On February 19, 1952, Amy Tan was born in Oakland, California, to John Yuehhan, a minister and electrical engineer, and Daisy Tu Ching, a nurse and member of a Joy Luck Club (Amy Tan web site).
Tan's father fled to America to escape the Chinese Civil War and her mother escaped Shanghai prior to the Communist takeover in 1949. Daisy had to escape an abusive husband and lost custody of her first three daughters during her attempts to come to America.
In a recent interview, the best-selling novelist said that when she was growing up, she knew that, deep inside, she wanted to be an artist (Harper Collins). However, she was not encouraged to pursue this dream, and was convinced that she would not make money as an artist.
Her parents had planned her future for her, telling her that she would become a doctor and a master of the piano. Tan remembers her concern over these plans, saying that she was not a good pianist and did not know if she wanted to or could help those who were ill and diseased.
Tan wrote an essay called "What the Library Means to Me" when she was in the third grade, which won an essay contest (Rothstein). This was her first award. She would not write another award-winning piece until she was 33 years old.
Tan's father and brother died from brain tumors when she was very young. Her mother moved the family Switzerland, where Amy finished high school. During her teenage years and young adulthood, Tan was in constant conflict with her mother. When Tan left the Baptist college that her mother insisted she attend, she and her mother did not speak for six months.
Tan rebelled against her mother wishes, following her boyfriend, Louis DeMattei, to San Jose City College, and dropping the pre-med course her mother had urged her to study to pursue a degree in English and linguistics. Instead, Tan received her B.A. from San Jose State University in 1973 and her masters in 1974. In April of that year she married DeMattei, who was now a tax attorney.
Tan became a language consultant for disabled children in Oakland in 1976. She then took a position as MORE Project Director in San Francisco before taking a job with Emergency Medicine Reports as a reporter, managing editor and associate publisher in 1981.
After this, Tan became a freelance technical writer. She released her daily frustrations by writing fiction. Her friends teased her for being a workaholic, saying that she used writing as her own therapy for her stressful life.
Tan's first fiction story was "Endgame," which gained her admission to the Squaw Valley writer's workshop taught by novelist Oakley Hall (American Academy). The story appeared in FM literary magazine and was later reprinted in Seventeen. A literary agent saw Tan's second story "Waiting Between the Trees" and took her on as a client, prompting Tan to complete an entire volume of stories.
At this time, Tan's mother became ill. She made a vow to herself that if her mother got better, she would take her to China to find the daughters who had to leave nearly forty years before. When her mother got better, the two of them departed for China. The trip gave her a greater understanding about her mother and inspired her to complete "The Joy Luck Club."
The Joy Luck Club" is, in many ways, a biography of Tan's life (Harper Collins). Like the main character, Tan did not learn that she had half-sisters from her mother's previous marriage until she was older. She describes her pain from her father and brother's deaths in The Joy Luck Club through Suyuan Woo's loss of her twin daughters and her death. In addition, Tan expressed her feelings of guilt and anguish for not becoming a doctor in the book.
Like the main character of "The Joy Luck Club," Tan resented her mother when she was younger for being so controlling. According to her, her parents had great expectations for their little girl, including getting straight A's in kindergarten. In an interview, she tells a story that explains her situation (Harper Collins):
remember, I was in kindergarten and there was a little girl who I didn't think was a very good artist. I thought I did a very careful house, you know, with the chimney, and the windows, and the trees, and she was more of an abstract artist. Hers was very loose, and I didn't think it was very good but they decided to pin hers up in the Principal's office. So that was like getting the A. My mother wanted to know, Why wasn't my picture in that window? I was very wounded and frightened. I remember feeling that pressure from the time I was five years old."
However, she eventually realized that they simply were trying to what was best for her. Tan's mother suffered throughout her own childhood, having witnesses her mother's suicide. Therefore, Tan believes that her mother did not know how to be the nurturing mother she desired.
Tan describes a story from her childhood in her interview:
remember once one of my playmates from around the corner died, probably of leukemia. My mother took me to this funeral and took me up to see Rachel. And I saw Rachel's hands clasped over her chest, and her face was bloodless, and her hands were flat, and I was scared, because this was the little girl I used to play with. My mother leaned over to me and she said, "This is what happens when you don't listen to your mother."
The Joy Luck Club
In an interview, Tan talks about what inspired her to write "The Joy Luck Club" (Harper Collins):
wanted to write something in an effort to find meaning in my life - I think that's true of a lot of fiction writers - and then I specifically started to write these stories about a girl and her mother because I had almost lost my mother one time, or I thought I did. I thought she'd had a heart attack and that she'd died, and I didn't even know what I had lost because I didn't know her that well in one sense. She had been my mother yes, but I didn't really know about her life in the past and in that sense I really didn't know myself. So I sat down and I decided to write stories from the point-of-view of a girl or a young woman and then stories from the point-of-view of an older mother."
The Joy Luck Club is basically a look at the lives of Chinese women, who have immigrated into America, and the Chinese- American women who are born to them. The novel is a collection of stories narrated by the characters-- four mothers and their four daughters, who tell the tales of joys and conflicts in their lives.
Each story is rich with Chinese culture and heritage, speaking of traditional festivals, marriage ceremonies, food dishes, clothing, and rearing children. Tan talks about the social rules and expectations for the traditional Chinese woman in this book, showing that each of these women possesses a nature and spirit that gives her individuality, despite her upbringing.
The stories are individual tales that are later brought together through deaths, divorces, and family reunions. Many of the details each chapter refers back to events earlier in the book, and each chapter reveals more about the feelings that mothers and daughters have for each other, and the competition, love and resentment that takes place amongst each of the characters.
The first major wave of Chinese immigration to the United States took place in the 1940's (Chan). Because of the gold rush and westward expansion, Chinese men came to America looking for new opportunities. Later, in the 1860's, another large group of Chinese immigrants came to the United States to work on the construction of the Transcontinental Railroad.
The Chinese built successful businesses across the country, including restaurants and laundry services. Many opportunities arose because of the absence of women in mining towns and along the construction sites. Many of the Chinese who lived in San Francisco, where tan grew up, were artists and factory workers.
Following the completion of the railroads, the mistreatment of Asian immigrants, particularly in California, increased. Because the Chinese were the first major group of Asians, they were the victims of prejudice more than other Asians. As a result, many immigration quotas were imposed, limiting the number of new immigrants into the United States.
The end of World War II, and the new communist government in China toward the end of the 1940's started another major flow of Chinese into the U.S., as well as a slight reversal of attitude among Euro-Americans.…