The Joy Luck Club | Study Guide

Amy Tan

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The Joy Luck Club | Discussion Questions 21 - 30


What does Suyuan Woo mean when she tells Jing-mei Woo, "Not so good, this jade," in Part 3, Chapter 4 of The Joy Luck Club?

Suyuan takes off her jade necklace and gives it to Jing-mei after their Chinese New Year dinner with the Jongs. The pendant is long, about the size of Jing-mei's little finger, and "too large, too green, too garishly ornate." Yet Suyuan insists the jade is "not so good" because it is such a light color. That means it's young. If Jing-mei wears it every day "it will become more green." The jade is a lot like Jing-mei—young and unfinished. Jing-mei and the jade both need to have more life experience to mature. Suyuan tells Jing-mei to wear the jade pendant every day because when she puts it on her skin, she will "know [Suyuan's] meaning." The necklace is meant to be a reminder of how much Suyuan loves and believes in her daughter. She knows Jing-mei will eventually reach her full potential, just like the jade. Jing-mei at first puts the pendant away and forgets about it. After her mother's death, however, she realizes her mother's importance in her life and how much she misses her. Jing-mei decides to follow her mother's advice and "wear that pendant every day."

What is the importance of the physical sacrifices made by An-mei Hsu's mother in The Joy Luck Club?

An-mei's mother makes two sacrifices of her own flesh to help members of her family. The first is in Part 1, Chapter 2 when Popo is dying. Though Popo refuses to acknowledge An-mei's mother's existence because of her status as a concubine, An-mei's mother returns home to be with her during her final days. An-mei watches her mother "cut a piece of meat from her arm" and throw it into a pot of medicinal soup, "cook[ing] magic in the ancient tradition to try to cure her mother this one last time." An-mei says this is "how a daughter honors her mother ... The pain of the flesh is nothing." Physical suffering is how you remember and pay tribute to who you are and where you come from. The second sacrifice, detailed in Part 4, Chapter 1, is far greater. As Wu Tsing's "fourth wife," An-mei's mother has no status in the household. An-mei is the daughter of another man, so she has no status either. Like all of the mothers in The Joy Luck Club, An-mei's mother wants her daughter to have a better life than she did. She does that by killing herself two days before the lunar new year. This carefully planned suicide took into account the superstitions surrounding the lunar new year and the return of spirits three days after death to enact revenge on the living. An-mei's mother knew Wu Tsing would have no choice but to vow to take care of An-mei and Syuadi, his biological child with An-mei's mother, as if they were born to him by his first wife. By giving her own life for her children, An-mei's mother ensures she will be well-cared for.

How does An-mei Hsu learn the importance of "wood" as part of her personality in Part 4, Chapter 1 of The Joy Luck Club?

Wood is one of the five elements in Chinese astrology, along with fire, water, metal, and earth, that each person is made of. An-mei often says her daughter, Rose Hsu Jordan, is "without wood" because she absorbs other people's ideas too easily without thinking. In Part 3, Chapter 3 An-mei tells Rose she should instead listen to her mother, whose words came from "up high, above everything else," and which will make Rose grow straight and strong. An-mei knows this from firsthand experience. When she was nine she left her childhood home to live with her mother, who was the third concubine of a wealthy man (Part 4, Chapter 1). Her mother warns her to be cautious of Second Wife, but An-mei doesn't listen. She is delighted when Second Wife gives her a string of pearls from around her own neck as a gift. An-mei's mother warns her again to be careful, as Second wife is "trying to trick [her], so [she] will do anything for her." An-mei considers not listening to her mother, but her mother steps on the necklace and crushes one of the beads. It is not made of pearls after all, but glass. An-mei has to wear the necklace as a reminder of how easy it is "to lose [her]self to something false." As time passes she learns more and more about Second Wife's devious ways. After her mother dies An-mei crushes the entire necklace under her foot so Second Wife knows An-mei can see right through her.

How does An-mei Hsu's story about the magpies in Part 4, Chapter 1 of The Joy Luck Club relate to Rose Hsu Jordan's divorce?

An-mei tells a story about magpies, a type of bird, at the end of Part 4, Chapter 1. The crowlike birds feasted on the seeds and tears of Chinese peasants for thousands of years. The crops couldn't grow, and the children starved. One day all across China the peasants gathered in the fields. When the magpies began eating, the peasants clapped their hands and banged on pots and pans, shouting "Die! Die! Die!" The magpies took to the sky, "alarmed and confused by this new anger." The noise continued for days. The birds, unable to land, "fluttered to the ground, dead and still, until not one bird remained in the sky." By taking action and asserting themselves, the peasants were able to change the situation in their favor. An-mei tells this story because this is exactly what she thinks Rose should do in regard to her failing marriage. She doesn't want Rose to try to repair what is already broken. Instead she wants her daughter to find her voice and start to shout, then keep on shouting, or asserting her own desires, until she gets what she wants, just like the villagers. The important thing is that Rose needs to stand up for herself and not give up.

In Part 4, Chapter 3 of The Joy Luck Club what does An-mei mean that Tin Jong "is not a citizen, but ... he knows how to make one"?

