The name of the book, and the women's group that meets to play the Chinese game mahjong, is sadly and somewhat hopefully ironic. Suyuan Woo, a woman who had lived through incredible hardship, enduring the loss of her twin daughters in China, started the club. It is as though she hoped for greater joy and better luck in America than she'd had in China, and so she named the club for those things she wanted rather than the things she had. Likewise, Lindo Jong had an extremely difficult childhood as a result of her betrothal and eventual marriage to a selfish and cruel boy. An-Mei Hsu also experienced personal hardship in China as a result of her estrangement from her mother, and Ying-ying St. Clair's decline from an independent and strong woman into a passive and insecure one characterizes her personal struggle.
All the women have sad pasts, and some have sad presents too, so the irony of the name "the Joy Luck Club" seems to show the great differences between their dreams for themselves and their daughters, and their realities. At the same time, the women's hopefulness, and their dreams for a better life in America, helps us to understand their optimism, despite their hardships.
An explanation of the title "The Joy Luck Club" is provided the reader in the course of the narrative. The Joy Luck Club was formed by one of the four Chinese-immigrant women in China before their coming to America. Suyuan Woo started this club to distract her friends from their oppression in China. That is, she hoped the club could keep them--at least for a while--from thinking about their woes during the Japanese invasion of China. Then, after the women migrated to the United States, the club was continued as a means of unifying the four women and their daughters. Suyuan Woo hoped that this continuation of the club would bring good luck to her friends and happiness in their reunions. And, by retaining this vestige of their culture in China, Suyuan and the other mothers hope to keep alive the Chinese heritage of their American-born daughters.