Two Generations, Two Separate WorldsAll people are different. We all have different life stories and different backgrounds. Even such close and relative people, as mother and daughter or father and son may not understand each other. Looking at the situation or life in general through a particular standpoint leads to misunderstandings and deep insults. The key to mutual understanding remains an attempt to perceive another person’s story and motivations.
The Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan can be analyzed and compared in the relationships between father and son and mothers and daughters.
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1. Distorted Perception of the Reality
The Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller is a great source of beliefs and myths of the United States of 1940s. Characters of the play, as well as thematic issues, enhance the reader’s understanding of time. The hero of the play or better to say “anti-hero” is Willy Loman, a sixty-three year old man, who has not achieved self-realization in his life. His relationships with two his sons are very difficult due to fact that he refuses to see who they are in reality (Abbotson, 144).
Willy’s illusions about his personality and his life achievements, as well as his sons’ lives completely distort the facts, as he fails to acknowledge his personal failures and failures of his sons. He conceives himself as a successful and respectful businessman, when still borrowing money from his neighbor Charley (Shockley, 29-30).
The fact that he refuses to evaluate critically his own life, also distorts Willy’s view of his family unlike critical approach of mothers and daughters in The Joy Luck Club . Willy refuses to accept the fact that his sons are not successful, especially Biff. He has constant flashbacks about the times when his boys were in school, when they were successful. It happens exactly after he starts to realize that his sons have not achieved much in their lives. Will is so sadly mistaken that he even convinces his son Biff that he worked as a salesman for Oliver, despite the fact he was just a shipping clerk. They decide that Oliver still remembers such a good person and worker Biff and will lend them big money. But after Biff comes to Oliver’s office and he cannot even remember Biff, he realizes that all his life was a fake: "…what a ridiculous lie my whole life has been. We’ve been talking in a dream for fifteen years"(Miller, 104). Willy’s beliefs were so strong that he made his family to believe in those.
Due to inability to live analyze his own life, Willy has huge difficulties communicating with his sons. Unlike women from The Joy Luck Club, Willy was not trying to understand, to find roots of their oddness. It is obvious that Biff is Willy’s favorite son, but Biff cannot become the person his father wants him to be. Biff cannot share his hopes and ambitions for the future. During the play, it is possible to see how the generation and communication gap becomes bigger between the father and son. Willy is able to understand, and clearly does not want to, that Biff will never become a great person and meet Willy’s expectations about him: “You got greatness in you, Biff. . . You got all kinds of greatness"(Miller, 67). Willy thinks about Biff exactly like he thinks about himself. But Biff understands that he achieved nothing and says to his brother: “Pop! I’m a dime a dozen, and so are you!” (Miller, 102). Willy connects all his hopes and dreams with hi son so tightly that he fails to see that Biff is not a little boy any more, and he is able to make his own choice and make his own decisions.
On the other hand, we can see Happy, who have never been father’s favorite son, but he does all his best so that his father was in good mood. Happy never got much attention from his father and correspondently Willy did not put many expectations on him. Biff finally realized that their lives were fake, and Happy did not: “He had a good dream, the only dream a man can have – to come out number one man. He fought it out here, and this where I’m gonna win it for him." (Miller, 111). Happy thought that his father had a wonderful life and failed to learn a lesson about his father’s tragedy.
The author of the play emphasized on the fact that in the past the relationships between father and his two sons were very healthy and they did enjoy them very much (Novick, 56-57). The world was more open and less commercial. Willy enjoyed doing some work on his own and his sons helped him. Some part of Willy understood the importance of that time, as well as the necessity to move to the country away from the place he and his family were not happy living. "Before it’s all over we’re gonna get a little place out in the country, and I’ll raise some vegetables, a couple of chickens…" (Miller, 72).
Willy did not manage to do what he really wanted in life, and his sons followed his example (Ardolino, 25). Even though Willy became an old poor man with mental disorder, we cannot deny that he loved his sons very much and wanted all best for them. He loved them so hardly, that he decides to sacrifice his own life for them and he passes away in peace, as he hopes that they will have better lives with his money from insurance (Bentley, 105).
In families with sons, fathers figure is often idealized. And it is very difficult for children not to judge their parents and try to understand them. In this story Biff did, but way too late. “I saw the things that I love in this world. The work and the food and the time to sit and smoke. And I looked at the pen and I thought, what the hell am I grabbing this for? Why am I trying to become what I don’t want to be . . . when all I want is out there, waiting for me the minute I say I know who I am” (Miller, 132).
