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The Joy Luck Club | Part 3, Chapter 2 : Four Directions (Waverly Jong) | Summary

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Summary

Waverly Jong is terrified to tell her mother she is marrying Rich Schields, a younger man with whom she works. This will be Waverly's second marriage. The first, to Marvin Chen, seemed perfect until Waverly's mother, Lindo, began pointing out all his flaws. By the time the marriage ended Waverly's feelings for her husband had gone from "disappointment to contempt to apathetic boredom." She doesn't want the same thing to happen with Rich, who loves Waverly and her daughter, Shoshana, without reservation. Waverly tries to bring up Rich in conversations with her mother, but Lindo always changes the subject. Waverly has the feeling her mother dislikes Rich without even meeting him.

According to Waverly, Lindo has always known "how to hit a nerve" with her daughter, and each time she does it is as shocking as the last. The first such occasion was when Waverly was 10. Waverly told off her mother for taking credit for Waverly's success as a chess champion, and the two gave each other the silent treatment for days after. Waverly stopped practicing and skipped a tournament. When tensions finally cooled, the relationship between them was different. Lindo no longer hovered over Waverly's shoulder while she practiced, and she didn't brag about Waverly in public anymore. Waverly felt exposed and defenseless, and her chess game suffered. After losing twice to a boy she had easily beaten before, she quit the game altogether when she was 14.

In the present Waverly concocts a scheme to get her mother to invite Rich over for dinner. It's a spectacular failure, as Rich, who is a white man, has no clue about Chinese culture or manners and manages repeatedly to offend Waverly's family. Waverly can see the disapproval in her mother's eyes. The next day she storms into her parents' house to tell her mother once and for all she and Rich are getting married. Lindo isn't surprised—she had already figured out her daughter was engaged. Waverly accuses her mother of purposefully saying mean things about Rich, which hurts Lindo. "You think I have a secret meaning," she says to Waverly, "[b]ut it is you who has this meaning." By the end of their conversation, Waverly "peered over the barriers" and realizes that her mother is not her enemy, but an old woman who has become "a little crabby as she wait[s] patiently for her daughter to invite her in."

Analysis

Waverly and Lindo's relationship is perhaps the most fraught of all the mother-daughter pairs in The Joy Luck Club. As Waverly notes later in the novel, they are both "two-faced," appearing to mean one thing but thinking another. Waverly knows this about herself just as well as she knows it about her mother, which is why she thinks all her mother's words are laced with double meanings. Waverly doesn't come right out and say what she thinks, so she doesn't believe her mother does either.

Though Waverly acts independent and tough, she is always secretly worried her mother will disapprove of her choices, whether it is her decision to elope with her first husband or her recent decision to marry a white man. This fear stems from the time she stood up to her mother for always bragging about Waverly being her daughter, which she also discusses in Part 2, Chapter 1. Though they eventually made up, things were never the same. Lindo no longer doted on Waverly's success, and she kept her pride to herself. It was exactly what Waverly wanted, but she was also crushed by it. She doesn't want to feel like that ever again.

The loss of Lindo's devotion didn't just hurt Waverly's feelings, it affected her chess game. No longer wearing the invisible, impenetrable armor of her mother's admiration and love, Waverly became vulnerable to attacks on her self-confidence. Every time she lost a game she feared she "had lost the gift and had turned into someone quite ordinary." She equated her success with Lindo's love, so failure meant she was no longer worthy of her mother's affections. When she gave up chess, she also gave up trying to get her mother back on her side.

Waverly's equation of success equaling love is a common notion among the daughters of the Joy Luck Club. They think their mothers love them best when they are the best. That's not actually true. The mothers are often tough on their daughters, but they love their daughters unconditionally. It doesn't matter if they're the best—all that matters is that they try. But they do find their daughters' attempts at self-sabotage disrespectful. This phenomenon is both cultural and generational. In Chinese culture children honor their parents by doing the best they can in every situation. The American instinct of the daughters, particularly Waverly and Jing-mei Woo, is to be independent and in control of their own destiny. It is not until they are older that they recognize their mothers were on their side the entire time.

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