The author does not explicitly say when the members of the Joy Luck Club arrived in the United States, with the exception of Suyuan Woo, who came in 1949, just before the Chinese Communist Party began restricting internal and international emigration. She was the last of the group to arrive, so everyone else came over sometime during the 1940s. Prior to 1943, the United States severely restricted the number of Chinese people coming into the United States, and those that were already in the country were not allowed to become naturalized citizens. There was one important exception: Chinese babies born on American soil were full citizens of the United States. So when An-mei tells Lindo that her friend Tin Jong "knows how to make a citizen," she's saying he knows how to have sex and how to increase both of their chances for staying in the United States.

How does the story of the Moon Lady in Part 1, Chapter 4 of The Joy Luck Club relate to Ying-ying St. Clair's memories detailed in Part 4, Chapter 2?

Chang-o, or the Moon Lady, is a mythological character from Chinese folklore. Her husband, Hou Yi, is a great archer. He strikes down the nine extra suns that crowd the sky and overheat the earth and is rewarded with the peach of everlasting life. The greedy Chang-o takes the peach for herself. As soon as she takes a bite she beings to fly "like a dragonfly with broken wings," all the way up to the moon. Her deceitfulness makes her a prisoner on the moon for the rest of eternity. This is because "woman is yin ... the darkness within, where untempered passions lie." Ying-ying first hears the story of the Moon Lady when she is just four, but her own "untempered passions" are already evident. She comes from a wealthy family and thinks nothing of the luxuries within her home. She is prideful of her beauty, and at 16 she thinks no boy deserves her. Then she meets an older man at her cousin's wedding who strikes her as coarse and cruel, but she comes to realize that she will marry him. They are wed within six months. She gradually learns to love him only to be abandoned, while pregnant, at 18. She aborts the baby and lives with poor relations in the country for 10 years. Like the Moon Lady Ying-ying's decision to fulfill her desire results in loss and devastation. She becomes a shell of her former self as penance for her youthful vanity.

How does the way Jing-mei Woo and her father's family spend their evening together in Guangzhou in Part 4, Chapter 4 of The Joy Luck Club demonstrate situational irony?

Situational irony is when the opposite of what is expected to happen actually happens. Jing-mei expects communist China to be what she thinks of as traditionally Chinese—austere and lacking Western influence. But she ends up having an entirely Western experience as soon as they arrive at the hotel. Instead of the run-down and sparsely adorned motel she was expecting for $40 a night, their travel agent booked them in a luxuriously appointed Hyatt with a well-stocked minibar full of American liquor and candy. "This is communist China?" she asks no one in particular. Her hopes for a traditional Chinese banquet are dashed when her relatives say they would much rather have hamburgers, french fries, and apple pie. Jing-mei's perceptions of China are far different than the reality.

How does Suyuan Woo's death affect Jing-mei Woo's relationship to her own heritage in The Joy Luck Club?

Prior to Suyuan's death Jing-mei had never really thought of herself as being Chinese. In high school her American friends all agreed she was as American as they were, and she exhibited the distinctly American traits of independence and insolence toward her mother at an early age. Suyuan's death triggers a lot of unanswered questions for Jing-mei, and nearly all of them have to do with Suyuan's past or their shared heritage. Jing-mei had very little interest in her family's history until her mother's death. Suyuan's death puts into motion a series of events that allow Jing-mei to experience what she had ignored for so many years. In Part 1, Chapter 1, upon receiving the letter from Wang Chwun Hwa and Chwun Yu, the Joy Luck Club decides it is Jing-mei's duty to actually go to China and tell her half-sisters about their mother. This prompts Jing-mei to take a closer look at her relationship with her mother as well as what her mother taught her over the years. Jing-mei begins to feel a deeper curiosity about and connection to her Chinese heritage. She notes how she feels Chinese for the first time in her life when she arrives in China, and she realizes what being Chinese means to her: family.

How is Rose's identity divided between two cultures in The Joy Luck Club, and how is this division reflected in the way others see her?

As a first-generation Chinese American, Rose Hsu Jordan, like the other daughters in the novel, is raised "the Chinese way" in the setting of American culture. She is neither entirely American nor entirely Chinese and is forced to straddle the oceanwide divide between the two cultures. But Rose views herself as an American. In Part 2, Chapter 3 her mother warns Rose that Ted Jordan is American, to which Rose replies "I'm American too." An-mei sees Rose as an extension of herself, which is why she thinks of Rose as being Chinese. She's not the only one. After Ted introduces Rose to his parents, Mrs. Jordan tells Rose she has nothing against "minorities" and it's unfortunate "how unpopular the Vietnam War was," ignorantly assuming that Rose is Vietnamese. Though Rose was born in the United States and speaks "perfect English," strangers assume she isn't American because of how she looks. For Rose and the other daughters, cultural influences and exterior appearances prevent them from being perceived by others as they perceive themselves.

What is the significance of Lena St. Clair's role as her mother's interpreter in The Joy Luck Club?

Lena acts as an interpreter between her mother, Ying-ying, and non-Chinese speakers. Lena's father, Clifford St. Clair, speaks minimal Chinese. In their non-Chinese neighborhood Lena was the only person who could understand what Ying-ying was saying, which was oftentimes dark and depressing. Instead of literally translating her mother's words from Chinese to English, young Lena said what she thought people wanted to hear. After her mother's miscarriage in Part 2, Chapter 2, for example, Ying-ying gives a grotesque detailing of the birth and the dead fetus. Lena instead tells her father they all need to think very hard about having another baby, that Ying-ying "hopes this baby is very happy on the other side. And she thinks we should leave now and go have dinner." She feels it is up to her to protect her mother from being labeled crazy and to protect her father from more sorrow.

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