2. West and East
The problems in understanding each other in The Joy Luck Club are of another origin. There is not only generations’ gap, but also a cultural and linguistic barrier between mothers born in China and American-born daughters (Huntley, 6). From the very beginning we learn that the daughter had no idea about the troubles her mother lived through in China, and she cannot appreciate her because she does not know the story of her life. And even though mother wants to share with her daughter her story and her hopes she cannot communicate her daughter the way she wants due to lack of communications, as well as language barrier (Nelson, 30-33). Many Chinese words simply do not have any equivalents in English, and that is why the true meaning is available to those who know not only language, but history and culture (Russo, 127).
Stories from the The Joy Luck Club demonstrate that daughters and their mothers in order to understand each other need to do something more, then to learn more vocabulary words- they need to achieve a deeper communication level in order to perceive differences between generations and cultures.
When Suyuan arrived to the US she had lost everything but three silk dresses. Her daughter Jing-mei failed to appreciate the importance of those sill pieces. For Suyuan dresses symbolized her strengths an ability to survive, as well as her final connection with her past life. Suyuan also shows her ability to concentrate on what she has and not on what she has lost by reviving the Joy Luck Club with her three friends. She used to tell her daughter Jing-mei about the club the following: “We all had our miseries. But . . . [w]hat was worse, we asked among ourselves, to sit and wait for our own deaths . . . ? Or to choose our own happiness?” (Tan, 37 )
Unlike Willy from The Death of a Salesman she understood the reality she lived in and acknowledged her painful past, but she made the deliberate choice about life she wants to live. Suyuan did her best in life, and even she had a choice to live a miserable life crying for her twin-daughters and reprobating herself for this, she has chosen the Joy Luck Club. This club symbolized dreams and hopes of Suyuan; she aimed to recreate the sense of order, belonging and gladness. Jing-mei “imagined Joy Luck was a shameful Chinese custom, like the secret gathering of the Ku Klux Klan or the tom-tom dances of TV Indians preparing for war” (Tan, 28). She was afraid she would not be able to replace her mother, but she decided to bring her mother’s past into her own present. After Suyuan passed away, Jing-mei went to China to see her elder sisters and encounters her Chinese culture that she had never appreciated to full extent “and now [she] sees what part of [her] is Chinese. It is so obvious. It is my family. It is in our blood. After all these years, it can finally be let go…”(Tan, 31).
Stories of An-mei, Lindo and Ying-Ying reveal the important role of woman in Chinese society. Women in China are expected to sacrifice their lives to their husbands from their early childhood. Even though all three girls could have been angry with their mothers for treating them in a coldly manner and abandoning them, they were still loving them with their hearts and souls. They were wise enough to understand that Chinese tradition expects from a woman to sacrifice her daughter, as woman’s opinion is neither asked nor taken into consideration (Freedman, 42).
The concept of destiny is very important to Chinese people as well. Mothers try to teach their daughters the best they can take from East- patience, understanding, and obedience (Ma, 58-61).
Due to language and cultural barrier, daughters do not show much respect to their mothers considering them not very clever as they cannot express their thoughts properly. And mothers just cannot find proper equivalents in English (Hyman, 8).
If we investigate closer the relationships of An-Mei and Rose Hsu we can vividly see that the connection that exists between them comes from mother’s strengths. An-Mei provides her daughter with indirect knowledge, as she wants her to become a strong woman. When being a child, An-Mei learned how to solve her own problems and faced her fears. When she was very young, she “could see the pain of the flesh and the worth of the pain” (Tan, 48). An-Mei understood that a woman should experience pain to be strong and she wants to help her daughter to face the divorce she was experiencing to understand all hidden problems. An-Mei wanted Rose to perceive that she could remain strong if she remains in the family, if she tells her problems and fears- only in this case she would be able to find the solution making her stronger.
Lindo and Waverly relationships are based on Lindo’s pressure and expectations. Lindo sees herself in her daughter and is very proud of her chess successes. Waverly is not able to stand this: “Why do you have to use me to show off? If you want to show off, then why don’t you learn to play chess” (Tan, 99) Waverly is able to understand that her mother put a part of her soul in her playing chess, and after her mother let her success be just hers, Waverly loses any interest in the play and starts to play worse.
Relationships of Ying-Ying and Lena seem to be very disconnected and distant. Ying-Ying grew her daughter with scary stories and which “[she] began to see terrible things. [She] saw these things with my Chinese eyes, the part of me I got from my mother. [She] saw devils dancing feverishly beneath a hole I had dug in the sandbox.”(Tan, 103) Lena believes that her mother is source of all her problems and fears: “I thought she could see through me and that she knew I was the one who had caused Arnold to die. I was terrified.” (Tan, 154) Even though her mother seems to be even insane, Lena understands that she loves her and wants the very best for her.
In the conclusion I would like to summarize that the generation question between fathers and sons and mother and their daughters will always be open. There can be many different stories about people from all over the world. The that is common is that regardless generation gap and communication problems parents and their children love each other and deep inside want everything best to each other.—————————————————————————–
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