The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club Summary and Analysis of Chapters 13-14

The fourth section of the book is called "Queen Mother of the Western Skies."


A grandmother cuddles her baby granddaughter, pondering whether it is wise to laugh innocently like babies do. She tells her granddaughter that she once was naive and happy but then learned to recognize evil around her in order to protect herself. The grandmother interprets the baby's giggles, teasing, "You say you are Syi Wang Mu, Queen Mother of the Western Skies, now come back to give me the answer!" and takes the advice the baby has supposedly given her. She says the advice is to learn "how to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever."

Chapter 13: An-mei Hsu--Magpies

An-mei Hsu laments that her daughter (Rose Hsu Jordan) is doing nothing to stop her marriage from dissolving. She says she herself was "Raised the Chinese way ... Taught to desire nothing, to swallow other people's misery, to eat my own bitterness." Even though she tried to raise Rose another way, Rose turned out the same. An-mei posits that the Chinese attitude is inherited along the maternal line, that perhaps mothers and daughters are "like stairs, one step after another, going up and down, but all going the same way."

The narrative flashes back to sixty years earlier, when An-mei's disgraced mother returned from Tientsin. The night before her mother was to leave again, she told An-mei a fable: when she cried into the pond as a girl, a turtle ate her tears and thereby knew her sorrows. Then magpies came out of the turtle's mouth and sang happily, taunting her. The moral of the story was that one person's sorrow is another's joy, so one must swallow one's tears.

In the morning, An-mei chose to leave with her mother, though her family told her she would be disgraced as well. As they neared Tientsin, she became somber and dressed herself and An-mei in fancy foreign clothes. They lived happily in Western luxury for two weeks, and then Wu Tsing, to whom An-mei's mother was Fourth Wife, returned home with a very young concubine called Fifth Wife. An-mei soon learned that her mother had the worst position in the household; Wu Tsing came to her at night only when he was done with Fifth Wife. When Second Wife gave An-mei a pearl necklace, her mother crushed one bead of it to show that it was fake, and then gave her a beautiful sapphire ring instead.

An-mei's only friend was her mother's servant, Yan Chang. Yan Chang told her the story of how her mother had been tricked into being Wu Tsing's Fourth Wife when she was newly widowed. Second Wife was eager to have someone else bear Wu Tsing sons, so she invited An-mei's mother to play mah jong and then to stay in her bed. In the middle of the night, Second Wife changed places with Wu Tsing, who raped An-mei's mother. Already disgraced, she had no choice but to leave her family and become Wu Tsing's concubine. She bore him a son, Syaudi, whom Second Wife claimed for her own. From then on, An-mei saw how Second Wife manipulated everyone in the household, and she grew to hate her. One day, An-mei's mother poisoned herself and died. An-mei grieved. But she then became strong, and finally she stood up to Second Wife by crushing the pearl necklace under her foot in front of Second Wife. She had finally found her strength.

Back in the present, An-mei addresses Rose. She says that it is foolish to live one's life passively as though dreaming. She describes a newspaper story about a community in China that united to kill off the magpies, which were eating the seeds they planted and the tears they used to water them. She asks: "What would your psychiatrist say if I told him that I shouted for joy when I read that this had happened?"

Chapter 14: Ying-ying St. Clair--Waiting between the Trees

We return to the moment when Lena St. Clair has set up her mother (Ying-ying St. Clair) in the guest room of her house. Ying-ying explains that she sees the signs of coming destruction everywhere in her daughter's house, especially in the unstable nightstand that we know she breaks soon after arriving. She confirms what Lena told us earlier: she has always been able to predict the future.

The narrative again flashes back to her childhood in Wushi, where she lived luxuriously. Her mother named her Ying-ying, "Clear Reflection," because she was just like her mother. She had her first premonition at the age of sixteen. A wind knocked a flower head from its stem, and she knew she would marry an older man she called Uncle. She did, and at first she loved him, but soon she became pregnant with a son and he left her. Her joy turned to hate, and she aborted the baby. Ying-ying thinks her daughter does not understand how strong she is and how much she has endured--that she is a Tiger lady.

Ying-ying also was born in the year of the Tiger, which has special significance. The tiger's yellow stripes represent ferocity, and its black stripes signify cunning, and together they allow the tiger to hide between the trees. After her first husband left and she aborted her son, she moved in with poor relatives outside Shanghai, 'waiting between the trees' for her next move. There she met Clifford St. Clair, Lena's father. Because his surname meant "light," she knew she would marry him and that he would make her dark side disappear. She made him wait to marry her until she received word that her first husband had died, murdered by the woman for whom he left Ying-ying. When she married Clifford St. Clair, or Saint, she lost her tiger spirit and became a ghost.

