters’ taste in men. They feel that they should all have their own choices and that it is their decision, not one that their mothers can make for them. The mothers only have the best intentions; they just do not want to see their daughters unhappy or making the same mistakes as they once did. Waverly’s mother always ruined her view of the guys she thought were perfect, but when she finds a love very pure, she has to force herself to not be influenced by her mother’s demeaning words (Tan, Luck Club 176). Olivia always has to defend her husband’s actions to her mother when her mother says he isn’t good enough for her (Tan, Secret Senses 62). Rose’s mother would always badger Rose about standing up to her husband, and that he wasn’t good enough for her (Tan, Luck Club 196). Many of the mothers feel that none of the men their daughters pick is good enough, and while it aggravates the daughters, it is really just motherly love.
Sometimes the mothers aren’t so different from their daughters. As women they end up going through many similar experiences. They can become lonely together, as Pearl and her mother were. Even though they were together, Peal and her mother were missing loved ones gone from their lives together (Tan, God’s Wife 33). They can go through times of grief together, as one. “And then I realized: her face, her hope, her sadness- they were mine as well” (Tan, Bonesetter’s 271). Even though they might feel separated at times or fight, they still will always have each other.
One of the most impressionable times of the mothers’ lives was their life before America, and the struggle towards their new home. The mothers’ in all of the books wait until their daughters are older to tell them the stories of their pasts. They wait until they think their words will have great meaning. Sometimes waiting to tell their daughters about their past can take away some of its importance. It often leads to misunderstandings throughout the entire daughters’ lives and hurt the relationships if secrets aren’t shared.
The mothers in the novels all lead very hard lives in China. Many of them suffered through wars, abuse, death, and hopelessness. They become very strong women after suffering through such hardship as young women. All of the mothers left China in search of a better life where they would no longer suffer the prosecutions that women suffered in China. Winnie was married off young, to a heartless cruel man; she was abused all throughout their marriage and even lost four children to him (Tan, God’s Wife 322). She made it to America fueled only upon her strong hate for her husband (Tan, God’s Wife 398). The mothers want only a second chance, to leave behind the painful memories of their past and start anew; they want to forget the horrible things they saw and experienced, and to forget those they loved and lost. When Winnie left China she left many things behind, she always lived in fear that her old life and husband would catch up with her (Tan, God’s Wife 81).
The mothers all want to share their pasts with their daughters so that they will understand why they are the women they have become. This is usually a very difficult thing for the mothers to do, as many painful experiences are brought up. They are hopeful that their daughters will receive their stories with love and compassion, and not just dismiss what they say as they have done before. Lindo wants her daughter Waverly to recognize her past and take a piece of her with her; she desires her daughter to accept and learn her secrets (Tan, Luck Club 256). The mothers all took a different approach to telling their daughters about their past. Ruth’s mother LuLing wrote in Chinese the account of her childhood and coming to America, which she later rewrote and gave the thick stack of papers to Ruth as what she thought would be a special gift for Ruth to translate (Tan, Bonesetter’s 13). Through the secrets of their mothers’ pasts, the daughters were able to better understand who their mothers were and to love them for who they are.
There are many responsibilities in relationships, the most important being the duty of loving and caring for the other person. However where this responsibility lies in the relationship is an ever-changing question. At the early stages in the relationship more emphasis is placed upon the traditional mother – daughter roles, where the mother is basically responsible for all aspects of the daughter’s life. But as the relationships as well as the people in it mature, the responsibility shifts less from the mother and more to the daughter. She owes to her mother respect as well as her childhood. However, this is sometimes hard for the daughters to see if they remember having more responsibility placed upon them in their childhood. Wherever responsibility may lie there is no question that it exists and is present in all relationships.
At times more responsibility can be placed upon the daughters at a younger age in the novels because of their mothers’ lack of American knowledge. Even though the mothers lived longer in the America, they still are not as immersed in the culture as their daughters. Ruth is linguistically superior to her mother, and ever since Ruth was ten; she had held all responsibilities in the home (Tan, Bonesetter’s 50). Having all these duties forced upon Ruth made her very resentful towards her mother (Tan, Bonesetter’s 65). In some cases motherly responsibilities are pushed onto older siblings, such as Kwan who took upon the duty of raising her young sister Olivia (Tan, Secret Senses 10-11). Olivia loves Kwan, but at the same time resents her for taking her mother’s place (Tan, Secret Senses 11). The responsibility of the daughter grows and changes, as both she and her mother get older. Ruth’s mother LuLing is senile, and it hurts Ruth to see her mother’s mind faded, and she needs to protect her mother, but wants to be held and protected at the same time (Tan, Bonesetter’s 64). She has developed resentment over time holding all the responsibility for her mother. Now that both Ruth and LuLing are older, Ruth is her mother’s child and is also mother to the child that LuLing has become (Tan, Bonesetter’s 346).
