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...
(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...
(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.
Each of the stories is a first-person narration by one of the Joy Luck Club’s three mothers or four daughters. Each narrator tells two stories about her own life, except for Jing-mei (June) Woo, who stands in for her deceased mother, telling a total of four stories. The tales are arranged in four groups, with a vignette preceding each group. The first group is told by mothers (plus June), the second and third groups by daughters, and the fourth by mothers. Jing-mei’s final story, in which she learns her mother’s history, concludes the book.
Since The Joy Luck Club is concerned with the relation of the present to the past, many stories take place in more than one time period. For example, in the last group of stories, the...
(The entire section is 539 words.)
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 United States, they want their daughters to retain their Chinese character but take advantage of the more flexible roles offered to women by American culture. The postwar baby-boomer daughters, however, are overwhelmed by having too many choices available. They struggle to balance multiple roles as career women, wives or girlfriends, and daughters. The materialistic focus of American culture makes it difficult for the daughters to internalize their mothers’ values, particularly the self-sacrifice, determination, and family integrity that traditional Chinese culture stresses.
In addition to gender roles, mother-daughter relationships are an important focus of the book. Mothers are shown to have profound influence over their...
(The entire section is 456 words.)
While The Joy Luck Club was published in 1989, it is set in pre-World War II China and contemporary San Francisco. The two settings strengthen the contrast between the cultures that Tan depicts through her characters and their relationships. Pre-World War II China was a country heavily embroiled in conflict. San Francisco, however, offered freedom and peace. In writing the novel, Tan wanted to portray not only the importance of mother/daughter relationships but also the dignity of the Chinese people.
China's history covers years of tradition, yet also decades of change. While the Chinese people consistently honor the personal qualities of dignity, respect, self-control, and obedience, they have not so continually pledged allegiance to their leaders. The first documented Chinese civilization was the Shang dynasty (c. 1523-c. 1027 BC). Various dynasties ruled over the years, ending with the Manchu dynasty in 1912. The dynasties saw peace, expansion, and technological and artistic achievement as well as warfare and chaos. Foreign intervention, particularly by Japan, created instability in the country, and internal struggles often prevented the Chinese from uniting. The area of Manchuria in northeast China, while legally belonging to China, had many Japanese investments, such as railways, and as such was under the control of the Japanese. This led to anti-Manchu sentiment and an eventual revolution. After civil war and...
(The entire section is 652 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 Shanghai.
2. The swan was a duck that tried to become a goose and became a swan instead, “too beautiful to eat.”
3. A li is about one-third of a mile.
4. If her husband belched loudly, it meant he had eaten a great deal, presumably because his wife was a good cook. Her ability to meet his needs determined her value.
5. First, her daughter will be valued for who she is. Second, she will speak perfect English, suggesting a good education, and no one will look down on her. Third, she will be happy, “too full to swallow any sorrow!”
6. The immigration officials took it away.
7. She had to fill out too many forms; she was caught up in routine activities.
(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 and the other members of the Joy Luck Club, calling it “halting” and “fractured.” How does this relate to the old woman of the vignette, who wants to speak “perfect American English”? What does it suggest about Suyuan, An-mei, Lindo, and Ying-ying?
10. List four examples of breakdown in communication between Suyuan and Jing-mei.
1. Suyuan organized the first Joy Luck Club to fight discouragement during the war.
2. Dyansyin foods are supposed to bring good luck. They include dumplings shaped like ingots, rice noodles, boiled peanuts, and oranges.
3. Suyuan does not say. We only know that she arrived in Chungking without them.
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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 Auntie’s house?
9. In what way does An-mei’s mother demonstrate “shou so deep it is in your bones”?
10. In the last several paragraphs, An-mei makes several references to “what is in your bones.” What does she mean?
1. Popo is An-mei’s maternal grandmother. She forced An-mei’s mother to leave the house and leave her children behind because she had remarried after her husband’s death. She made An-mei feel unlucky to have such a bad mother. She took good care of An-mei in other ways, though, and An-mei knew she loved her.
