The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5-6

The second section of the book is called "The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates."


A mother tells her daughter not to ride her bicycle around the corner, because she will fall and her mother will not hear her cry. She says this is written in a Chinese book the daughter cannot read called The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates. The book lists all the bad things that can befall a child outside the home. The daughter does not listen and sets out on her bicycle, but she falls before even reaching the corner.

Chapter 5: Waverly Jong--Rules of the Game

Waverly remembers how her mother taught her "the art of invisible strength" from a very young age. This means getting what you want without asking for it or being obvious. She grew up with little means in San Francisco's Chinatown. Waverly's mother Lindo named her after the street they lived on; her formal American name is Waverly Place Jong. Lindo expected Waverly to excel at everything.

When Waverly was seven, her brother Vincent got a chess set at the church Christmas party. She became fascinated with the game, and she learned masterful strategies. She learned that the key to winning at chess is having "invisible strength," getting what you want without revealing your secrets. Then her mother started entering her in tournaments. By the time she was nine, she was a national chess champion. All she thought about outside of school was chess; her brothers had to do her chores, and she stopped playing with other children. Waverly hated the facts that her mother watched her practice and showed her off around town. One day, she told her mother not to show her off anymore and then ran off. When she finally returned home that night, her family shunned her. Alone in her room, she imagined herself vanquished by her mother in a giant, symbolic chess game, and she planned what to do next.

Chapter 6: Lena St. Clair--The Voice from the Wall

This chapter is all about ghosts. Lena recalls that her mother, Ying-ying, told her the story of her grandfather's death. A beggar he sentenced to the worst death possible, the death of a thousand cuts, supposedly came back from the grave to kill him. He pulled grandfather through the wall to show him the terrors of the afterlife. Lena says that she always acknowledged the ghosts in their house; her mother ignored them so much that she became one herself.

Lena says she got her dark side, her "Chinese eyes," from her mother. From a young age, she began seeing danger and evil spirits all around her when others could not. She has always had this special Chinese power even though she is only half Chinese (her father is American). Lena's father says he saved Ying-ying from a terrible fate in China. When he signed her immigration papers, he changed her name to Betty St. Clair and accidentally wrote down the wrong birth year, causing her to lose part of her identity. Lena says that her mother eventually lost any and all identity, or "the struggle to keep her eyes open." Lena's mother spoke little English, and her father spoke very little Chinese. Because Lena spoke both languages, she witnessed how much of her mother's intentions were lost in translation. After a man on the street scared Lena's mother, she became uneasy and kept rearranging the furniture in the house to "balance" it. It turned out she was having a baby but, strangely, this realization brought her no joy.

Every night as she lay in bed, Lena could hear a mother beating her daughter next door. She imagined that the mother was killing her daughter night after night. When she saw Teresa, the girl who lived next door, she was ashamed to be so acquainted with the life Teresa lived. After Ying-ying's baby boy died soon after birth, Lena's mother became depressed and ghostlike. It comforted Lena that she still had a better life than the girl next door.

One day, Teresa came over. She said her mother had kicked her out. She used Lena's fire escape to crawl back into her bedroom. That night, Lena was shocked and overjoyed to hear Teresa and her mother reconciling. After that, she still heard them fighting. In her mind, she pictured the girl telling her mother she must die the death of a thousand cuts. Then she cut her mother up, but her mother was unscathed. The mother finally understood that she had already suffered the worst thing possible. The daughter told the mother that now that she understood this, she could return to the other side. The daughter pulled her mother through the wall.


The second section of the novel focuses on superstition and ghosts, as well as the consequences of ignoring a mother's wisdom. It asks the question: when should a daughter be independent, and when should she follow the details of her mother's tradition--represented by a book such as The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates? The book itself is written in Chinese, so the daughter in the prologue cannot read it. The daughters can never completely understand their mothers' Chinese wisdom, because certain things are lost in translation; this fact separates the generations. At the same time, the daughters depend on their mothers to translate this wisdom for them, which bridges the generations.

Sometimes it seems as though the mothers resent their daughters' independence. Yet, they acknowledge that they achieved their own triumphs by being independent. Unlike An-mei's Amah or Huang Tai Tai, the mothers do not want their daughters to be passive and obedient, but they do want them to respect the older generation. Optimally, the daughters should strike a joyful balance between fulfilling their own desires and honoring those of their mothers. The daughters struggle to find this balance, often finding themselves caught between their mothers' wisdom and their own intuition. Furthermore, such a balance is struck by trial and error; Waverly and Lena suppose they must reject and even be violent towards their mothers in order to experience what it is like not to have them at all; then they can carefully tread their way back to an equilibrium.

It is a daughter's responsibility to save her mother from becoming a ghost and losing her true identity in the foreign country of America. Lena dreams of bringing her mother back to life. Ironically, it is only because she inherited the ability to see spirits from Ying-ying that she now can watch her mother turning into one. She wishes she and her mother could at least fight, even if it meant cutting her into a thousand pieces, because pain is, at least, a sure sign of life. While Ying-ying is passive to a terrifying extreme, as though fulfilling her Amah's ideas about women, Lindo Jong is an overbearing, overinvolved stage mother. Waverly also sees herself as responsible for making her mother's life vibrant, but it is Lindo who pushes this point by making Waverly a star.

Each daughter's life is spent in battle with her mothers' actions (or in Ying-ying's case, the lack thereof), and each is both her mother's destructor and her savior. Waverly sees herself as a pawn to Lindo's queen, weaker and younger, in that she can win only by outsmarting her. In this way, Waverly sees herself as Lindo's destructor; she must vanquish her mother in order to focus on her own desires. Yet, even when Waverly thinks she has vanquished Lindo by shaming her in public, she has not. Like the daughter in the prologue, she hurts herself by ignoring her mother's advice. Waverly sees only that Lindo wants to control her, not that she needs her to relive her own childhood as she wishes it was by having Waverly live out the American dream. Juxtaposed with Lindo, Ying-ying seems to be even more passive; she is involved in Lena's life primarily by being uninvolved. Lena thinks that she can save her mother not by destroying her, but by proving to her that she has already been destroyed to the point of death, and therefore can only reach with both hands for life. Ironically, Lena thirsts for the kind of fight with her mother that makes Waverly so miserable, because it would affirm that Ying-ying is in fact alive. But Lena's fight remains a fantasy; she cannot help but be passive like her mother. Therefore, Lena is right in more than one way when she says she gets her "dark side" from Ying-ying. Lena uses "dark side" to mean her ability to see ghosts, which she did inherit from Ying-ying, but in the story of the Moon Lady, women are the "dark side" and need men to enlighten them. Ying-ying and, as we learn later, Lena feel as though they are kept in the dark in their marrriages, unable to find joy; they need one another to find the light.