Introduction to The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club is a novel by Amy Tan and was first published in 1989. The novel was both a critical and commercial success, spending forty weeks on the New York Times bestseller list and receiving nominations for numerous awards, including the National Book Award. It was lauded for its complex depictions of the Chinese American immigrant experience, mother-daughter relationships, and the difficulty of cultivating an independent identity. Critics also praised Tan’s decision to incorporate Chinese folklore into the novel, noting that it gives the stories a mythical power not typically granted to the experiences of women immigrants. However, the novel has also received substantial criticism for its apparent adherence to stereotypes in its depiction of Chinese culture.

The novel consists of sixteen vignettes, divided into four sections. It explores the personal histories of and relationships between four mothers and their four daughters. Each of the mothers immigrated from China to the United States, and after meeting at church, the four women formed a mah-jongg club that they call the Joy Luck Club. The first section of the novel details the various reasons that the mothers left China. The second section explores the childhoods of the four American-born daughters, who grow up divided between their Chinese ancestry and their American values. The third section focuses on the four daughters as adults and depicts the complex but ultimately loving dynamics between the mothers and daughters. The fourth and final section returns to the perspective of the mothers, who reflect on their own histories and their relationships with both their daughters and American culture.

A Brief Biography of Amy Tan

Amy Tan was born in 1952 to Chinese immigrant parents and grew up in Northern California. Tan’s mother—the subject of her second novel, The Kitchen God’s Wife—suffered at the hands of a brutal husband whom she eventually divorced. When she moved to the United States, she was forced to leave her first three daughters behind in China. Tan and her siblings were from her mother’s second marriage in the States. Tan’s first book, The Joy Luck Club, published in 1989, was a phenomenal critical and popular success. In most of her works, she deals unflinchingly with the dynamics of mother–daughter relationships, explores ways to respect the past but live in the present, and showshow her characters attempt to balance their Chinese and American selves.

Frequently Asked Questions about The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club

Suyuan has started two Joy Luck Clubs in her life—one in San Francisco and one in Kweilin. When she was living in China, Suyuan was married to an army officer and had young twin daughters. She had...

Latest answer posted September 23, 2021, 5:28 pm (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

The jade pendant comes to symbolize both Jing-mei's relationship with her mother and her Chinese heritage. As such, its meaning evolves over time. The jade pendant is first given to Jing-mei by her...

Latest answer posted September 24, 2021, 11:28 am (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

In The Joy Luck Club, it is Jing-mei's twin sisters who recognize her when the three of them meet at the airport in Shanghai. At first, Jing-mei does not think that these women particularly...

Latest answer posted September 24, 2021, 11:36 am (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

When Waverly's brother gets a chess set for Christmas—one their mother wants him to throw out—Waverly learns to play chess and, as a child prodigy, quickly starts winning tournaments. By age nine,...

Latest answer posted September 24, 2021, 11:37 am (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

Jing-mei is a complex character, and there are several traits that could be singled as her best. Her empathy and connection to her mother are some of her best qualities, but these are in part due...

Latest answer posted September 24, 2021, 11:52 am (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

In the final pages of The Joy Luck Club, Jing-Mei brings her mother's dream to fruition as she steps off a plane and meets her sisters. As she nears Shanghai, Jing-Mei isn't sure how she will ever...

Latest answer posted September 24, 2021, 1:49 pm (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

Jing-mei ultimately "wins" the disagreement over the piano lessons by using her mother's pain against her. Jing-mei's mother, Suyuan, is convinced that her daughter is a prodigy whose talents only...

Latest answer posted September 23, 2021, 5:01 pm (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

Jing-mei, a lynchpin in the novel, is representative in many ways of all the daughters. She feels caught between the exacting demands and criticisms of her Chinese mother, Suyuan, and the desire to...

Latest answer posted September 23, 2021, 12:16 pm (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

The simple answer as to why Suyuan doesn't use the dishes Jing-mei gave her is that she is saving them. Jing-mei is helping her mother wash dishes after a meal and notices that she is still using...

Latest answer posted September 23, 2021, 11:42 am (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

Suyuan Woo starts the Joy Luck Club in Kweilin, where she is sent by husband during the second Sino-Japanese war. The city is overrun with refugees from all parts of China. The area is subject to...

Latest answer posted September 23, 2021, 11:38 am (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

As Jing-mei learns from Canning, her twin half-sisters survived being left on the side of the road by their mother as she fled the Japanese. Suyuan took a great risk in abandoning her children, as...

Latest answer posted September 22, 2021, 12:28 pm (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

Through watching their daughters' struggles in adult life, the mothers in The Joy Luck Club learn more fully how they themselves have been damaged by their culture and how they have unwittingly...

Latest answer posted September 22, 2021, 12:49 pm (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

Suyuan's first husband in China sent Suyuan and her twin daughters to Kweilin to escape the invading Japanese army. When Suyuan learned the Japanese were coming to Kweilin, she fled on foot,...

Latest answer posted September 22, 2021, 11:44 am (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

In the first chapter of the novel The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan introduces the reader to Jing-mei Woo and reveals that her mother, Suyuan Woo, has recently passed away. As the novel opens with the...

Latest answer posted September 21, 2021, 2:06 pm (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

The focus of The Joy Luck Club is on Chinese mothers and daughters, making this a woman's novel. Its point is to show, through a series of four stories, how these women struggle to establish their...

Latest answer posted September 21, 2021, 11:34 am (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club is not, strictly speaking, "true" in the sense that it is explicitly autobiographical. None of the characters are meant to be Tan, and Tan herself has been consistent in debunking...

Latest answer posted September 21, 2021, 11:26 am (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

The title of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club reflects the hopes and dreams of the novel's characters as expressed in the social club started by Suyuan. Suyuan started the first Joy Luck Club in China...

Latest answer posted September 22, 2021, 1:15 pm (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

In the section titled "Best Quality," Jing-mei is feeling particularly exhausted after a confrontation with Waverly. Once again, Waverly has destroyed Jing-mei's confidence, making her believe that...

Latest answer posted September 22, 2021, 1:03 pm (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

After Jing-mei watches her aunties play mah-jongg for a while, she attempts to leave. The older women protest and finally insist that they need to tell her something important about her mother, who...

Latest answer posted September 21, 2021, 5:59 pm (UTC)

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The Joy Luck Club

In Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, Jing-mei's mother really wants her daughter to be a prodigy at something. Suyuan believes that in America, anything is possible, and that Jing-mei will become...

Latest answer posted September 21, 2021, 3:21 pm (UTC)

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