Relocating Maternal Subjectivity: Storytelling and Mother-Daughter Voices in Amy Tan's <i>The Joy Luck Club</i>


  • Yi-Lin Yu Lancaster University


Amy Tan, Jessica Benjamin, The Joy Luck Club, maternal subjectivity, feminist psychoanalysis


Since the advent of "feminist recuperation of mother" commencing in the 1970s, one of the heated inquiries underlying the development of feminist maternal scholarship is a preoccupation with maternal subjectivity and the mother-daughter relationship initiated by one of the keynote feminist maternal theorists, Marianne Hirsch, in the late 1980s. In tandem with such a feminist concern, this paper seeks to investigate how maternal subjectivity, filtered through a psychoanalytic feminist contention of "intersubjectivity" as elucidated in Jessica Benjamin's The Bonds of Love, can possibly be envisioned, articulated and synthesized in the mother-daughter voices delineated in the literary creativity of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Locating Tan's The Joy Luck Club within a feminist matrilinealism in connection with a Chinese American matrilineal tradition and a white Western matrilineal discourse, I attempt to demonstrate the resourcefulness of the "Amy Tan phenomenon" in providing an alternative to a feminist approach to maternal subjectivity. Viewing the use of storytelling between mothers and daughters in Tan's The Joy Luck Club as a trope for matrilineal reclamation, I also interpret it as a site of substantiating Benjamin's intersubjective theory. While Benjamin's theoretical premises illuminate an interactive and constructive reading of Tan's text, I also argue that the mother-daughter stories and voices, as mapped out in Tan's experimentation with femininity and creativity, re-examine, expand and even challenge Benjamin's theoretical topos in The Bonds of Love.

Author Biography

Yi-Lin Yu, Lancaster University

Yi-Lin Yu is a PhD candidate in English at Lancaster University, United Kingdom. She is currently working on a thesis entitled, "The Poetics of Matrilineal Narratives", in which she offers a theoretical (in particular the approaches of Jessica Benjamin's intersubjective theory and the Stone Center's subject-relations theory) and textual analysis of matrilineal narratives from the 1970s to the present, as represented in a range of literary genres (the novel and auto/biography) by a number of contemporary writers (predominantly women) with different ethnic and cultural backgrounds including: Marianne Fredriksson, Michael Dorris, Jung Chang, Margaret Forster, Margaret Drabble, Toni Morrison, Jamaica Kincaid, Amy Tan, Joy Kogawa etc.