Why do you think that these four women managed to make their way from China to America? Do they each have a particular strength that allowed them to make this life-changing transition?
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The story of the swan is the ultimate symbol of the American Dream in the novel. The mothers want their daughters to have all the privileges they could not, but are disappointed that this in turn means their daughters will not truly understand them. The American Dream changes between the generations. For the mothers, it is creating a future full of privilege and success. For the daughters, it is the freedom to take their opportunities and do with them as little or as much as they want. The daughters' Americanness is reflected most strongly in their relationships with men. Ted, Harold, and especially Rich, represent the American part of their wives, which for the mothers seems frighteningly disconnected from Chinese thinking. Suyuan wants Jing-mei to be the perfect American girl like Shirley Temple, but resents how little Jing-mei understands about Chinese culture. As Lindo Jong explains, these are the perils of being "two-faced." Fitting in one place means not fitting in somewhere else, and the challenge for Chinese-American women is to find a balance that honors both cultures.