The Pursuit of Love: The Portrayal of Women in The Joy Luck Club and “A Rose for Emily" Essay
Stories about women are often in relation to love and family relationship. It is undeniable that women take these things seriously. As a woman, I fully understand their significance. Love is our hope and brings us emotional satisfaction; family is the source of our affection and protection. Different women have different standards for these two things. Furthermore, each has her own way of seeking both ideal love and ideal family relationship. In the chapter “Two Kinds,” from The Joy Luck Club, and in the short story “A Rose for Emily,” Amy Tan and William Faulkner show us, respectively, their female characters’ inner selves and how they deal with problems of love and family relationship. This essay will show the similarities and the differences between these female characters’ personalities and their attitudes toward love and family relationship.
“The Joy Luck Club is a novel about the conflict between immigrant mothers and their American-born daughters as a result of both the generation gap and cultural differences. “Two Kinds” describes the struggle between a mother (Suyuan) and her daughter (Jing-Mei) over Jing-Mei’s autonomy. Suyuan is a domineering woman who wants her daughter to be perfect in every way. For example, when Jing-Mei is a child, Suyuan forces her to practice piano, even though Jing-Mei doesn’t want to play. Jing-Mei cannot abide her mother’s dominance and decides she doesn’t want to be controlled by her anymore. As a result, a barrier between mother and daughter is formed.
In “A Rose for Emily,” Emily has been isolated from the community by her father since she was young. He chases away prospective suitors when she comes of age to marry. Hence, Emily gets used to being alone. After her father’s death, she continues to isolate herself in the family home, until she meets Homer. Emily falls in love with him, and the townsfolk believes they will get married. However, one day Homer disappears, and Emily goes back into her life of solitude. Moreover, the townspeople report a strange odor coming from her mansion. Only when Emily dies, as on old woman, does the town discover Homer’s body hidden in her house. What they see indicates that Emily had been sleeping with the body.
In both stories, the authors portray the effects of extreme domination of parents over their children. However, Jing-Mei and Emily react very differently. Jing-Mei is disobedient. She hates being controlled by her mother, and therefore chooses to rebel against her directly. She argues with her mother about autonomy. She thinks her mother is too traditional, as she wants her daughter to be an obedient Chinese woman. “I didn’t have to do what my mother said anymore. I wasn’t her slave. This wasn’t China” (140).
On the contrary, Emily is relatively obedient. Indeed, one might see her obedience as helplessness. She actually hates her father’s domineering behavior; however, she can do nothing to change him, so she suffers in silence and accepts his rules.
In the past, the status of women was inferior. Traditionally, young women had to obey their parents absolutely in both in Eastern and Western culture. Obedient daughters were considered perfect daughters, and perfect daughters received more love from their parents. As for Jing-Mei and Emily, even though they come from different traditions and live in different periods of history, they are dealing with the same problem: the traditional mindset of their parents. Tan utilizes a modern girl’s complaint about her traditional mother’s high expectations to illustrate the problem of family relationship. Her message is that between parents and children there should not be dominance and obedience, but good communication. Otherwise, the family can be torn apart.
In “A Rose for Emily,” Faulkner also examines the effects of parental domination over a daughter. Because of her father’s irrational rules, Emily becomes isolated from society. As a result of growing up in such unusual and unhealthy circumstances, she becomes eccentric, and is unable to join society even after her father dies. Eventually, her anti-social behavior leads to gruesome, if not criminal, circumstances. Both Faulkner and Tan, then, attempt to tell us the importance of maintaining good and healthy relationship between parents and children. Otherwise, as in the case of Jing-Mei, mother and daughter can be torn apart. Or, as in Emily’s case, darker and far more disturbing events can come to pass.
Both authors also show their female characters’ attitude toward love. Despite Emily’s isolation, love plays an important role in her life, as is seen in her encounter with Homer. Love brings her out from her father’s shadow and leads her to find happiness. “Presently we began to see him and Miss Emily on Sunday afternoons driving in a yellow wheeled buggy and matched team of bays from the livery stable” (109). However, love is also what causes her to fall into a deep depression and, as is intimated, kill her lover. Emily’s attitude toward love is willful. Although the townspeople think that Emily’s relationship with Homer is a disgrace, since a Grierson should not marry a Northerner, Emily ignores their opinion. At the end of the story, we are told that Homer was killed by Emily and that his body was kept in her house. Because of this, we can see Emily’s attitude toward love is obstinate, even terrible. The author does not tell us how Homer’s dies, but perhaps there was some argument between him and Emily. Although Emily could not keep Homer’s heart, she chooses to keep his body.
Tan’s book also portrays love. However, this is not romantic love, but the love between mother and daughter. Suyuan’s love for Jing-Mei is also a representation of willfulness. Contrary to Emily’s father, however, Suyuan’s control over her daughter is not based on her selfishness; what she does to her daughter is because of love. She does many things for Jing-Mei; for instance, she works for her neighbor in order to give Jing-Mei an opportunity to learn piano. Moreover, she doesn’t mind acting like a “bad” mother in front of her daughter. She forces her daughter to play piano although she knows she will hate her for it.
In my opinion, Suyuan and Emily are similar. Both are subjective about love. Although they want to give their best to the one they love, they don’t know how to effectively achieve their goals. Their starting point is undoubtedly heartfelt. However, they implement their plans blindly, not recognizing the negative effects their actions have on the very people they love. The authors of these two stories show us two different forms of love. Indeed, the qualities of these loves are different, but the meaning is the same: Love is not unilateral but interactive.
In fact, most women live for other people: the people whom they love. Some spend their whole lives for their family while others devote their entire lives to their lovers. Women always place others before themselves. With “Two Kinds” and “A Rose for Emily,” we are shown different problems for women concerning family relationship and love. Tan and Faulkner describe their ideas through their female characters. Although the stories’ backgrounds are different, we can recognize the similar problems of the women characters. In addition, these two stories also imply that good communication is required for maintaining love and healthy family relationship.