Summary and Analysis
Part IV: Queen Mother of the Western Skies
As she plays with her granddaughter, an old woman wonders what she will teach the child. The old woman recalls that she too was once free and innocent, laughing for sheer pleasure. Later, she threw away her innocence to protect herself. She taught her daughter to do the same. She wonders now if "this way of thinking" is wrong, for now she sees the evil in the world. She teases the baby, calling her "Syi Wang Mu," Queen Mother of the Western Skies, and she asks for the answer to her question. Continuing the game, she thanks the Little Queen and asks her to teach her daughter how to lose her innocence — but not her hope — for then, this baby's mother will be able to laugh forever.
The interplay here between innocence and experience is a key theme in literature. It lies at the heart of Homer's Odyssey, John Milton's Paradise Lost, William Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience," and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels. In each case, the author examines how characters react to losing their innocence.
In this novel, the mothers — Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-ying St. Clair — all experienced almost indescribable horrors during their lifetimes. They have learned first-hand that the world can be a terribly dangerous place — and they have paid for this knowledge with the loss of their innocence. Because of this loss, they now see evil everywhere, and they wonder if they have become evil through association. This awareness too often robs them of their laughter.
The grandmother wishes that there were a way to teach women how to be aware of the world's evil — yet allow them to maintain their hope for future happiness. This way, they would not be hurt — and they could laugh forever. This lesson is what each of the women in the Joy Luck Club has tried to teach her daughter.
Buddha Siddhartha Gautama, a young prince born in 563 B.C., near the present-day India-Nepal border. When he was twenty-nine years old, he embarked on a quest for peace and enlightenment and renounced all earthly pleasures. Eventually, however, he adopted a middle path between self-indulgence and self-denial. Sitting under a bo tree meditating, he rose through levels of consciousness until he reached the state of enlightenment that he had been seeking. He then began to teach. Buddhism, one of the major religions in the world, developed from his teachings. Today, an estimated 150-300 million people are Buddhist. Scholars estimate that the number may be much higher in China, but the country does not recognize any religion.