The Joy Luck Club (Magill's Literary Annual 1990)
In a brief story that opens The Joy Luck Club, a woman leaves Shanghai for America, carrying with her a beautiful swan which she is determined to give one day to her yet unborn daughter, as a symbol of her high aspirations for her in the new land. At the immigrations office amid a confusion of forms and foreign sounds, the swan is confiscated, leaving the woman with only one loose feather and a now dazed conviction about why she had even wanted to come to America. Nevertheless, she saves the worthless-looking feather, still planning to hand it someday to her daughter, in hopes that it will carry some of the good intentions for her offspring that had originally launched her on her way. The Joy Luck Club is about those things handed down from Chinese-born mothers to their American-born daughters; like the swan’s feather, this legacy carries with it a mixture of both hope and disappointment, pain and love. More than only a record of the cultural transition from the old world to the new, The Joy Luck Club asks a universal and penetrating question: What exactly is it that daughters, in any culture, inherit from their mothers?
Eight women, each of four mother-daughter pairs, narrate the novel. Their common link is the Joy Luck Club, a weekly mah-jongg party, formed in San Francisco in the 1940’s by four Chinese emigrants as a way to erase the tragedies left behind in war-torn China and to foster new hopes for their futures. As the novel begins, in the 1980’s, one of the members of the club, Suyuan Woo, has just died; her Americanized daughter June is expected to take her mother’s place at the mah-jongg table. The rituals of the evening’s game are at once familiar and mystifying to June, calling into relief the powerful cultural dissonance between the two generations and reminding June of all those qualities in her mother which she had intimately known yet never fully understood. Toward the end of the evening the aunties spring a surprise on June: The two daughters her mother had borne from a previous marriage and that she tragically had to abandon have, after a years-long search by her mother, finally been located, sadly, within weeks of her mother’s death. The aunties have arranged for June to go to China and meet these women, so she can tell them all she can about the mother they never knew. “What will I say?” June wonders, “What can I tell them about my mother? I don’t know anything.” Dismayed but not surprised at June’s response, the aunties see in her their own Americanized daughters,just as ignorant, just as unmindful of all the truths and hopes they have brought to America. They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese, who think they are stupid when they explain things in fractured English. They see that joy and luck do not mean the same to their daughters, that to these closed American-born minds “joy luck” is not a word, it does not exist. They see daughters who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation.
Semi-autobiographical, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club becomes itself the means by which this connecting hope can be passed on to future generations. Tan, an American-born daughter of a Chinese-born mother, was moved to write the book after her mother’s heart attack. Even when Tan was a child her mother complained how little her daughter knew and understood of her. In the dedication Tan replies, “You asked me once what I would remember. This, and much more.”
In the novel, June resolves to go to China and tell her half-sisters all she knows of her mother; the aunties eye her warily. So the text begins, a shared text, with each mother and each daughter weaving her own interior meditation on this generational gulf and the struggle toward connection. The book is divided into four sections, comprising four chapters each. June is the only narrator appearing in all four sections; the mothers speak in the first and fourth sections, while the daughters narrate the second and third. The device of eight narrators works somewhat like a liquid house of mirrors, a series of reflecting pools simultaneously reflecting and not so much distorting as remaking images and events. What is seen through one pair of eyes is played back through another’s; each time more is learned. Sometimes it is the same incident that is seen from different sides, other times it is an oblique reverberation, as when June receives a jade pendant from...
(The entire section is 1876 words.)
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Form and Content (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Literature Series, Supplement)
The Joy Luck Club is a story cycle told by seven voices. It consists of four sections, each divided into four separate stories. The first and last sections present four mothers’ stories, and the middle sections are devoted to the stories of their daughters. In each section, however, one story is narrated by June Woo, who, now that her mother is dead, must sit at her mother’s place at the mah-jongg table—“on the East, where things begin”—and relate not only her own stories but also those of her mother.
Suyuan Woo, June’s mother, started the San Francisco version of the Joy Luck Club, a regular social affair organized around a game of chance, in 1949, after she and the other Chinese “aunties”—the mothers of the book—had immigrated to the United States. The club originated, as they did, in China, as a means of raising the spirits of four women (Suyuan and three other nonrecurring characters) during the Japanese assault on Kweilin. Decades later and in another country, the aunties continue their social gatherings as a means of hanging onto their identities under the assault of yet another foreign culture.
