One of the mothers that the novel explores is Ying-ying St. Clair, a Chinese-born American immigrant who survives an abusive first marriage. St. Clair is described to be a ‘ghost’, as she has no interest in her daily activities as a mother and wife. Throughout the novel it becomes apparent that Ying-ying suffers from serious depression and what seems to be a form of PTSD resulting from her mysterious first marriage. It is later revealed that Ying-ying’s first husband, who repeatedly abused her throughout their marriage, abandoned her shortly after they conceived their firstborn son. In the novel, Ying-ying decides to self-abort her child in order to avenge her husband. After this scene, the source of Ying-ying’s lasting sadness is understood; however, this scene alone hardly reveals the message that Tan embedded in her work.
In 1993, nearly four years after the release of Amy Tan’s popular novel, she participated in the writing of the novel’s movie adaptation, also titled The Joy Luck Club. Critics praised Tan’s work on the movie and expected the film to closely follow her novel. For the most part, the film did so, until the infamous scene of Ying-ying St. Clair’s abortion.
In the movie, St. Clair did not abort her child during her pregnancy, but instead carried the child to term. Then, soon after the child’s birth, Ying-ying proceeded to leave her son to drown in a crude bath. During this scene, Ying-ying is visibly distraught at her rash decision to take her child’s life in order to get revenge on her husband.
While the two interpretations of this scene vary, they call into question whether Tan intended to give a message through writing them differently. Could the portrayals of both of these deaths - one abortion and one infanticide - support the idea that abortion is no different from murder? Although the question remains unanswered, the message is clear to many. Abortion and infanticide, as portrayed through the tribulations of Ying-ying St. Clair, share no differences in their common goal of ending life.
Because of the messages portrayed in The Joy Luck Club and in other modern media and literature, pro-life education is being shared. Perhaps by reading in between the lines, the importance of protecting life in all forms will be shared, spread, and cherished.