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The Joy Luck Club | Study Guide

Amy Tan

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The Joy Luck Club | Part 1, Prologue : Feathers from a Thousand Li Away | Summary



The prologues at the beginning of each section of The Joy Luck Club are all parables, or simple stories used to illustrate moral lessons. The first one is about a Chinese woman who buys a swan that used to be a duck. She takes it to America, hopeful that it will inspire her future daughter to stretch herself, just like the duck stretched its neck and became a swan, "a creature that became more than what was hoped for." But the swan is taken from the woman upon entering the United States, and the woman is left with just its memory and one of its feathers. She doesn't want to tell her daughter about the swan until she can do so in "perfect American English," but she never tells the story.


This parable introduces the theme of mother-daughter relationships, one of the major themes of The Joy Luck Club. A mother comes to the United States to give her future children a better life than they would have had in China. She gets her wish, but it comes at a price. The mother, a native Chinese speaker, cannot adequately convey the story to her daughter, who only speaks English. This is representative of a larger communication issue between immigrant parents and their first-generation American children, particularly about the hopes and dreams parents have for their children's lives. Miscommunication and cultural differences are often the basis of invisible rifts between these parents and children. This issue comes up a lot in The Joy Luck Club as the mothers are unable to accurately convey their intentions, which are then misinterpreted by their daughters.

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