The Importance of Story Telling Within the novels: A Gathering Of Old Men by Ernest Gaines and The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

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In the novels A Gathering of Old Men and The Joy Luck Club storytelling is a key part of how the characters relate to one another. The sharing of stories helps tell about the character’s past, and even the present. The narrative builds action in both of these novels. The stories told by the characters in these two books are passed from generation to generation, and are filled with their heritage and culture. Accounting the past is an important part of keeping the history alive in a family or community. With the inability to pass a story from generation to generation the history would be lost and children would not know where they came from and how they got to where they are today.

In the novel A Gathering of Old Men, storytelling is done by a lot of the older generation characters. Older generations pass stories, legends and old wives tales on to the younger generations, and when they grow older they will do the same.

Although a lot of the stories told from the people in Bayonne, Louisiana are important; there are also the stories that are more about gossip than legend. The older men and women from Bayonne, Louisiana, like to gossip and tell stories about the people within the town. Everyone knows everyone’s business and if someone slips up, you better bet on the whole town finding out within a matter of days. That is usually how tight knit communities work. The people in Bayonne were all very supportive of one another and stuck up for each other in the time of trouble. In A Gathering of Old Men the storytelling was very much about the present time and not a lot was told about the characters past. There was a crisis in the town and it was storytelling that got the people of the town together, organized and united. Without the ability to pass this information on from one doorstep to another, the outcome of the novel would have been very, very different. This style of story telling is very different from that in the book The Joy Luck Club.

In The Joy Luck Club the storytelling is done through the point of view of the mothers and daughters. Although, most of the stories are told through the eyes of the older generation, the mothers, there is also a lot of information told by the daughters. With the mothers being born in China and the daughters been born here in the United States, there is a huge cultural barrier between the two generations. The mothers are very traditional and take great pride in their Chinese heritage. The daughters, although also proud of their Chinese heritage, are a little reluctant to completely give up their American culture. The mothers have a hard time with the fact that their daughters do not share the same passion for China as they do. Since the daughters are American born, they don’t feel like their mothers can relate to them and the daughters have a hard time relating to their Chinese born mothers. Not only is this a generational gap, but also a cultural gap. The Joy Luck Club a cluster of stories put into one novel, and each character brings something different to the table and shares their own point of view of the past and the present. Some are told in English and some told in Chinese.

The two books, The Joy Luck Club and A Gathering of Old Men both use storytelling as a major part of the book, but they use very different methods, but also very similar in the larger picture. In A Gathering of Old Men, the main point is to share information given to them to help save one of their own who is in trouble. They use sharp Louisiana dialects and feel very strong about their African American heritage. In this novel the community really works together and they support one another. In The Joy Luck Club the women struggle with language and personalities. The older women want to communicate in Chinese and the younger women resent their mothers for speaking this way and they wish they would just speak English. There is a gap between these two generations that is very wide. Unlike in A Gathering of Old Men, where everyone is united, the women of The Joy Luck Club have a hard time seeing eye-to-eye. The people of Bayonne Louisiana are not all related, but act like a family. In The Joy Luck Club the women are mothers and daughters, yet they seem like strangers in a lot of cases.

The underline message of both novels is this…storytelling is an important part of keeping heritage and culture alive. Whether it is between communities or families, storytelling helps educate the younger generations on the history of where they came from and how they got to were they are today. The beautiful way that the stories are passed from one person to another in both novels really makes the characters seem like real people. It is fascinating how each group of characters in both novels tells a story with such different dialects and languages, it really makes all the stories told interesting and important parts in each of these novels.

Gaines, Ernest J., A Gathering of Old Men. New York: Random House, 1983.

Tan, Amy, The Joy Luck Club. New York: Penguin Books, 1989.5