Do I Have a Choice?: Amy Tan and Lee Smith on Marriage and Courtship Customs


  • Aubrey Elaine Keller


For members of a folk community, the choices of who to marry and court, when and if to reproduce in the context of those relationships, and whether to divorce or separate are largely not up to the individual. Rather, community members often prominently influence relationships to which they are external, resulting in serious consequences for both married and courting people and the community as a whole. Through the lens of folkloric analysis, this paper juxtaposes Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club with Lee Smith’s Oral History, focusing on the degree of marital and courtship choice enjoyed by characters Lindo Jong and Dory Cantrell respectively. Both authors, I conclude, use marriage and courtship customs to demonstrate that relationships are significantly manipulated by folk community members. In examining how revoked choice in marriage and courtship impacts these characters, their children, and their world, I hope to demonstrate that folkloric literature illustrates the risks of curtailing the agency of real people in relationships.