First person point of view, one of the strongest parts of Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club, gives the story a personal tone and draws the reader into the inner circles of two separate groups of women. The first group of women are native born Chinese and are the original members of the Joy Luck Club; their American born daughters comprise the second group. The first person point of view is the unseen counterpart to the role Jing-mei Woo has assumed. Jing-mei has taken her deceased mother’s “seat at the mah jong table” (Tan 19) in the Joy Luck Club with her mother’s friends, yet she is also a first generation Chinese, like the other daughters whose mothers are members of the Joy Luck Club.
Through Tan’s utilization of first person point of view, the reader learns intimate details about the characters. The mothers, “are frightened” for they know they have daughters “unmindful of all the truths and hopes” (40) carried from China to the United States. The first person point of view allows these women to express their hopes to the unseen reader, hopes they’ve been unable to pass onto “daughters who grow impatient” (40) when the older women revert back to the language of their childhood or have difficulty expressing themselves in English.
Through the first person point of view, Suyuan Woo’s daughter Jing-mei relays stories about her deceased mother, starting with her mother’s “Kweilin story” (20), the tale of her mother’s first marriage and family back in China, at the time of the Japanese invasion. This story and point of view both opens and ends the novel—finishing off both stories. The reader alongside Jing-mei when she meets her long-lost half-sisters in Shanghai, as she watches the Polaroid picture of the three of them develop and her observation that “together we look like our mother” (288). Through first person point of view, the stories of Jing-mei and her mother converge and become one.
The point of view also shows the chasms that exist in the mother-daughter relationships. These Chinese women don’t know how to communicate their pasts with their American born daughters and as a result, the daughters have no idea what experiences have shaped their mothers. But by novel’s end, the first person narration’s confessional nature frees several of the mothers to close the communication gap and speak of their pasts.
By actively addressing the reader, the first person point of view works as a kind of confessional for the characters; the reader is a safe third party in which to work out their relationship issues. Once the issues are spoken about, the characters—especially the mothers—are free to take the next step in those troubled relationships by being more open about their pasts and the reveal aspects of their personalities they’ve kept hidden from their daughters for years.
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Penguin Books. 1989. Print.