2. An-mei mentions “cold hallways and tall stairs.” She also says “our house was so unhappy.” A portrait of her father, “a large,...
(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 marriage honorably?
10. Lindo claims the ancestors have given signs that her marriage to Tyan-yu should end. What are the three signs?
1. The Chinese accept only 24-carat gold, “pure inside and out,” as real gold. Fourteen-carat gold isn’t gold.
2. In the movie, an American soldier promises to come back and marry a girl he wants to sleep with. She gives in, but he abandons her and later marries another.
3. The mother would expect her daughter-in-law to raise sons, to take care of her husband’s parents when they were old, and to show respect to the family ancestors.
4. As a child, Lindo was physically attractive, healthy and strong, and obedient....
(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?
10. What was her wish?
1. Amah is Ying-ying’s nanny. Baba is Ying-ying’s father.
2. The family has rented a large boat on Tai Lake and has made arrangements for special foods. A ceremony will take place during the evening.
3. She describes her shadow this way.
4. Ying-ying had ruined her special new clothes by smearing blood all over them.
5. Ying-ying thinks the fishing net that rescues her is one of the Five Evils.
6. The woman notices Ying-ying’s pale skin and soft feet, like one who had led a pampered, indoor life.
7. Chang-o, the Moon Lady, lives in the moon as a consequence of stealing and eating the peach of immortality,...
(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 corner.
3. She wants to be close by if her daughter gets hurt.
4. The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates is a Chinese book that lists dangers children can get into.
5. She doesn’t believe her mother.
6. The mother says the book is written in Chinese and the daughter would not understand it.
7. The daughter wants to know what the 26 bad things are.
8. She says nothing.
9. The daughter says her mother doesn’t know what the 26 things are and that she doesn’t know anything at all.
10. She is not even at the corner.
(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 Lindo “bite back her tongue” in the closing scene?
1. Lindo says, “Bite back your tongue” in the store. Later she adds, “Strongest wind cannot be seen.”
2. Waverly was named after the street on which the family lives; but her family calls her “Meimei” or “Little Sister,” because she is the youngest and the only girl.
3. She asks where Waverly has heard the expression. When Waverly says “some boy” at school said it, Lindo calmly replies that Chinese people are involved in all kinds of professions; they are not lazy like Americans. She also says Chinese people do the best torture there is.
4. Waverly receives a box of Life Savers.
(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 man’s body is sliced away little by little until he dies.
2. Lena sees danger everywhere after she falls down the basement stairs, and Ying-ying makes up a story about an evil man who lives in the basement.
3. Lena’s father is English-Irish.
4. Lena’s father, Clifford St. Clair, changes her name to Betty.
5. Communication is difficult because Ying-ying speaks poor English, St. Clair speaks poor Chinese, and Lena understands what her mother says in Chinese but not what she means.
6. The family moves to an Italian neighborhood in San Francisco, North Beach.
7. The baby dies because of a severe birth defect.
8. Ying-ying becomes unable to function; she is...
(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?
1. Rose says, “My mother is not the best housekeeper in the world.”
2. An-mei calls Ted a waigoren, a foreigner.
3. She thinks Rose is Vietnamese.
4. Rose is all yin and Ted is all yang. Before they are married, she is always “the damsel in distress,” and he is “the knight in shining armor.” After the marriage the pattern continues, with Rose always passive and Ted always making decisions.
5. When Ted loses the malpractice lawsuit, he is the weak one in need of Rose’s support. Rose does not realize this because it has never happened before. He begins to insist she make decisions.
6. Nengkan is the ability to do whatever you put your mind to, absolute...
(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 describe “Pleading Child” and “Perfectly Contented”?
1. The two model prodigies are Lindo’s daughter, Waverly, and Shirley Temple.
2. Suyuan reads articles about gifted children in the magazines of the houses she cleans.
3. “Old Chong” is deaf, and Jing-mei deliberately deceives him.
4. Jing-mei overhears Suyuan bragging to Lindo about Jing-mei’s talent.
5. Waverly says this to Jing-mei after the talent show.
6. She refers to obedient and disobedient daughters.
7. She says she wishes she were dead like Suyuan’s twin daughters in China.
8. She didn’t get straight A’s, didn’t become class president, didn’t...
(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.
