Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 560
Suyuan Woo, the founder of the Joy Luck Club, which meets monthly to play mah-jongg. In fleeing from a Japanese attack in 1944, she was forced to abandon her twin infant daughters on a road outside Kweilin. She searched for them until 1949, when she immigrated to San Francisco with her second husband. Her daughter Jing-mei was born in 1951. Suyuan secretly continued looking for her other daughters until her death at the age of seventy-two, two months before the book opens.
Jing-mei (June) Woo
Jing-mei (June) Woo, a thirty-six-year-old college dropout who writes advertising copy for a small ad agency in San Francisco. After her mother’s death, she learns that she has two half sisters still alive in China. By setting out to meet them, she begins coming to terms with her own Chinese heritage.
Lindo Jong, Suyuan’s competitive and critical best friend, who was born in 1918 in a village near Taiyuan. A marriage was arranged for her when she was two, and she joined her husband’s family when she was twelve. Eventually, she tricked her mother-in-law into dissolving the marriage. After immigrating to San Francisco, she worked in a fortune cookie factory with An-mei Hsu, who introduced her to her second husband, Tin Jong. They have three children: Winston, who is killed in a car accident at the age of sixteen, Vincent, and Waverly.
Waverly Jong, a thirty-six-year-old divorcee with a five-year-old daughter, Shoshana. Waverly is a tax attorney in San Francisco. When she was nine years old, she won national attention as a chess champion. She is insecure and fears that her mother will reject her new fiancé.
An-mei Hsu, the wife of George Hsu and mother of Janice, Ruth, Rose, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Bing. Born in 1914, she was reared by her grandmother in Ningpo until she was nine. Her mother, the widow of a respected scholar, brought disgrace on herself by becoming the third concubine of Wu Tsing, a rich merchant in Tientsin, and she eventually poisoned herself. An-mei worries that her daughter Rose will not see the choices open to her.
Rose Hsu Jordan
Rose Hsu Jordan, the third of An-mei’s seven children. When she was fourteen, she saw her four-year-old brother Bing fall off a pier at a family outing and felt responsible for his death. In college, she married Ted Jordan, a dermatologist, whom she allowed to make all the decisions in their marriage. When Ted announces that he wants a divorce after fifteen years, Rose must figure out how to stand up for what she wants.
Ying-ying St. Clair
Ying-ying St. Clair, the wife of an American man who calls her “Betty.” Born in 1914 in Wushi to a wealthy family, she was married at sixteen to a philanderer who abandoned her, causing her to induce the abortion of her first child. She married Clifford St. Clair in 1946, after the death of her first husband. They have a daughter, Lena, and a son who dies at birth.
Lena St. Clair
Lena St. Clair, a thirty-six-year-old designer at her husband’s architectural firm. After college, she married self-centered and success-oriented Harold Livotny and inspired him to start his own business. After five years of marriage, he still splits their expenses down the middle even though he makes seven times as much as she does.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 288
The main characters in this novel are four women: China-born Suyuan Woo, An-Mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-ying St. Clair; and their four daughters, American-born Jing-mei "June" Woo, Rose Hsu Jordan, Waverly Jong, and Lena St. Clair. Some readers have expressed difficulty in sensing a distinctness among the four mothers and the four daughters. The voices seem, at least on a first reading, too similar.
But if there is similarity in their voices and a sameness to the daughters' complaints about growing up Chinese-American, there is a brilliance of detail and individuality in the lives of the four women from China, who met and formed the San Francisco version of the Joy Luck Club in 1949. One cannot forget the picture of Suyuan Woo, fleeing Kweilin before the approaching Japanese army, leaving behind first her suitcases, then her food, and at last the twin daughters she could no longer carry. Or Linda Jong, getting out of a matchmaker marriage by her wits, getting to Peking, and getting out of the country. Or Ying-ying St. Clair and her stories of falling into Tai Lake at the celebration of the Moon Festival. Or An Mei Hsu, with her memories of her sad and bitter mother, the unhappy fourth wife of a wealthy man.
The daughters show varying degrees of success, American-style. Waverly, learning to play with a cast-off chess set donated by Baptist ladies, becomes a chess prodigy; June is accused by her mother of being a "college drop-off;" Rose is being divorced by her dermatologist husband; Lena has a "balanced" marriage with a successful architect — balanced down to every dollar. One thing that unites all eight voices is their expression of things they wish they could communicate to one another.
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