It is through their American-born daughters that these women most experience this sense of loss—either because the daughters are too much like them, too “Chinese,” or because the daughters have become so assimilated as to forget their origins. For all the young women but June, who remains single, the primary...
(The entire section is 447 words.)
Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*San Francisco. Northern California city that is home to most of the novel’s characters. Three of the four families of the Joy Luck Club settled in Chinatown on their arrival in America, seeking the comforts of a place with an established Chinese community, one filled with the fragrances of familiar foods, such as fried sesame balls; familiar landmarks, such as herb shops and fish markets; and people like them. Indicative of their mothers’ drive to assimilate, Waverly Jong is even named after her parents’ home on Waverly Place.
As these immigrant families became successful, they moved into upper-middle-class neighborhoods, such as Ashbury Heights. However, for Ying-Ying St. Clair, the move from Oakland, across the Bay, to San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood remains unsettling. Her attempt to use feng shui to create a harmonious spiritual balance fails when the child she conceives in the new home miscarries.
San Francisco mirrors the emotional conflicts of the characters. It is a place where a Bank of America building and a McDonald’s restaurant rise up next to the shops and apartment buildings of Chinatown, threatening to tower over them, just as the mothers worry about the impact of American culture on their daughters’ Chinese heritage.
*Kweilin (KWAY-lin; Guilin in Pinyin). City in China to which Suyuan Woo was evacuated after the Japanese invasion in 1937. She had no eyes for the beauty of the city; to her its fabled mountains merely looked like fish heads, behind which lurked an advancing enemy. Its caves provided shelter from air raids pounding the beleaguered town. The city teemed with refugees from all corners of China, and misery abounded. To preserve...
(The entire section is 729 words.)
Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club is a narrative mosaic made up of the lives of four Chinese women and their Chinese American daughters. Because of its structure, the book can only loosely be called a novel. It is composed of sixteen stories and four vignettes, but like many novels, it has central characters who develop through the course of the plot. The daughters struggle with the complexities of modern life, including identity crises and troubled relationships, while the mothers reflect on past actions that were dictated by culture and circumstance. The lives of the older women are bound together through their similar situations as immigrants and their monthly mah-jongg games at Joy Luck Club meetings.
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
The Joy Luck Club highlights the influence of culture on gender roles. The Chinese mothers in the book, all born in the 1910’s, grew up in a hierarchical society in which a woman’s worth was measured by her husband’s status and his family’s wealth. When they were young, the women were taught to repress their own desires so that they would learn to preserve the family honor and obey their husbands. The difficulties in marriage encountered by Lindo and Ying-ying as well as by An-mei’s mother emphasize how few options were open to women in a tightly structured society in which their economic security and social standing were completely dependent on men.
Consequently, when the mothers immigrate to the...
(The entire section is 456 words.)
Feathers from a Thousand Li Away, Vignette Questions and Answers
1. Where had the woman purchased the swan?
2. According to the market vendor, what was the swan originally?
3. What is a li?
4. How was a woman’s value determined in China?
5. What are three hopes the woman has for the daughter she dreams of?
6. Why doesn’t the woman have the swan any more?
7. Why has the woman forgotten “why she had come and what she had left behind”?
8. What symbol represents the woman’s good intentions?
9. To whom does the woman wish to give this symbol?
10. Why hasn’t she done so?
1. She purchased it in the market in...
(The entire section is 249 words.)
The Joy Luck Club Questions and Answers
1. Why did Suyuan organize the first Joy Luck Club?
2. What are dyansyin foods?
3. According to Suyuan’s story, what happened to her twin daughters?
4. With whom did Suyuan compare Jing-mei?
5. According to Suyuan, what is the difference between Jewish and Chinese mah jong?
6. Auntie An mei had gone to China “three years ago,” according to the story. Tell at least two things that went wrong on the trip.
