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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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The Joy Luck Club Summary

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan is a novel about the lives of four Chinese American women and their daughters.

  • The novel contains four sections, each beginning with a vignette depicting a stage in the life cycle. The four stories in each section explore the relationship between the mothers and the daughters at the same stage.
  • One series of stories focuses on Suyuan Woo and her daughter Jing-mei (June).
  • The second series of stories focuses on An-mei and her daughter Rose.
  • The third series of stories focuses on Lindo and her daughter Waverly.
  • The fourth series of stories focuses on Ying-ying and her daughter Lena.

Summary

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Last Updated on December 9, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1445

In “The Joy Luck Club,” Jing-mei Woo takes her mother’s place at a meeting of the Joy Luck Club. Her mother, Suyuan, passed away three months before. Suyuan started the original Joy Luck Club in China while in Kweilin, living under the threat of the Japanese. Suyuan fled the city with her twin baby girls, Jing-mei’s sisters. The meeting proceeds with a discussion of investments, a meal, and games of cards and mahjong. The aunties—Lindo Jong, An-mei Hsu, and Ying-ying St. Clair—then present Jing-mei with a $1,200 check so that she can go to China and meet her sisters.

In “Scar,” An-mei Hsu looks back to her childhood. She was only nine years old and living with her aunt and uncle. When her grandmother, Popo, became ill, An-mei’s mother returned. An-mei’s mother was in disgrace within the family due to her marriage, yet she cared tenderly for her mother and tried to connect with her daughter. An-mei recalls that when she was four years old, she was badly burned by a falling soup pot. The burn became a scar over time, but her mother had gone. Now An-mei watched her mother give of her own flesh to try to save Popo, an act of true honor.

Lindo Jong describes her first marriage in “The Red Candle.” Lindo was only two years old when the matchmaker determined her marriage to Tyan-yu. Lindo went to live with the Huang family when she was twelve in the role of a servant. Lindo married Tyan-yu when she was sixteen, but they never consummated the marriage. On their wedding night, Lindo blew out one end of the two-ended red candle that was supposed to burn until day to make the marriage permanent. Later, Lindo pretended to have a dream in which the ancestors told her that they were displeased with the marriage and that a servant girl was carrying Tyan-yu’s child. Thus, she escaped from her marriage.

In “The Moon Lady,” Ying-ying St. Clair remembers celebrating the Moon Festival with her family. Four-year-old Ying-ying was excited to tell the Moon Lady her secret wish. The family rented a boat for the day, and Ying-ying went to the back of the boat, where she watched boys fishing and a woman cleaning the fish. The little girl’s new clothes were splattered with blood. Her Amah scolded her and left her sitting in her undergarments. Ying-ying accidentally fell into the water but was rescued and left on shore. She watched a play of the Moon Lady’s story, but when she hurried to tell the Moon Lady her secret wish, she was stunned to find a male actor. Her wish came true when her family found her.

Waverly Jong recalls how she became a chess prodigy in “Rules of the Game.” When her brother received a chess set for Christmas, Waverly discovered her talent. Waverly won many tournaments and became a chess champion but became disgusted with her mother for looking over her shoulder and showing her off. One day at the market, Waverly insulted her mother and ran off. When she returned home, her mother would not speak to her, and Waverly was left to plan her next move.

In “The Voice from the Wall,” Lena St. Clair recalls her family’s move to an Italian neighborhood. Lena’s mother became pregnant, and Lena heard a woman and girl next door constantly arguing. Lena’s baby brother died shortly after birth, and her mother fell into depression. Lena was surprised when the girl next door came over and climbed through Lena’s window to get back into her own room after her mother kicked her out. The girl told Lena that her mother would only pretend to be mad, and Lena heard them laughing later. She wished she could pull her mother back to life.

