Illustration of the profiles of a young woman and an older woman facting away from each other

The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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The Joy Luck Club Summary

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Jing-mei Woo has been recruited to replace her mother, Suyuan Woo, at the Joy Luck Club meeting and to make a fourth at the mahjong table. Jing-mei’s father is certain that his wife must have had a “very bad idea” in her head to cause the cerebral aneurysm that killed her. Jing-mei recalls how her mother first started the Joy Luck Club.

Her parents had arrived in San Francisco in 1949 and started attending the First Chinese Baptist Church. There they met three couples, the St. Clairs, the Jongs, and the Hsus. The women, at least, were all Chinese, and Suyuan recognized the pain in their eyes. She started the American version of the Joy Luck Club.

The original Joy Luck Club was born in Kweilin, where Suyuan was living during the Japanese invasion of China. Suyuan would always tell Jing-mei stories of those days, how Kweilin was a place of dreams first and then a place of nightmares. Many people lived all mixed together in that city, and bombs were dropping nearby. Suyuan, who had an army officer husband and twin babies, started the Joy Luck Club to give herself and three other women the chance to laugh, eat, tell stories, play games, and raise their spirits. They enjoyed themselves tremendously even though others looked down upon them for their levity. These four women had their miseries, but they were determined not to be overcome by them.

Jing-mei recalls how the end of her mother’s story of Kweilin always changed. One day, Suyuan told her about a warning she received that she should leave Kweilin because the Japanese were coming. She slung her babies around her in scarves, took two bags, and fled. She arrived in Chungking with only three dresses. When Jing-mei asked her what happened to the babies, Suyuan merely said, “You are not those babies.”

At the Hsu home for the Joy Luck Club meeting, Jing-mei greets her “aunties” and “uncles” and remembers days gone by when she would take care of the other children during meetings. Now Uncle George reads the minutes, and the members discuss their investments. As she makes supper, Auntie An-Mei explains how they started investing money so that everyone can win.

Jing-mei remembers her mother’s apparent displeasure with her friends, her husband, and Jing-mei herself. Suyuan could always find some imbalance or something to criticize.

The Joy Luck Club members devour the food. Then the men start to play cards, and the women retire to the back bedroom for mahjong. They will not let Jing-mei sit out. She has been selected as the new member, and she will play. She listens to her aunties speak in their “special language” and recalls Auntie An-mei’s failed trip to China when her relatives took advantage of her generosity. Jing-mei also recalls the pain of never living up to her mother’s standards.

Toward the end of the evening, the aunties tell Jing-mei that her mother had been searching for her lost babies and had finally received news that they are safe. They present Jing-mei with a check for $1,200 to go to China to meet her sisters and tell them about their mother. Jing-mei tells them that she knows nothing about her mother, but they scoff, and Jing-mei realizes that she does indeed know much. She will go, and she will tell her sisters.

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