7. What motivates the aunties to give Jing-mei money for a trip to China?
8. What do the aunties want Jing-mei to tell her sisters in China about?
9. Jing-mei comments on the English of her mother...
(The entire section is 455 words.)
Scar Questions and Answers
1. Who is Popo and how did she affect both An-mei’s mother and An-mei herself?
2. How does An-mei describe the house in Ningpo?
3. In what ways does Popo demonstrate that she loves An-mei and her brother?
4. In addition to remarrying, what had An-mei’s mother done that indicated a lack of respect for her family?
5. What caused An-mei’s smooth-neck scar?
6. Popo recognizes the seriousness of An-mei’s injury and tries to give her the will to live. What does she say to An-mei that helps her recover?
7. Why do Popo and Auntie speak badly of An-mei’s mother?
8. Why does An-mei’s mother return to Uncle and...
(The entire section is 540 words.)
The Red Candle Questions and Answers
1. According to Chinese thinking, what is the difference between 14-carat and 24-carat gold?
2. Lindo relates a movie plot in which a promise is broken. Describe the plot.
3. What qualities would a Chinese mother expect of her daughter-in-law?
4. Describe Lindo as a child.
5. Why does Lindo move in with the Huangs four years before she marries Tyan-yu?
6. What final gift does Lindo’s mother give her?
7. What are some ways in which Tyan-yu and Huang Taitai are unkind to Lindo?
8. On her wedding day Lindo compares herself to the wind. In what ways does she say they are alike?
9. How is Lindo able to leave her...
(The entire section is 430 words.)
The Moon Lady Questions and Answers
1. Who is Amah? Baba?
2. What plans has the family made to celebrate the Moon Festival?
3. What does Ying-ying describe as “this dark side of me that had my same restless nature”?
4. Why does Amah say Ying-ying’s mother will banish them both to Kunming?
5. What does Ying-ying mistake for a swimming snake, one of the Five Evils?
6. How do her rescuers know that Ying-ying is from a wealthy family?
7. According to Chinese tradition, why does the Moon Lady live apart from her husband?
8. Where is Ying-ying as she watches the play?
9. Ying-ying is unable to remember what her wish was until when?
(The entire section is 264 words.)
The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates, Vignette Questions and Answers
1. How old is the daughter?
2. What does the mother tell the daughter not to do?
3. Why does the mother tell her this?
4. What is The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates?
5. Why does the daughter want to see the book?
6. Why won’t the mother show her daughter the book?
7. When the mother refuses, what does the daughter demand?
8. How does the mother respond to the demand?
9. What does the daughter accuse her mother of?
10. Where is the daughter when she falls off her bicycle?
1. The daughter is seven.
2. She tells her not to ride her bicycle around the...
(The entire section is 189 words.)
Rules of the Game Questions and Answers
1. When Waverly wants the salted plums, what does her mother tell her?
2. What was the inspiration for Waverly’s name?
3. How does Lindo react when Waverly asks her what Chinese torture is?
4. What gift does Waverly receive for Christmas?
5. Where does Waverly meet Lao Po?
6. How does Waverly manipulate her mother into letting her compete in a local chess tournament?
7. In what ways does Lindo encourage Waverly?
8. To whom does Lindo brag about Waverly’s success?
9. When Waverly says she wishes Lindo wouldn’t tell everyone she is her daughter, what does Lindo think she means?
10. How does...
(The entire section is 347 words.)
The Voice from the Wall Questions and Answers
1. What is the death of a thousand cuts?
2. Why does Lena see danger everywhere?
3. Why doesn’t Lena look Chinese?
4. Who changes Ying-ying’s name to Betty?
5. Why is communication so difficult at the St. Clair household?
6. Where is the family’s new apartment?
7. Why does Ying-ying’s baby die?
8. How does Ying-ying react to the loss of her baby?
9. Why does Teresa come to the St. Clairs’ apartment?
10. Near the end of the story, why does Lena cry when she hears Teresa and her mother yelling at each other at night?
1. In the death of a thousand cuts, a...
(The entire section is 244 words.)
