The Joy Luck Club
Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club is about four Chinese mothers, who came to America when they were young, and their grown daughters who were born in the United States. The mothers formed a club, where they play a Chinese tile game, eat a lot of food, and talk about life. Their stories about their youth in China are both sad and magical. The moms are filled with old-fashioned wisdom, while their daughters' lives are more modern and involve complications their mothers never dreamed of. Because they have different ways of looking at the world, the mothers and daughters often don't see eye-to-eye, but there is a strong bond between them. Told from different points of view, the wisdom in this novel plays out in stories of love, hope, desire, and loss.
Suyuan: June’s mother.
An-mei: Rose’s mother
Lindo: Waverly’s mother
Ying-ying: Lena’s mother
Each daughter has a long-time tension or conflict with her mother. At the same time, each mother feels her daughter does not have a handle on life. The mothers and daughters love one another, but their relationships are full of misunderstanding.
In the first half of the book everyone tells her story -- the daughters with their "American" problems, and the mothers with their hard beginnings and "Chinese" lessons. Each of the daughters feels disapproved of by her mother. Each of the mothers feels her own view of life has been lost to her daughter.
Each mom has strength she wants to give to her daughter. In the second half of the book, the mothers are allowed to influence their daughters' adult lives. The daughters learn to incorporate their mothers' Chinese wisdom, which was born in a faraway land, into their American situations.
CHAPTER BY CHAPTER
- June's mother has died, so June is taking her place in the tile-playing club.
- She remembers Suyuan's old stories of wartime China, of how she lost her family and left her twin daughters behind.
- June is scared that the old mothers won't like her and that she won't fit in the club.
- The old mothers ask June, in honor of her dead mother, to go to China to visit the twin daughters Suyuan never knew.
- An-Mei is still freaked out by her motherless childhood.
- Living with an aunt, An-mei was brainwashed that her mother was evil.
- But An-mei remembers seeing her mother try to heal someone by cutting a piece of her own flesh off. Now An-Mei feels her mother inside herself and knows that beneath her pain is true love.
- When Lindo was just a baby, her husband was chosen for her. She had no choice, because a deal was struck, which was good for her family, although it made her life miserable.
- When she was still a kid, she went to live with her snotty in-laws, who treated her like a slave.
- She decided to stay strong, and when the time was right, she tricked her in-laws into setting her free with a story about unhappy ancestors.
- A long time ago Ying-ying stopped being true to herself. Because of this, Ying-ying blames herself for her daughter, Lena’s, love of money over love of family.
- As a girl, Ying-ying got yelled at for being too wild, for acting like a boy.
- Once, on a big party boat with her family, she got dirty and was sent to sit by herself.
- She fell into the water and almost drowned.
- From that day on, that her true self was lost.
- Waverly grew up in a neighborhood where China and America mixed.
- As a kid, an old Chinese man taught her how to kick butt at chess.
- It was a game of tricks and secrets.
- But Waverly's pride and cleverness were no match for her mother, Lindo's, quiet strength.
- When Lena was a kid, Ying-ying spooked her so badly with stories about devils and monsters that she started seeing nightmares when she was wide-awake.
- Her mother was afraid of everything, would obsess about dead babies and finally when her own infant was stillborn she lost her mind.
- Because Lena was young and had hope, she helped Ying-ying end her madness.
- Rose's world is upside-down because she is getting divorced.
- She remembers how her mother had a book that described all the bad stuff that could happen to kids. Once, when Rose was supposed to keep an eye on her kid brother at the beach, she got distracted and he tumbled into the water and drowned.
- With all her will, Rose's mother, An-mei, prayed for the child to return from the waves.
- Now An-mei is persuading her daughter to take more action in life.
- When June was a kid, she thought she had to be talented and famous.
- Her mother's hopes were too high.
- June tried to teach her mother a lesson by not trying anymore.
- So when June played piano at a talent show she sucked so bad that her mother gave up pushing her.
- After her mother died, June played the piano again and the music was a breeze.
- Lena's marriage is on the rocks.