Love is basis for the mother – daughter relationships in Amy Tan’s novels. It is what supports, holds together, and mends the relationships. It keeps the women together, through whatever might come. The love in a relationship grows and changes, but it is always still there. A mother’s love for her daughter is something that doesn’t run out, and the mothers in the novels prove this true.
One belief that the mothers all share is that they always know what is right for their daughters. The mothers tend to believe that they have the natural birthright to decide what is worthy and right for their daughters. Olivia’s mother assumes that since she is her mother, she knows exactly how she is feeling (Tan, Secret Senses 62). Similarly, Kwan’s mother always thought that a mother always knows what’s best for her daughter, no matter what the age (Tan, Secret Senses 249). However, the mothers don’t always know everything going on in their daughter lives, and therefore don’t always know the best solution. But no one will ever convince them of that.
When the daughters start to out grow their mothers help, it can cause great feelings of uselessness for the mothers and loneliness for the daughters. But many times the daughters don’t even realize that they are hurting their mothers. It is this way for many of the actions children can take; it can be infinitely hurting the mother, while the daughter has no idea of her mother’s pain. “I think a child has the capacity to hurt her mother in ways she cannot even imagine” (Tan, God’s Wife 33). Love can be extremely painful for the mothers as their daughters grow.
The mothers and daughters all have regrets: regrets about the past and what they should have done, things they wished they could have done over, and the wish to take back what was once hurtfully said. A life full of regrets is a painful one, and one that no one should have to live with. Waiting to try again or to forgive can come too late. Last chances can be around that corner no one knows is coming. The characters in the novels all try to forgive those who have hurt them, as well as let go of their regrets.
Waiting too late to tell someone of their sorrow is the mistake that several characters make in the novels. Kwan’s mother never told her daughter of her sorrow that she sent her daughter away at a young age (Tan, Secret Senses 209). She only wanted a good life for Kwan, but she never forgave herself for her choice (Tan, Secret Senses 209). Then Kwan, in turn didn’t know until the death of her mother what she had truly lost (Tan, Secret Senses 227). June also waited too late to ask her mother the questions she had. She had always depended upon her mother, but now that she was gone, she realized how much her mother had really meant to her (Tan, Luck Club 40). Ruth almost waited too late to realize the importance of knowing her mother and helping her the best she could while her mother was in need (Tan, Bonesetter’s 64).
Sometimes saying sorry can be the hardest thing to muster up the strength to do. It is hard to admit wrongfulness, and that they know the hurtfulness and power of their words. Although Ruth and her mother fought frequently, and at times she really detested the way she acted, she still loved her mother (Tan, Bonesetter’s 166). Winnie was one who found it almost impossible to forgive after living a life full of suffering and pain; she found herself unable to forgive her husband (Tan, God’s Wife 398). It is never too late to try to forgive, as long the love is still there.
Many of the daughters feel that their mothers neglected them throughout their childhood. Neglect is one of the emotions that burns long painful scars into hearts, as well as causes a loss of hope. When a mother leaves while a child is still young, the void is not easily filled. A feeling of abandonment is a hurtful one, but is one that Winnie felt. She’s had a pain in her heart for many years, starting back when her mother left her when she was a child (Tan, God’s Wife 102). It isn’t fair that some mothers can hurt their daughters so much and not even see the pain of their actions. “I felt unlucky that she was my mother and unlucky that she had left us” (Tan, Luck Club 44).
Daughters don’t get to choose their mothers, or the ways their mothers make them feel. Olivia certainly wouldn’t have chosen her negligent mother, whom she knew even as a child should have loved her more (Tan, Secret Senses 7). Olivia always felt neglected by her mother, and that still hurts her today. Sometimes the mothers are negligent with their words, like Jing-Mei’s mother, who always brought her down and made her feel as though she didn’t have a mother’s support. An-Mei always felt as though her mother purposely abandoned her, and without a mother she felt broken (Tan, Luck Club 47). No matter what the mothers do to their daughters, they still have a place in their daughter’s hearts. An-Mei felt this way; she knew through everything she still loved her mother (Tan, Luck Club 218). “Why do we love our mothers of our lives even if they are lousy caretakers? Are we born with blank hearts waiting to be imprinted with any imitation of love?” (Tan, Secret Senses 210).
Love is not a simple thing. It has many complexities that are not easily understood. The love shared in every relationship is different, including the mother and daughter relationships in the novels. The love they share is special, and it is not easy to come by. Love is work. “I once thought love was supposed to be nothing but bliss. I now know it is also worry, grief, hope and trust” (Tan, Secret Senses 399).
No matter what struggle the women in Amy Tan’s novels face, they are able to overcome the worst and become better women. The mothers pass their stories of hardship and struggle down to their daughters in hope that they might understand and love the women that they have become. Their love may come in many forms or be shown in diverse ways, but through it all the motherly love still prevails. The one thing that all the mothers had in common was hope and love. It might have been hard to see these aspects in some of the relationships, however it was still there. Hope was the one driving strength the mothers have had embedded in their souls since childhood. The mothers try with all their hearts to pass hope down to their daughters, because without hope there is no chance to love.