Half and Half Questions and Answers
1. How does Rose describe her mother’s skill as housekeeper?
2. What word does An-mei use to describe Ted when she meets him?
3. What nationality does Mrs. Jordan believe Rose is?
4. Describe Rose and Ted’s relationship.
5. What event causes a change in their relationship?
6. What is nengkan?
7. Why doesn’t Bing play with Matthew, Mark, and Luke at the beach?
8. What symbols does An-mei use to try to bring Bing back?
9. How does An-mei react when Rose announces her divorce?
10. What evidence suggests that An-mei never completely abandons hope that Bing will return?
(The entire section is 294 words.)
Two Kinds Questions and Answers
1. Suyuan wants Jing-mei to be a prodigy, just like what two people?
2. Where does Suyuan get ideas to test for Jing-mei’s ability?
3. Why can’t “Old Chong” tell when Jing-mei is playing badly?
4. Why does Jing-mei rebel against her mother’s hopes for her musical ability?
5. Who says, “You aren’t a genius like me”?
6. To what two kinds of daughters does Suyuan refer?
7. How does Jing-mei end the argument about her piano lessons?
8. What other disappointments does Jing-mei mention that she caused Suyuan?
9. When does Suyuan give Jing-mei the piano?
10. In what way does Jing-mei...
(The entire section is 234 words.)
American Translation, Vignette Questions and Answers
1. What is a “mirrored armoire”?
2. Where is the armoire?
3. According to the mother, why shouldn’t the mirror be at the foot of the bed?
4. Why does the daughter refuse to move it?
5. Why is the daughter irritated?
6. How does the mother solve the problem?
7. What is the mother’s housewarming present?
8. What is “peach-blossom luck”?
9. What does the mother see in the mirror?
10. What does the daughter see in the mirror?
1. An armoire is a cupboard or wardrobe (8 feet or taller) used before homes had built-in closets. This one has a mirror on it.
(The entire section is 191 words.)
Rice Husband Questions and Answers
1. What omen told Ying-ying that her husband would die?
2. Where do Lena and Harold live?
3. What do Lena and Harold argue about just before Ying-ying comes to visit?
4. Why did Arnold die?
5. How did Lena and Harold meet?
6. Designing restaurants around a theme made Livotny & Associates very successful. Whose idea was this?
7. In her relationship with Harold, what is Lena afraid of?
8. Why does Harold insist they split expenses 50-50?
9. Why doesn’t Lena eat ice cream?
10. What does the Chinese expression chunwang chihan mean?
1. A plant her husband had...
(The entire section is 241 words.)
Four Directions Questions and Answers
1. Why does Waverly invite Lindo to lunch?
2. How does Lindo respond to the evidence that Rich and Waverly live together?
3. After their argument, when does Lindo start treating Waverly normally again?
4. Why does Waverly worry about Lindo’s criticism of Rich?
5. Who is Marvin Chen?
6. How does Waverly manipulate her mother into inviting Rich over for dinner?
7. What are three of Rich’s gaffes during his visit with the Jongs?
8. When does Waverly tell Lindo about her engagement?
9. What does Waverly realize during their conversation?
10. Where will Waverly and Rich travel for their honeymoon?...
(The entire section is 274 words.)
Without Wood Questions and Answers
1. Who is Old Mr. Chou?
2. What does An-mei suspect of Ted?
3. What do hulihudu and heimongmong mean?
4. How does Rose’s psychiatrist respond to her feelings?
5. Why is Rose hurt when Ted sends her a check for $10,000?
6. According to An-mei, how can a girl become as strong as a tree?
7. According to Rose, what is the flaw with American ideas?
8. What clue suggests to Rose that Ted had been planning to leave her?
9. Why is Ted in a hurry to get the divorce over with?
10. Who does Rose see in her dream at the end of the story?
1. The guardian to the...
(The entire section is 216 words.)
Best Quality Questions and Answers
1. What is a life’s importance?
2. Why does Jing-mei shop with her mother in Chinatown?
3. What complaints does Suyuan have against her tenants? What complaints do they have against her?
4. Why does Suyuan tell Jing-mei to put the eleventh crab back in the tank? Why do they buy it?
5. Waverly gives Shoshana the best crab on the platter. How does Shoshana react?
6. The party is ruined when Waverly and Jing-mei argue. What do they argue about, and who starts it?
7. Why doesn’t Suyuan use the dishes Jing-mei gave her?
8. How does Suyuan describe Waverly?
9. Why is Jing-mei fixing her father a spicy dish?...
(The entire section is 363 words.)