Ying-ying states her intention to pass her tiger spirit, her chi, onto Lena, who has none. She has accepted Lena's Americanness, but she cannot die without teaching Lena what it means to be her mother's daughter. She knows Lena will resist, so she will have to fight her, to "penetrate [her] daughter's tough skin and cut her tiger spirit loose ... Because this is the way a mother loves her daughter."

The chapter ends with a final premonition. Ying-ying knows her daughter will hear the table breaking and come upstairs to check on her; then, like a cunning tiger, she will overpower Lena in order to give her the strength she needs to stand up for herself and live happily.


In the fourth section of the book, the mothers' and daughters' stories are increasingly indistinguishable. The prologue gives us insight into how the mothers felt when they first held their baby daughters. They saw them as blank slates, but somehow wise in their innocence. Babies are impressionable, while their grown daughters are much harder to instill with Chinese wisdom--and therefore must be tricked into accepting it. The prologue expresses the mothers' wishes that their daughters will learn from their own daughters, in turn, what they could not learn from their mothers. Each generation teaches the ones before and after, sometimes in unexpected ways.

It may seem strange that the grandmother addresses her granddaughter as "Queen Mother of the Western Skies" as though she is ancient. The baby cannot avoid being ancient, because the spirit of her mother and all those mothers before her are in her very bones. While the grandmother titles her baby in jest, "Queen Mother of the Western Skies" could be the name of the spirit that women of all generations share. Therefore her name expresses each mother's hope for her daughter, that she will learn "how to lose [her] innocence but not [her] hope," which is to be wise but not jaded, and "how to laugh forever" in true joy.

Throughout the book, the mothers' and daughters' stories have involved one another, but the stories have been about different events. In Chapters 13 and 14, for the first time, we hear stories that daughters have already told from their mothers' point of view. We have heard Rose's and Lena's "American Translations" of these stories, and now we hear An-mei and Ying-ying's "Chinese translations." When Rose tells the story of her mother's visit, she is terrified that her mother will blame her for being unable to save her marriage. An-mei is frustrated that Rose is not saving her marriage, but instead of blaming Rose alone, she also blames heritage and therefore herself. When she lived on Wu-Tsing's estate, An-mei saw her own mother swallow her pain so often that one day she could bear no more and ended her life. An-mei took one step up from her mother when she stood up to First Wife and ran away. Therefore she sees in Rose a similar potential to lift herself up in taking the next step: standing up to Ted instead of letting her life fall apart. In this way, An-mei's story affirms Rose's dream about her mother planting weeds in her honor. An-mei desperately wants Rose to demand joy from life instead of "eat[ing] her own bitterness" and letting Ted prune her spirit back. What An-mei does not understand, though, is that in order to honor her own spirit and those of all the women in her family, she must not try to stay with Ted, but divorce him, and do so on her own terms.

Lena is right when she fears her mother's cleverness, because when she visits, Ying-ying is indeed using Chunwang chihan to predict Lena's fate. She is also correct in thinking that Ying-ying wants her to be more like herself; she says she wants Lena to embrace her Tiger spirit and use her cunning and strength to find happiness. Yet, Lena does not know that Ying-ying admits to having become a ghost, and she wants Lena to be "a step above" her in wisdom and happiness. In "The Voice from the Wall," Lena wishes she could cut her mother to pieces to jolt her to her senses and guide her back to life. Ying-ying too wants to express her love violently, ripping Lena apart like a tiger to unleash her own Tiger spirit. At the end of their story, this mother-daughter pair stands as an example of how passionate and painful love between the generations can be.

An-mei and Ying-ying cannot stand the way their daughters live life passively, giving up so much happiness in the name of comfort and routine. As usual, they refer back to their own lives in China to show their daughters how to be strong. Both Rose and Lena have magpies in their lives-their husbands. Ted and Harold feed off their wives' sorrow unknowingly, taking advantage of the women's generosity and inability to stand up for themselves. An-mei and Ying-ying want their daughters to have joy and luck while recognizing and obliterating the evil around them. They must go through life like their mothers, carefully subverting others in order to achieve true happiness.

But there is a problem in translating this wish; neither mother understands that her daughter's happiness might depend on divorcing her husband. Recalling the prologue, each daughter is part of the same story, but one that changes with every generation. Were one to translate a story an infinite number of times, even just back and forth between two languages, the original meaning would eventually get lost. Even so, mothers and daughters share more than just a story; as we learn in the prologue, they share a common spirit and wishes for wisdom and happiness. Unlike a narrative or a story, this spirit and wish are inviolable and cannot be lost in translation, though they manifest themselves differently in each generation.