2. The armoire is at the foot of the bed in the bedroom of the daughter’s new condominium.
3. The mother says the marriage happiness from the bed will bounce off the mirror and become its own opposite.
4. The armoire won’t fit anywhere else.
5. The daughter has heard dire predictions all her life.
6. The mother says to place another mirror at the head of the bed.
7. Her housewarming gift is a gilt-edged mirror from the Price Club.
8. “Peach-blossom luck” means having children.
9. The mother sees her grandchild.
10. The daughter sees her own reflection.
(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 given her died even though she had watered it carefully.
2. They live in Woodside, in a renovated barn on four acres of land.
3. They argue about who should pay for exterminating the cat’s fleas.
4. Arnold died of delayed complications from measles. Lena believed he died because she stopped eating her rice and other foods in hopes of not marrying him.
5. They both worked for Harned Kelley & Davis, an architectural firm.
6. Lena thought of this.
7. Lena is afraid Harold might leave her after seeing all her flaws.
8. Harold claims they will be sure of their love if they keep money out of the relationship.
9. After Arnold died, Lena felt guilty...
(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?
1. Waverly wants to announce her engagement to Rich Schields.
2. She ignores it.
3. Lindo returns to her old self when Waverly has chicken pox.
4. Waverly is afraid that Lindo will find a real flaw that will affect Waverly’s feelings for Rich.
5. Marvin is Waverly’s first husband and Shoshana’s father.
6. When she thanks Suyuan for dinner, she adds that Rich said it was the best Chinese food he had ever eaten. She knows Suyuan will repeat this to Lindo and that Lindo will want to prove that she is the better cook.
7. Rich brings French wine and drinks too much of it; he uses chopsticks and drops his food into his lap; he eats too...
(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 gate of dreams, Old Mr. Chou is the equivalent of the Sandman.
2. An-mei thinks Ted is having an affair.
3. Hulihudu means “confused”; heimongmong means “dark fog.” They imply troubled feelings and not knowing where to turn for help.
4. He seems sleepy and bored; he does not offer any help or insight.
5. Ted wrote the check with a pen that was a gift from Rose. He said he would only use it for important papers.
6. An-mei says she must listen to her mother.
7. American ideas allow too many choices.
8. Ted had neglected the garden where he used to spend hours.
9. Ted wants to remarry.
10. Rose sees Old Mr. Chou and...
(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?
10. In what ways does Jing-mei show she identifies with her mother rather than competes with her?
1. It is a jade pendant that is elaborately carved with symbols.
2. They are buying crabs for that night’s Chinese New Year dinner.
3. Suyuan says the tenants use too much water, sometimes bathing twice a day, and that they put out too much garbage. The tenants claim that Suyuan poisoned their cat.
4. The eleventh crab is missing a leg, and that is bad luck on Chinese New Year. The manager makes them buy it because they are responsible for the missing leg.
5. Shoshana whines that she doesn’t like crab.
6. The argument starts when Waverly...
(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 three?
1. The two characters are the grandmother and her granddaughter.
2. The grandmother says Buddha is teaching her to laugh for no reason. She also says the baby is free and innocent.
3. The grandmother is the mother of the baby’s mother.
4. The grandmother needed to protect herself from the evils of the world. To do that, she had to gain experience. She could not go through life blindly.
5. The grandmother knows that her daughter will raise this baby the same way she was raised.
6. Syi Wang Mu is the Queen Mother of the Western Skies.
7. Syi Wang Mu has lived forever, through many lifetimes.
8. The baby’s mother, the...
(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 Syaudi?
10. Why was the timing of An-mei’s mother’s suicide so important?
1. Magpies are birds of joy.
2. The turtle said one person’s sadness makes another person happy.
3. Yan Chang is An-mei’s mother’s personal servant. She helps take care of An-mei.
4. An-mei is happy because she is with her mother, because she is surrounded by new and amazing things, and because she is living amid great wealth.
