The American Dream in The Joy Luck Club

The “American Dream” is the driving force of most Americans, many who wish to be Americans, and anyone else. The Dream takes on many shapes and forms for many different people, but at its core is a ‘rags to riches story' that all Americans hope to achieve. In The Joy Luck Club, four Chinese mothers and their four daughters come to realize their own “American Dreams” while finding the roots of their dreams. For the mothers, the “American Dream” is that of making a better life for themselves and their children, in particular their daughters that are also focused on in the book. More specifically, the mothers wish that their daughters assimilate into American culture but not without forgetting their Chinese heritage. For the daughters, the “American Dream” is that of complete assimilation into the American culture.

The “American Dream” is the basic idea that anyone, no matter where they come from, can gain a piece of the pie in America with hard work. Often, this means the sacrifice of previously held values in favor of American values. The values that America lives by, like freedom of choice, political involvement and capitalism, are essential if one wants to live the “American Dream”. But these values often clash with the ideals held by immigrants back in the Old World. An example of this in the book occurs when the Chinese mothers tell their Chinese-American daughters, most of whom want to marry, or have married Caucasian men, that long-term social problems will result from interracial marriages. The daughters embrace the idea of freedom of choice in respect to marriage, whereas most of their mothers cling to the Old World custom of staying within your race. This shows that the conception of the American Dream differs between mother and daughter.

The mothers differ in their conception of it from what is commonly held by today’s Americans. The mothers wanted the “American Dream” to be available to their daughters. While their daughters assimilate into American culture, the mothers become more withdrawn and concerned about how the Chinese traditions they tried to instill in their daughters are not going to be passed to the next generation. The mothers sacrificed so much to have a better life in America, but their daughters do not know about their migration to this country and the traditions that are held sacred to them. To the mothers, the “American Dream” is for the next generation to have the choices and the freedom to make those choices and have whatever they want without forgetting their roots and their culture. The general observation is that the mothers:

“… see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. The see that joy and luck do not mean the same to their daughters, that to these close 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.” (Tan 31)

Ying-yong, Lindo, An-Mei and Suyuan want their daughter to be successful educated women with a modern liberal outlook and mannerisms. They want them to take advantage and possess liberty, equality, and freedom like every American but retain their Chinese heritage. They wanted their daughters “to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character.” (Tan 288) Their daughters on the other hand see the “American Dream” as not only being part of the liberal American society but being completely Americanized, thereby acting and looking as one. Also they daughters believe to achieve this status,, they must minimize and abandon their Chinese heritage, customs, values and traditions.

Their mother's version of the “American Dream” is basically for their daughters to be as American as possible but to remember were they really came from; from a Chinese culture. But the mother’s find it hard to instill their Chinese heritage in their daughters because they reside in a liberal society were they are not confined by society to act a certain way but they have the freedom of rights to act as they choose.

Both the mothers' and daughters' views of the "American Dream" are realized in one person, Jing-mei "June" Woo. She is the only daughter to have a real Chinese name, and an American nick-name, instead of both incorporated into one, as the other daughters do. Her mother, Suyuan Woo, was able to instill Chinese behavorial traditions of respect and discipline, and June was able to be American, in short, because her piano teacher was deaf. Later on June would adapt to the Americanized society around her, but she would still respect those around her in a subordinate fashion, as is customary in China. Point in case, in the story Best Quality, the more Americanized daughter, Waverly, immediately takes the finest quality crabs available. The crabs continue to be passed around, the finer ones being taken by those who want them, but when it comes to June there are two crabs left, a "large crab with a faded orange color, and number eleven, which had the torn off leg" (Tan 227); June takes "number eleven," out of respect for her mother, but her mother then insists June take the larger one. Later on, June confronts her mother on this, and why the dead-before-being-cooked 'number eleven' was even cooked at all;

""What if some one else had picked that crab," [asked June.]
My mother looked at me and smiled. "Only you pick that crab. Nobody else take it. I already knew this. Everybody else want best quality. You thinking different."" (Tan 234)
The meaning behind this is that June isn't as American as the other people there. She is Chinese. She is American. She is the epitomy of a Chinese-American culture that hopes to realize the "American Dream."