- Her mother, Ying-ying, used to predict that Lena would have a rotten marriage.
- So when she was a kid, Lena did voodoo to avoid marrying the ugly boy next door.
- Now she's stuck with an American guy who, although he's rich, is uptight over money.
- When Ying-ying visits, Lena is ashamed because her mother can see the fatal flaws.
- Waverly doesn't want to tell her mother she's about to remarry, because Lindo has a sly way of poisoning her daughter's confidence.
- As a kid, after rebelling against her mother, Waverly started losing at chess.
- Now, as she starts seeing her guy through her mother's eyes, Waverly's Mr. Right turns into Mr. Wrong. When Waverly realizes she has never stopped rebelling and that Lindo is not her enemy, her life becomes her own.
- For so long, Rose thought her mother knew all her secrets.
- Now, going through a divorce, Rose doesn't know what she feels.
- In her mind she hears a confusing chorus of Chinese opinions versus American questions.
- She finds inside herself her mother's strength to take care of herself and turns the tables on her no-good husband.
- June has a weird looking, but important piece of her mom’s jewelry given to her at New Years before Suyuan died.
- At the New Year's party, June lost in an argument with Waverly and felt her life was made to look pitiful. Now, with the gift, June feels her mother gave her a piece of herself.
- As a kid, An-mei ran away from her aunt to live with her mother, who took her to a fancy house in the city, where she lived like a princess.
- But An-mei soon saw how things really stood. Her mother's new husband was a man who had raped her and through her shame kept her as his fourth wife.
- Finally, she killed herself, and because her new husband was afraid of ghosts, he raised An-mei as his true child.
- Through her mother's suffering, An-mei learned the power of anger.
- Ying-ying was a wild and flashy rich kid, who had everything she wanted.
- But she was seduced by a schmuck who constantly two-timed her.
- Although she loved him at first, she came to hate him so much that in revenge she aborted their child.
- Her spirit drifted from her body. Now after many years, Ying-ying wants to nurse the pain inside her until it becomes a fighting strength, and with this strength she will give her daughter the spirit to survive.
- As Lindo prepares for Waverly's wedding, she sees how American her daughter is.
- At the same time, Waverly is ashamed of her Chinese roots.
- Lindo sees her own weaknesses reflected in her daughter.
- Like Waverly, Lindo has lost some of her Chinese character while living in America.
- But the two women are tricky and have learned to take advantage of their mixed blessings.
- June is in China, visiting the twins, the half-sisters she has never met.
- She begins to feel her own Chinese identity come to the surface.
- June hears the whole story of how Suyuan left the twins behind, how she had no choice, and feels the sadness of her mother's life.
- When June and the twins meet, they immediately hug and cry for each other and their mother.
THINGS TO MAKE YOU LOOK SMART
- The Joy Luck Club is a series of vignettes, or short sketches, that are related through the theme of mother/daughter conflict and resolution.
- The conflicts are not just between generations, but across cultures and languages, because the mothers and daughters have grown up in different countries with widely different traditions and values.
- The daughters are not either Chinese or American, but Chinese-American, and are therefore trying to bridge two worlds at once.
- The mothers see their daughters' vitality as watered down. The daughters have lost not just their Chinese cultural identity, or heritage, but important psychological survival skills.
- Through the stories of their own youth, the mothers try to provide their daughters with wisdom, or lessons of psychological importance.
- Often, the daughters only half-understand what their mothers are trying to give them, because their stories and gestures seem to belong to a time and place far from modern day America.
- The mothers' stories and gestures are highly symbolic and seem a kind of poetry. Their gestures are accompanied by little explanation and their stories are filled compressed imagery and incomplete expression.
- The daughters have grown up with the American view of countless complications and the need for practical solutions.
- The mothers consistently convey the need to maintain the integrity of the spirit and the importance of sustaining traditional ties across generations.
- The daughters have grown up with the American sensibility for individualism, where the family and tradition carry less weight.
- Despite their often-opposing points of view, love is the over-riding bond that draws the mothers and daughters together and transmits the mothers' gifts of wisdom.