The Joy Luck Club | Study Guide

Amy Tan

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The Joy Luck Club | Part 1, Chapter 3 : The Red Candle (Lindo Jong) | Summary



Lindo Jong is betrothed to Huang Tyan-yu, a spoiled boy from a wealthy family, when she is only two years old. Ten years later her family's home and property are destroyed by a flood, so they won't be able to grow crops for several years. They move to another city, leaving Lindo behind to live with the Huangs, her future in-laws. She is treated like a servant, spending all her time cooking, cleaning, and mending clothing. Her future husband and mother-in-law are demanding and cruel. On the day of her wedding, 16-year-old Lindo wonders why "[she] should have an unhappy life so someone else could have a happy one." The howling wind reminds her she is strong and pure with thoughts of her own. She realizes no one can take this away from her.

When Lindo and Tyan-yu are left to consummate the marriage, he refuses and tells Lindo she must sleep on the couch. She is relieved. She sneaks into the courtyard after Tyan-yu falls asleep, where she can see a servant tending the double-ended red candle the matchmaker presented at the wedding ceremony. One end of the candle represents Lindo, the other Tyan-yu. Both ends are lit at the same time. If both ends burn all night the candle will turn into a pile of ash, meaning the marriage is unbreakable. When the servant leaves the room, however, Lindo blows out Tyan-yu's end of the candle. But the next morning the matchmaker lies and says it burned all night.

Months go by and Lindo's mother-in-law, Huang Taitai, becomes increasingly angry because Lindo isn't pregnant yet. Tyan-yu tells his mother he has given Lindo enough "seed" to fill her womb dozens of times over, but he is lying. He has no desire for Lindo—their relationship is completely chaste. Meanwhile Lindo is put on bed rest so her husband's "seed" can't spill out of her.

Left with nothing to do but think, Lindo devises a plan to get out of the marriage. She makes up a dream about the double-ended red candle to tell her husband and mother-in-law. In the dream Lindo says that Tyan-yu's end of the candle blows out, and their ancestors claim if he stays in the marriage he will die. Lindo claims one of the ancestors planted a seed inside a servant girl in their house and that this girl, not Lindo, is Tyan-yu's "true spiritual wife." Lindo knows the truth—in reality the servant girl was impregnated by a passing delivery man, but Lindo uses this situation as part of her plot.

Lindo succeeds in convincing Huang Taitai and Tyan-yu with her invented dream and is released from the marriage. Tyan-yu and the servant girl are married. Lindo is given "[her] clothes, a rail ticket to Peking, and enough money to go to America" with the stipulation she tells no one about her "doomed marriage." When Lindo finally does tell the story, it's to her adult daughter years later. "I once sacrificed my life to keep my parents' promise," she says. "This means nothing to you, because to you promises mean nothing."


Sacrifice, mother-daughter relationships, and cultural identity are intertwining themes of The Joy Luck Club, and the ways the characters approach these topics are dictated by the generational divide. In their stories the mothers' mindset is, "This is how it was when I was young. Why don't you do it too?" while the daughters' mindset is, "This is how I want to live my life. Why can't you understand that?" Mothers and daughters cannot understand each other across such a divide.

This is certainly the case for Lindo and Waverly. Lindo tells the story about her first marriage, not to show Waverly how good Lindo has it today but to emphasize how much she was willing to give of herself to make her mother happy. Lindo left her family at 12 to live with her future in-laws, who treated her more like a servant than their son's fiancée. She married the boy and endured humiliating circumstances until she was able to craft her getaway. In contrast, Waverly can't even be counted on to keep a dinner date. Lindo expects more from her daughter—less selfishness and more respect.

That isn't to say Lindo wants Waverly to be exactly like her. She recognizes the importance of private, independent thoughts and feelings because her self-reliance is what got her through her difficult marriage. "I [will] always remember my parents' wishes, but I [will] never forget myself," she vows on her wedding day. The strength that comes with knowing who she is on the inside is what supports her during her loneliest moments in the Huang household and what ultimately allows her to secure her release. After leaving Tyan-yu, Lindo can safely say she fulfilled her parents' wishes while still doing what is best for herself. That is what Lindo and all the mothers want from their children. The daughters, however, think their mothers are trying to strong arm them into doing what they think is best with no regard for what the daughters want. They don't understand that honoring one's parents and oneself do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Self-assertion is symbolized in Part 1, Chapter 3, by Lindo's treatment of the red candle used during Lindo and Tyan-yu's marriage ceremony. The candle, which in itself is a symbol of the everlasting nature of marriage, is double-ended. Each end is lit during the marriage ceremony, and if both ends stay lit all night the marriage will be unbreakable. Lindo watches the candle burn from the courtyard and tries to will the wind to blow it out. When that doesn't work she walks straight up to the candle and does it herself. By extinguishing Tyan-yu's flame, Lindo has taken control of her own fate. The matchmaker's lie about the candle is a temporary setback—in the end the girl who was supposed to watch the flame confesses it did not remain lit all night, and Lindo is granted her freedom.

Lindo's amazing scheme to get out of her marriage also shows the power of self-assertion through an understanding of psychology and storytelling. Lindo's imaginary dream plays on the fears and superstitions of her husband and mother-in-law. She turns the family ancestors, who Huang Taitai will believe, into her allies, pretending that they see signs that show Tyan-yu should leave the marriage. Her incorporation of the servant girl's pregnancy is a stroke of genius. Lindo's presence of mind and brave actions on her own behalf show a strong sense of independence and self-assertion.

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