5. She learned not to pay attention to meaningless things.
6. An-mei’s mother wants An-mei to see Second Wife as the fraud she is. She does not want An-mei to give her loyalty to the woman who has caused so much pain.
(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?
9. What aspect of Lena causes Ying-ying to be ashamed?
10. What does Ying-ying do to summon her chi and bring both her black and gold sides back?
1. Her mother said Ying-ying looked like a “lady ghost at the bottom of the lake,” a woman who became pregnant without being married and drowned herself to hide her shame. Later, her ghost would haunt the homes of living people with her hair undone.
2. A jade cigarette jar symbolizes her lack of appreciation. She took it, threw away the cigarettes, and played in the mud with it.
3. He was gone more after she became pregnant.
4. She was very happy at first, but after her husband abandoned her, she was so angry...
(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 Tin?
8. Language is a barrier to Lindo and Tin at first. What problem does Lindo especially mention? How do they get around it?
9. Why did Lindo name her daughter after a street?
10. Lindo decides she will ask Waverly’s opinion of what she has lost and gained in America. What does this decision tell us about their relationship?
1. Lindo says the way she walks and the expression on her face will give her away, even if her clothing and makeup do not.
2. The two don’t mix.
3. Waverly is marrying Rich, and she wants her mother to look nice.
4. She talks about Lindo in front of her, and she treats her as if she can’t speak English, make...
(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 Suyuan?
10. What was Suyuan’s long-cherished wish?
1. They will visit his aunt and her twin half sisters.
2. Lindo was reluctant to put such sad news in a letter; she said the twins should hear it from a member of their family. Jing-mei wanted her sisters to know before she arrived so that they wouldn’t be disappointed and hate her and so that they wouldn’t think Suyuan had died because of her neglect.
3. In the debris of the house Suyuan found a doll that a niece always carried with her. If the niece was in the house when the bomb fell, then her parents and the rest of the family must also have been there.
4. She is surprised that Guangzhou is a modern city,...
(The entire section is 383 words.)
Like the four sides of the mah-jong table, the book is structured with an almost classical balance: four mothers' stories, four daughters' stories; then four more daughters' stories, four more mothers' stories, climaxing with a visit to China and the discovery of things long lost.
Tan speaks with authentic voices, both the American voices as heard in the next apartment ("You break your legs sliding down that bannister, I'm gonna break your neck"), and voices of Chinese mothers, such as comments about a handmade table: "What use for? You put something else on top, everything fall down. Chumvana chihan."
(The entire section is 99 words.)
The Joy Luck Club achieves much of its power by tapping into aspects of myth. It deals with things lost and things found, with masks and unmasking, with reuniting, climbing, deceit, and discovery. It does this, not by retelling ancient myths, but by gradually revealing the real life stories of Chinese women and their Chinese-American daughters. The book is structured around the meetings of a longstanding mah-jong club in San Francisco. Jing-Mei Woo has been invited to replace her mother, Suyuan Woo, who died two months earlier. The club is the American version of a similar club, also named The Joy Luck Club, formed by Suyuan Woo in Kweilin, China, during the difficult time shortly before that city's fall to the Japanese.
Each of the sixteen chapters is a story told by one of the eight main characters: four mothers, four daughters; two stories each. The mother-daughter relationships, complicated by the great differences in the worlds in which the mothers and daughters grew up, create the dynamic tension. Which tensions are based upon these differences, which grow out of universal mother-daughter conflicts, neither the reader nor the characters involved can determine. But as these women tell their stories, a gradual awareness develops of how much of the past cannot be retrieved, and yet how pervasive it is in the present, and how it gives emotional shape and color to the present. That which is inherited from the past is shown in these stories...
(The entire section is 377 words.)
Compare and Contrast
1930s and 1940s: The Japanese occupied China. Full war erupted in 1945 in Beijing between the Chinese and Japanese. After the war, civil war breaks out and Communists take over the government in 1949, led by Mao Zedong.
Today: In 1989, a pro-democracy demonstration by Chinese university students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square is put down by the Communist government. While a 1993 constitutional revision does not reform the political system, it does call for the development of a socialist market economy.
