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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Topic #1

One of the unifying images of the novel relates to the Daoist concept of yin and yang and seeking balance between the two. In what ways does the author make use of these images?


I. Thesis Statement: Author Amy Tan uses images of yin and yang to underscore the characters’ search for balance.

II. Rose in “Half and Half” and “Without Wood” must learn to speak for herself.

III. Ying-ying in “Waiting Between the Trees” must face her pain to help her daughter.

IV. Waverly sees An-mei as “protective ally” and as opponent before accepting her as she is in “Four Directions.”

V. Jing-mei in “A Pair of Tickets” embraces both her American and Chinese heritage.

VI. Conclusion: The pursuit of balance teaches, as the grandmother tells her granddaughter in the final vignette, “how to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever.”

Topic #2

One of the unusual features of this novel is its narrative technique. Tan uses 10 different narrators in 20 stories and vignettes spanning 2 continents and at least 73 years. The result, however, is a coherent whole. What devices make this possible?


I. Thesis Statement: Author Amy Tan uses vignettes, allusions among stories, and ongoing conflicts to add unity to the novel.

II. The vignettes add unity.
A. Each vignette defines the basis for the next four stories.
B. Together the vignettes describe the life cycle.
C. The final vignette suggests a theme for the entire novel.

III. Allusions among stories add unity.
A. An-mei’s sapphire ring
B. Ying-ying’s first son
C. Lindo’s chang
D. Suyuan’s twins

IV. Ongoing conflicts add unity.
A. Suyuan and Lindo’s friendly rivalry
B. Ying-ying’s traumas
C. Lindo and Waverly’s chess maneuvers
D. Jing-mei’s understanding of who she is

V. Conclusion: The narrative technique in The Joy Luck Club uses dissimilar elements to create an effective whole.

Topic #3

One of the dominant themes of twentieth-century American literature has been the search to define the self. This search has variously explored the influence of history, economics, religion, family, gender, and ethnicity. Characters must reconcile themselves with these forces before they are able to face the future. In what ways do the daughters in The Joy Luck Club come to terms with these influences?


I. Thesis Statement: Waverly Jong, Rose Hsu Jordan, Lena St. Clair, and Jing-mei Woo alternately resist and embrace their identities as daughters, as women, and as Chinese.

II. Waverly as mother’s daughter

III. Rose as woman of power

IV. Lena as woman of value

V. Jing-mei as Chinese

VI. Conclusion: As each character comes to terms with who she is, she affirms her mother’s example of strength and courage.

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Masterpieces of Women's Literature The Joy Luck Club Analysis