The Joy Luck Club
Amy Tan
Contributed by Vernita Mires
Symbols are objects or figures that artists use to represent an idea.
The Red Candle

When Lindo was forced to marry her bratty man-child of a hubby, the ceremony was marked with the lighting of a two-ended red candle. If the candle remained lit throughout the marriage night, the matrimonial bond was regarded as complete, and it was death-do-us-part time.

To ensure that this candle burn through the night, a servant was set to guard it.

But Lindo decided to take her fate into her own hands. After all, she'd just come to the conclusion that her strength was like the strength of the wind.

Queen Mother of the Western Skies

In this parable, a grandmother is snuggling her baby granddaughter and talking to the kiddo about innocence (which is a pretty heavy subject for a little kid, actually). The granddaughter, being a baby, just keeps laughing.

The grandma reflects on this. She thinks back to her own loss of innocence, and the fact that she pushed her daughter to grow up too fast. A lack of innocence, the grandma thinks, means not only being able to recognize darkness in other people, but to nurture darkness within yourself. This is a spooky thought.

Then the grandma has another thought: what if the granddaughter is the reincarnated Queen Mother of the Western Skies who has learned that laughter is the wisest thing of all? This is uplifting, and the grandma resolves to laugh more...and to encourage her daughter to laugh more as well. 

The symbolism here is a two-fer. The first possible meaning is that the advice handed down from the older generations to the younger is sometimes...just plain wrong. The second (more optimistic) reading is that the younger generation (yup, even babies) can act as pretty fantastic teachers...if only the older generation is ready and willing to listen up.

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