What was the impact of The Joy Luck Club?

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To the women who are part of it, the Joy Luck Club is their sanity. There are actually two clubs. One is originally created by Suyuan as a means of escaping the reality of war. Every week, the ladies meet to talk, play mahjong, and lean on each other to get through daily life. Explaining the first club's significance, Suyuan tells her daughter, Jing-Mei,

We didn't notice that the dumplings were stuffed mostly with stringy squash and that the oranges were spotted with wormy holes . . . We were the lucky ones.

Although people think the women are crazy to celebrate when life was falling apart around them, they do not relent, because they need the club.

What was worse, we asked among ourselves, to sit and wait for our own deaths with proper somber faces? Or to choose our own happiness?

The women choose to hope for happiness, which gives them joy. Therefore, the aptly-named Joy Luck Club saves their lives by helping them to cope with the great tragedies around them and by giving them something to hope for.

Suyuan forms a new Joy Luck Club in America. She knows no one when she arrives, but she meets three women at church who eventually became her best friends. The tradition of the Joy Luck Club continues, but with a different goal. While they are not facing the horrors of war and possible death any day, the women are facing the difficulties of living in a new country and raising American children who are culturally separated from them.

Now, the daughters are grown and their mothers are desperate to be understood. However, the daughters are American and cannot understand their mothers' old Chinese ways. The Joy Luck Club continues to provide the mothers an opportunity to vent and to bond over stories from the early parts of their lives, as well as to commiserate over their daughters' lack of interest in their culture.

Jing-Mei only discovers the importance of the Joy Luck Club after her mother's death, when she is asked to join her Aunties in Suyuan's place. Spending time with her mother's friends allows Jing-Mei to finally understand and appreciate Suyuan's life and struggles, and to learn how much her mother loved her and wanted to teach her. She also discovers her long-lost sisters, whom Suyuan had tried desperately to protect; Jing-Mei's reunion with them is the culmination of her mother's "long-cherished wish." Thus, the club's impact on the women's lives is immeasurable.

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I think that the greatest impact of Tan's work was to increase voice in the literary lexicon.  Tan's work increased awareness to what it meant to be Chinese, Chinese- American, and helped to spawn the part of the literary experience that spoke to Asian- Americans and the cultures from which their identity is formed.  The work did much to increase voice in this domain:

Reviewers have referred to the common sense with which Tan writes about Chinese culture. Tan explores areas of Chinese life that most other writers have not attempted. Many critics note that this novel, as well as others Tan has written, stimulates cross-culture appreciation. Readers of all cultures are able to be objective about their own predicaments while at the same time making connections between themselves and Tan's Chinese characters.

The bringing out of Chinese culture, the issues of identity attached to it, and also to explore the hyphenated American experience at the time was one of the most profound elements to Tan's work.  It helped to impact society in a demonstrative way in that the increase of voice was a result of the novel.

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