In “Half and Half,” Rose Hsu Jordan does not know how to tell her mother that she and her husband, Ted, are getting a divorce. Rose recalls how her mother lost her faith. The family went to the beach one day when Rose was young, and her four-year-old brother, Bing, fell into the water and drowned. Rose’s mother tried everything to bring him back, but neither prayer nor Chinese traditions worked. Bing was gone forever, and Rose still suffers the guilt.

In “Two Kinds,” Jing-mei Woo explains that her mother wanted her to be a prodigy, but Jing-mei wanted to be herself. Jing-mei took piano lessons, but her teacher, Mr. Chong, was deaf, and Jing-mei never tried hard to learn. At the talent show, Jing-mei played many wrong notes, but her mother insisted she continue with the piano. In anger, Jing-mei said she wished that she were not her mother’s daughter and cruelly referred to her lost sisters. Only as an adult does Jing-mei appreciate the piano.

Lena St. Clair reflects on her marriage in “Rice Husbands.” She and Harold try to be equals, but they constantly focus on splitting expenses down the middle. Lena recalls how her mother would tell her that if she did not finish her food, her husband would be mean and ugly. Lena’s mother is now visiting, and Lena must face her own dissatisfaction with Harold.

Waverly Jong does not know how to tell her mother that she plans to marry her boyfriend, Rich Schields, in “Four Directions.” Years ago, Waverly’s chess game faltered after her argument with her mother. She lost confidence and eventually stopped playing. Now Waverly reflects on her previous marriage, her daughter, and her love for Rich. Rich makes all kinds of mistakes at a meal with the Jongs, and Waverly discovers that her mother already knows her intentions.

In “Without Wood,” Rose Hsu Jordan receives a check and divorce papers from her husband, Ted. She is confused and does not know what to do. Her mother once described her as being “without wood,” and now she insists that Rose must “speak up.” Rose stays in bed for three days, and when Ted demands her signature on the papers, she finally makes the decision that she will fight for the house and her dignity.

Jing-mei Woo remembers a crab dinner in “Best Quality.” As Jing-mei and her mother shopped for crabs, the latter complained about the upstairs neighbors. During the meal, Jing-mei’s mother took the worst crab for herself, later explaining to her daughter that it had died. Jing-mei had to endure Waverly’s taunts about her writing. At the end of the evening, her mother gave Jing-mei a jade pendant representing her “life’s importance.”

In “Magpies,” An-mei recounts going to live with her mother, the Fourth Wife of Wu Tsing, when she was nine years old. An-mei was thrilled to live amid such wealth, but she soon began to understand her mother’s misery and Second Wife’s manipulations. The maid, Yan Chang, told An-mei that her mother was raped by Wu Tsing and forced to become his Fourth Wife. Eventually, An-mei’s mother died by suicide, and the girl learned to speak for herself.

Ying-ying St. Clair describes her first marriage in “Waiting Between the Trees.” She was only sixteen when she married the man she had met at her youngest aunt’s wedding. She soon became pregnant with his child, but he left her for another girl. Ying-ying had an abortion and went to live with poor relatives in the country. Ten years later, she became a shopgirl and met Mr. St. Clair, who courted her for four years until her first husband died. They married and went to America.

In “Double Face,” Lindo Jong reflects on how happy she was to look like her mother and how her own daughter is not pleased to look like her. Lindo has tried to blend Chinese character and American life for her children but has been unsuccessful. Lindo recalls how she came to America and married Tin Jong and thinks about how difficult it is to retain her Chinese face.

Jing-mei Woo and her father are traveling in China in “A Pair of Tickets.” They first meet Canning Woo’s aunt and her family. Canning tells his daughter the full story of her mother’s flight from Kweilin and how, in illness and desperation, she had to leave her babies by the road with some money, jewelry, pictures, and a note. The girls were raised by a loving peasant couple, but Suyuan never stopped looking for them. They have now been found, but only after their mother’s death. Jing-mei meets her sisters in Shanghai, and they cry together as they remember their mother.

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Chapter Summaries