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“There are times when even the tiger sleeps.” This Chinese proverb is essential in understanding the character of Lindo Jong, mother of Waverly Jong, in Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. The book, written as a series of interwoven vignettes, delves into the world of Chinese mother-daughter relationships. The Joy Luck Club tells about four Chinese families: the Woos, the Hsus, the Jongs, and the St. Clairs. Waverly Jong’s mother, Lindo, has always been strong and stubborn, criticizing everything around her and not yielding to persuasion. This pugnacity bothers Waverly, who has spent her entire life subconsciously trying to impress her mother, a seemingly impossible task. Waverly has always been plagued by her mother’s criticism, becoming increasingly agonized thinking that she cannot live up to her mother’s lofty standards. After finally deciding to confront her mother about her implacable personality, Waverly realizes that her mother is just a vulnerable old woman despite her inner strength. The Chinese proverb, “There are times when even the tiger sleeps”, suggests that even the strongest have an Achilles heel. This proverb is particularly relevant to the sleeping scene with Lindo Jong because even though Lindo is strong and combative, she is still a fallible old woman who worries about her daughter.
The proverb can be interpreted literally, but it also has a deeper figurative meaning. The tiger, a powerful predator, is seen as an almost faultless warrior in the animal kingdom. Always on its guard, the tiger is a fearsome creature that is not to be meddled with. As with every creature, the tiger needs to sleep, thus making it vulnerable to attack. Viewing tigers as a dominant adversary and viewing sleep as a universally held moment of vulnerability, this ancient Chinese proverb correctly asserts that no creature is without its weaknesses or moments of weakness.
Waverly and Lindo’s contrasting personalities highlight both of their personal weaknesses. By the Chinese Zodiac, Waverly was born a Rabbit, making her “supposedly sensitive, with tendencies toward being thin-skinned and skittery at the first sign of criticism” while her mother Lindo was born a Horse, making her “obstinate and frank to the point of tactlessness” (183). These two an animal signs do not bode well together, leading to a plethora of conflicts between the two Jongs. Lindo constantly criticizes everything from the food she is eating to the people around her. A good example of Lindo’s hurtful criticism is when she calls Waverly’s expensive fur coat present from her fianc? “just leftover strips” (186). As stated by Waverly, “[Lindo] never thinks anybody is good enough for anything” (183). This insatiability infuriates Waverly, who simply wants her mother to accept her surroundings.
The proverb’s pertinence to Lindo Jong becomes apparent when Waverly discovers her mother sleeping. Waverly has always been angry at her manipulative mother for her “scheming ways of making… [Waverly] miserable” (199). Waverly leaves early in the morning to go to her parents’ apartment and yell at her mother. When she finds Lindo, she sees a side of her mother she had never previously observed:
The back of her head was resting on a white embroidered doily. Her mouth was slack and all the lines in her face were gone. With her smooth face, she looked like a young girl, frail, guileless, and innocent. One arm hung limply down the side of the sofa. Her chest was still. All her strength was gone. She had no weapons, no demons surrounding her. She looked powerless. Defeated. (199-200)
Upon seeing her mother in this state, Waverly’s immediate thought was that her mother was dead; dead while she was thinking terrible things about her mother. Waverly shouts at her mother, tears flowing down her face. Lindo then wakes up, and with a look of motherly worry, says to Waverly, “Shemma? Meimei-ah? Is that you?… Why are you here? Why are you crying? Something has happened!” Lindo had not called Waverly Meimei, her childhood name, in many years. After this, Waverly had realized the true state of mother: she was just a tired, worn old woman who only wanted the best for her daughter. The criticisms and the subtle, sneaky comments were only made so that Waverly would make a better life for herself and analyze the faults of her present environment. This epiphanous moment for Waverly helped her realize the subtle meaning behind the Chinese proverb, ““There are times when even the tiger sleeps.” Although it is never explicitly mentioned that Waverly is familiar with the proverb, she soon learns of its meaning and verisimilitude. Waverly had always viewed her mother as the proverbial queen of the chessboard, “Able to move in all directions, relentless in her pursuit, able to find my weakest spots” (199). After seeing her tiger-like mother not on her guard, Waverly realizes that even Lindo sleeps.
Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club is not only a story of Chinese mother-daughter relationships, but it is also an insight into the nature and mannerisms of humanity. Lindo Jong is a feisty, critical woman who is never happy with her circumstances. Despite this, she is still old, caring, and vulnerable. For these reasons, Lindo Jong of The Joy Luck Club truly exemplifies the ancient Chinese proverb “There are times when even the tiger sleeps.”
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