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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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How does dialogue in chapter 1 of The Joy Luck Club characterize An-mei, Lindo, and Ying-ying?

Quick answer:

Tan uses dialogue at the mahjong game in chapter 1 to characterize An-mei, Lindo, and Ying-ying by revealing their personalities through it. Kind An-mei guides June through the game and praises June's late mother. Critical and competitive Lindo scolds June throughout and puts others down. Ying-ying tries to keep the peace and modestly undercuts herself, but ultimately is the character brave enough to tell June about her mother's twin daughters in China.

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When Jing-Mei (June) Woo takes the place of her late mother, Suyuan, in a mahjong game, she interacts with the three other members of the Joy Luck Club: An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-ying St. Clair. Through dialogue, Tan reveals specific traits of each woman and the dynamics among them.

The hostess of the mahjong game is An-mei, who is kind and a bit quiet. In fact, she speaks the least of the three older Chinese women. Right from the beginning, she is hospitable and proactive, serving food and commencing the game.

Auntie An-mei, who is sitting on my left, spills the tiles onto the green felt tabletop and then says to me, "Now we wash tiles."

In addition to gently guiding June, who is new to mahjong, An-mei is sensitive to her loss. She compliments June's late mother:

Your mother was the best, like a pro.

She exhibits a little pride without putting anyone else down, bragging that the sweater she made by hand for her granddaughter looks store-bought. On the other hand, she quickly clams up in silent embarrassment when the subjects of electronics theft (for which her son was arrested) and gifts to Chinese relatives (which An-mei and her husband brought to their family) come up in conversation.

She speaks up again as she resumes the hostess role and moves things along. When the three aunties tell June about her stepsisters in China, she

interrupts with an excited voice: "So your aunties and I, we wrote to this address," she says. "We say that a certain party, your mother, want to meet another certain party. And this party write back to us. They are your sisters, Jing-mei."

An-mei is the one who speaks up and tells June what actions they took to contact her stepsisters.

The character Lindo Jong, on the other hand, is less gentle and more blunt. As revealed later in the book, she is competitive, critical, and crafty. In fact, even before June starts to play mahjong, Lindo sizes her up as an opponent:

"Do you win like your mother?" asks Auntie Lin across from me. She is not smiling.

When June admits that she has played only a little bit with Jewish friends, Lindo immediately disparages both her ability and Jews:

"Annh! Jewish mahjong," she says in disgusted tones. "Not the same thing."

When June offers to sit out and watch, Lindo appears

exasperated, as though I were a simple child: "How can we play with just three people? Like a table with three legs, no balance. When Auntie Ying's husband died, she asked her brother to join. Your father asked you. So it's decided."

Instead of appreciating June's ignorant but well-meaning gesture, Lindo ridicules her; even worse, she implies that June is someone they were forced to accept as a practical yet undesirable substitute player for her late mother.

Also, Lindo insensitively puts down the other women. First, she chides June for not knowing the difference between Chinese and Jewish mahjong and criticizes Suyuan. Lindo

exclaims in a mock scolding voice. "Your mother did not teach you anything?"

Second, while seeming to help An-mei save face, Lindo actually insensitively embarrasses her. When Lindo defends the mother of a son who turns out to be a thief, June realizes that she does so

for the benefit of Auntie An-mei, whose own youngest son was arrested two years ago for selling stolen car stereos.

Lindo then changes the subject—perhaps for An-mei's benefit—only to discuss a topic that brings glory to herself and shame to An-mei. June notes,

Listening now to Auntie Lin bragging about the virtues of her family in China, I realize that Auntie Lin is oblivious to Auntie An-mei's pain.

Lindo also shows her craftiness and competitiveness by manipulating the conversation to reveal June’s inferiority to her own daughter, Waverly. When she oh-so-innocently asks June if she is in school, she forces June to admit that she dropped out of school.

Auntie Lin's eyebrows arch. "Maybe I'm thinking of someone else daughter," she says, but I know right away she's lying.

The character Ying-ying is the most appeasing of the three women. After Lindo scolds June for not learning about Chinese mahjong, Ying-ying reassures June and welcomes her into their game. She pats her hand and tells her,

You a smart girl. You watch us, do the same. Help us stack the tiles and make four walls.

When Lindo tells the others how she got "mad to death" at a store clerk, Ying-ying teasingly placates her with

But Lindo, you are still with us. You didn't die.

Ying-ying is shy in showing pride. First, she shares news about another woman's misfortune, speaking

in a way that sounds as if she were proud to be the first with this big news.

But she undercuts her speech with a bit of self-effacement. When she tells others that her daughter Lena moved to an expensive area, she tempers her pride by

looking down at the tiles, talking to no one in particular. She quickly erases her smile and tries for some modesty.

Ultimately, Ying-ying is the person who breaks the news to June of her mother's secret—the stepsisters in China. She switches from hesitant English into smooth, calm, yet assertive Chinese:

You must see your sisters and tell them about your mother's death .… But most important, you must tell them about her life. The mother they did not know, they must now know.

At the end, the three women express their pride and love for June's mother; they all emphasize the importance of June's connection to her mother and sisters.

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