1930s and 1940s: Various religions thrived in China, particularly Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism.
Today: Once discouraged by Mao Zedong, religious practice has been revived to some degree. In addition to the traditional religions—Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism—there are also smaller groups of Muslims, Catholics, and Protestants.
1930s and 1940s: After a period from 1882 to 1943 that restricted Chinese immigration to the U.S., a new 1943 law extends citizenship rights and permits an annual immigration of 105 Chinese. Many refugees from the Sino-Japanese war flee to the United States.
Today: National origin quotas were abolished in 1965, and the 1990 Immigration Act raised the immigrant quota and reorganized the preference system for entrance. Nearly 39,000 Chinese immigrants enter the U S. in 1992, while almost 30,000 obtain visas to study at American...
(The entire section is 203 words.)
Topics for Further Study
In an interview with Elaine Woo for the Los Angeles Times (March 12, 1989), Amy Tan said that her parents wanted their children "to have American circumstances and Chinese character." Write an essay that explains what her parents may have meant. Give specific examples to illustrate the "circumstances" and "character."
Trace the history of Chinese immigration into our country. When did the Chinese begin arriving in our country? For what reasons do the Chinese come here? Where do they choose to settle? Why do they settle there?
The Joy Luck Club was published in 1989. That same year saw a major uprising by Chinese university students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square. Investigate these 1989 demonstrations. Why were these students demonstrating? How did their country react? How did our country react? What were the effects on the Chinese who were studying in the United States at the time?
What was the history of the "Joy Luck Club?" How did it get its name? What was its significance? Why did the Chinese-American women feel the need to have a Joy Luck Club in America?
Compare and contrast pre-World War II China with China today. Discuss such aspects as living conditions, government, cultural aspects, education, etc.
Investigate the psychological aspects of either generational conflict or mother/daughter relationships. Write an essay that describes your own experiences in relation to what you've learned...
(The entire section is 227 words.)
Tan credits Louise Erdrich's Love Medicine (1984), a set of interwoven tales about Indian life, as a formative influence on her writing. The Joy Luck Club also is inevitably and frequently compared with its predecessors, Maxine Hong Kingston's three varied books: The Woman Warrior (1976), China Men (1980), and Tripmaster Monkey (1989). Tan's book is less determinedly historical than China Men, less political than Tripmaster Monkey; it can be most productively compared with The Woman Warrior in its transformed amalgam of family history and myth, and it holds its own well in such a comparison.
Tan also credits a literary heritage of sermons by her Baptist minister father, family stories, Chinese fairy tales, and parables for influence on her work.
(The entire section is 116 words.)
The Kitchen God's Wife (1991) relates the story of Jiang Weili from the time she was six years old in the China of 1925 through the present, in which she is Winnie Louie, the widowed matriarch of an extended Chinese family living in San Francisco. Much like The Joy Luck Club, this novel feels as if Tan's ancestors are speaking through her as she transcends herself to triumph over ancestral ghosts. The theme of forgiveness, and the importance of understanding the miseries of others, continue here in Tan's second novel.
The Hundred Secret Senses (1995) is about a Chinese-American woman, Olivia, and her Chinese half-sister, Kwan, alternating between Kwan's stories of the past and Olivia's more modern story of a troubled marriage in which Olivia's husband is still attached to his first wife who was killed seventeen years earlier. Kwan believes she can communicate with ghosts, and in reincarnation. The two women return to China together, raise the specters of their respective pasts, and make their peace with their pasts.
(The entire section is 167 words.)
Tan reads from The Joy Luck Club on audio tape by Dove.
In 1993, the motion picture version of The Joy Luck Club was released. It was directed by Wayne Wang, who has built a good reputation with motion pictures about Chinese-American life. Tan cowrote the screenplay with Ronald Bass. The female leads — Kieu Chinh, Tsai Chin, France Nuyen, and Lisa Lu — turn in good performances. Although it did well at the box office, critics found it confusing, especially when it flashed back to China. Even so, those who enjoy the novel are likely to enjoy the motion picture.
(The entire section is 98 words.)
