Each of the four sections of The Joy Luck Club is preceded by a short parable that introduces the major themes of that section's four stories. The parable that begins “Feathers from a Thousand Li Away” tells the tale of a Chinese woman who decides to emigrate to America. Before she leaves Shanghai, the woman buys a swan from a vendor, who tells her that the bird was once a duck. In an attempt to become a goose, the duck stretched its neck so far that it became a swan, exceeding its own hopes for itself. As the woman sails to America, she dreams of raising a daughter amid the plentiful opportunities of the new country. She imagines that her American-born daughter will resemble her in every way, except that, unlike her mother, she will be judged according to her own worth, not by that of a husband. Like the swan, the daughter will exceed all hopes, so the woman plans to give her daughter the swan as a gift. Yet, when the woman arrives in America, the immigration officials seize the swan and leave the woman with nothing but a feather. The daughter is born and grows up to be the strong, happy woman her mother had imagined. The woman still wishes to present the feather to her daughter and to explain its symbolic meaning, but for many years she holds back. She is still waiting “for the day she could [explain it] in perfect American English.”
Summary—Jing-mei Woo: “The Joy Luck Club”
“What will I say? What can I tell them about my mother? I don't know anything. . . .”
(See Important Quotations Explained)
Jing-mei opens her narrative by explaining that after her mother, Suyuan, died two months ago, her father, Canning, asked her to take her mother's place at the Joy Luck Club, a weekly mahjong party. (Mahjong is a game for four players involving dice and domino-like tiles.) Suyuan and Canning Woo have been attending the meetings of the Joy Luck Club since 1949, shortly after they emigrated from China to San Francisco. In fact, the San Francisco version of the...