Queen Mother of the Western Skies, Vignette Questions and Answers
1. Who are the two characters in this vignette?
2. What reason does the grandmother give for the baby’s laughter?
3. What is the relationship between the grandmother and the baby’s mother?
4. Why had the grandmother given up her innocence?
5. Why might the grandmother wonder if she has done the right thing?
6. Who is Syi Wang Mu?
7. Why would Syi Wang Mu know the answer to the grandmother’s question?
8. Who else needs to know this answer?
9. What will people be able to do as long as they still have hope, according to this vignette?
10. In what way does this vignette differ from the other...
(The entire section is 246 words.)
Magpies Questions and Answers
1. What do magpies represent?
2. The turtle tells An-mei’s mother to swallow her tears. What was the turtle’s reason?
3. Who is Yan Chang?
4. At first, An-mei is very happy at Wu Tsing’s. What factors contribute to her happiness?
5. An-mei describes the clock in her mother’s room in great detail and says she learned something from it. What did she learn?
6. Why does An-mei’s mother break one of the pearls in the necklace Second Wife gives An-mei?
7. How had Second Wife arranged for An-mei’s mother to become Wu Tsing’s fourth wife?
8. What weakness of Wu Tsing does Second Wife exploit?
9. Who is...
(The entire section is 480 words.)
Waiting Between the Trees Questions and Answers
1. When Ying-ying wore her hair down, what did her mother say she looked like?
2. Ying-ying did not appreciate what she had as a child. What object best symbolizes that statement?
3. When did Ying-ying’s husband’s business trips start becoming longer and more frequent?
4. How did Ying-ying feel about her pregnancy?
5. What do the two colors of the tiger symbolize?
6. Although Ying-ying did not throw herself into the lake after her husband left her, in what ways did she become like one of the lady ghosts of the lake?
7. Where did Ying-ying meet Clifford St. Clair?
8. How did Ying-ying’s first husband die?
(The entire section is 363 words.)
Double Face Questions and Answers
1. Waverly wonders whether she will look Chinese when she goes there on her honeymoon. Lindo assures her that everyone in China will know she is a foreigner. What will give her away?
2. Lindo wanted her children to have American circumstances and Chinese character. What was wrong with that?
3. Why has Waverly brought Lindo to Mr. Rory?
4. In what ways does Waverly show that she is ashamed of Lindo?
5. What kind of life did Lindo’s mother predict on the basis of her facial features?
6. What made Lindo’s nose change from being straight and smooth to crooked? What is wrong with having a crooked nose?
7. Who introduced Lindo and...
(The entire section is 404 words.)
A Pair of Tickets Questions and Answers
1. Why have Jing-mei and Canning gone to China?
2. Why did Lindo tell the twins that Suyuan would come to see them when Suyuan had been dead three months? Why did Jing-mei ask her to write a second letter?
3. How did Suyuan know that her entire family had been killed in the bombing?
4. What aspects of China surprise Jing-mei?
5. What does Jing-mei’s name tell us about Suyuan’s hopes?
6. Why had Suyuan abandoned her babies?
7. What happened to the girls after Suyuan left them?
8. Why did Canning refuse to come to China with Suyuan when she suggested it?
9. Why does the first sister remind Jing-mei of...
(The entire section is 383 words.)
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography and Further Reading
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Chan, Jeffery Paul, Frank Chin, Lawson Fusao Inada, and Shawn H. Wong. “An Introduction to Chinese-American and Japanese-American Literatures.” In Three American Literatures, edited by Houston A. Baker, Jr. New York: Modern Language Association of America, 1982. Arguing from the viewpoint that white supremacist thinking controls American culture, the authors detail the origins of a distinctly Asian American literature, a category not readily recognized by critics. The stereotype of the Asian American “dual personality” is rejected.
Chin, Frank. “Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake.” In The Big...
(The entire section is 535 words.)