An abridged sound recording of The Joy Luck Club is three hours long, available on 2 cassette tapes. Published in 1989 by Dove Audio, the book is read by its author, Amy Tan.
The movie version of The Joy Luck Club was released by Hollywood Pictures in 1993. While it does not include all the novel's stories, the film does a good job of presenting the most important scenes. The adaptation was written by Amy Tan and Ronald Bass and directed by Wayne Wang. Produced by noted filmmaker Oliver Stone, the film starred such actresses as Frances Nuyen, Rosalind Chao, MingNa Wen, and Lauren Tom. It is rated R, available from Buena Vista Home Video.
(The entire section is 112 words.)
What Do I Read Next?
The Kitchen God's Wife, published in 1991 by Putnam of New York, was Tan's second novel. While many predicted that Tan would not be able to achieve the success of her first novel, this work received many accolades. It, too, deals with mother/daughter themes but also hints that male-centered social traditions hinder women's relationships with each other. Set in pre and post-World War II China, the story portrays a woman's struggles in an abusive relationship. In writing this book, Tan tells a story that is very similar to her mother's.
In a children's picture book entitled The Moon Lady, Amy Tan extends the story from the chapter of the same title in her first novel. Published in 1992 by Macrmllan, The Moon Lady appeals to pre-teens as an introduction to Tan's themes and style. The Moon Lady is about a seven-year-old girl who attends the autumn moon festival and encounters the lady who lives on the moon and grants secret wishes.
Published in 1995, The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan is a story about American-born Olivia and her Chinese half-sister, Kwan. When she comes to America to live with three-year-old Olivia, Kwan is eighteen and full of stories about having "yin eyes." She convinces Olivia that she can see and communicate with the dead. The story follows the girls through adulthood and tells of the strong bond that forms between them.
In her 1976 memoir The Woman Warrior Memoirs of a...
(The entire section is 351 words.)
Bibliography and Further Reading
Michael Dorns, "'Joy Luck Club' Hits the Literary Jackpot," in the Detroit News, March 26, 1989, p. 2D.
Current Biography Yearbook, Judith Graham, ed. New York: The H. W. Wilson Co., 1992. 559-63.
Marina Heung, “Daughter-Text/Mother-Text: Matrilineage in Amy Tan’s Joy Luck Club.” Feminist Studies. Fall 1993. 597-615.
Valerie Miner, “The Daughters’ Journeys.” The Nation. April 24, 1989. 566-67.
“Mother with a Past.” Maclean’s. July 15, 1991:47
Tracy Robinson, "The Intersections of Gender, Class, Race, and Culture On Seeing Clients Whole," in Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, Vol. 21, No. 1, January, 1993, pp. 50-8.
Walter Shear, “Generational Differences and the Diaspora in The Joy Luck Club.” Critique. Spring, 1993. 193-99.
Amy Tan, The Joy Luck Club. New York: Ivy Books, 1989.
For Further Study
Victoria Chen, "Chinese American Women, Language, and Moving Subjectivity," in Women and Language, Vol 18, no. 1, 1995, pp 3-7.
Chen argues that Amy Tan and Maxine Hong Kingston use language differences between Chinese immigrants and their daughters to suggest "multiplicity and instability of cultural identity for Chinese American women."
Manna Heung, "DaughterText/MotherTexf Matnlineage in Amy Tan's Joy Luck...
(The entire section is 433 words.)
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 Aiiieeeee! An Anthology of Chinese American and Japanese American Literature, edited by Jeffery Paul Chan et al. New York: Meridian, 1991. The article discusses Maxine Hong Kingston, Amy Tan, and David Henry Hwang’s use of ancient Chinese myths and legends in their works.
Fong, S. L. M. “Assimilation and Changing Social Roles of Chinese Americans.” Journal of Social Issues 29, no. 2 (1973): 115-127. Examines the influence of acculturation and assimilation on traditional Chinese family structure and Chinese social hierarchy. Conflicts over parental authority and changes in sex roles and attitudes toward dating are discussed.
Kim, Elaine H. “Asian American Writers: A...
(The entire section is 535 words.)