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Motifs of Amy Tan’s ”The Joy Luck Club”

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In the first section of The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan, there are many motifs threaded throughout each of the four stories. One of which is the color red. The color red is very symbolic towards early Chinese culture and tradition.

In the chapter, The Red Candle, the author explains everything in detail. She explains about the red columns in front of the house for decoration, the red dragons, the red wedding dress with the red wedding veil, the red banners, the red palanquin, and finally the red candle. I found this as a motif because it appeared in almost every section of the 3rd chapter. Ying-Ying also explains that her mother gave her a necklace made out of red jade. Red was a traditional color in Chinese culture, possibly a powerful color, as purple was to Europe.

Another motif is the five elements. These five elements, wood, fire, water, earth, and metal, seem very important to Chinese culture. They appear more then once throughout the first four chapters, each time dealing differently with the stories. The stories indicate that the Chinese thought the elements had power. The Five Evils could also relate to the five elements because there is one for every element. A swimming snake could relate to water, a jumping scorpion to fire, a flying centipede to wind, a dropping-down spider to wood, and a springing lizard to metal.

Theme seeds have also began to spring up throughout the book. When Ying-Ying tells the story of the Moon Lady, she says, “So I thought as Amah only as someone for my comfort, the way you might think of a fan in the summer or a heater in the winter, a blessing you appreciate and love only when it is no longer there.” This brings about the theme of selfishness and taking things for granted. She is saying that you don’t realize how much you want and need something until it’s not around anymore.

Another theme seed is promises. In The Red Candle chapter, Lindo Jong says that daughters break their promises. In China, one stayed true to their promises. She promises to her family that she will not disgrace them. She promises to marry her husband-to-be and promises to be a good devoted wife. But most of all, before she gets married, she promises to remember her true self and find a way out of the marriage someday, which she does. This theme is sure to come up in the book later on.

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