The Joy Luck Club | Study Guide

Amy Tan

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Course Hero. "The Joy Luck Club Study Guide." Course Hero. 7 Feb. 2017. Web. 14 Nov. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Joy-Luck-Club/>.

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Course Hero. "The Joy Luck Club Study Guide." February 7, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Joy-Luck-Club/.

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Course Hero, "The Joy Luck Club Study Guide," February 7, 2017, accessed November 14, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Joy-Luck-Club/.

The Joy Luck Club | Part 1, Chapter 1 : The Joy Luck Club (Jing-mei Woo) | Summary

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Summary

Jing-mei Woo, 36, attends her first meeting of the Joy Luck Club, a group of her parents' friends who gather regularly to play mah jong, a Chinese game. Jing-mei, who goes by the American name June, is taking the place of her mother, Suyuan, who died two months before. Suyuan Woo formed the Joy Luck Club when she and her husband moved to the United States from China in 1949. This is the second version of the club. The first was in Kweilin, China, where Suyuan, her first husband, and their two infant daughters lived during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937–45).

Living conditions in picturesque Kweilin were squalid and depressing, and Suyuan lived in fear of a Japanese invasion. To get their minds off the sounds of gunfire in the distance, she and her friends played mah jong each week. They ate food thought to bring good luck and only talked of good times from the past and in the future. They called themselves the Joy Luck Club.

Japanese forces eventually invaded Kweilin. Suyuan fled with her twin infant daughters, who rode in a wheelbarrow with their possessions. The journey to Chungking was long—approximately 550 miles—and the wheelbarrow broke. The only things Suyuan still had upon her arrival were three silk dresses she wore one atop the other. The twins were gone.

In the present Jing-mei takes her mother's old seat at the mah jong table after a night of eating and small talk. The "aunties"—An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-ying St. Clair—gossip and brag about their children. Then they tell her they have made contact with her two half-sisters in China, something her mother had apparently been trying to do for years before her death. Jing-mei is given a letter from her half-sisters and a check for $1,200 from the Joy Luck Club. Her aunties want her to go to China to meet her half-sisters and tell them about her mother. She fears she doesn't know her mother well enough to take on such an enormous task, but she promises to go.

Analysis

The Joy Luck Club tells the often-overlapping stories of eight women, four pairs of mothers and daughters, spanning two generations. Jing-mei, one of the daughters, is the book's protagonist. Her story is no more important or impressive than anyone else's, but she is the only character who speaks from her point of view during each of the four parts of the book, and the novel begins and ends with her story. This is because she is responsible not only for telling about her own experiences but also those of her mother, Suyuan, who recently passed away. Suyuan's death forces Jing-mei, who is 36, to realize she didn't really know her mother very well. This is the crux of The Joy Luck Club—the legacy mothers leave behind for their daughters and the daughters' inability to recognize it.

Suyuan's legacy is one of undeniable fortitude and strength. She singlehandedly saves her own life by escaping a war zone but is forced to leave her twin infant daughters behind. She loses one husband and marries another, then moves to the United States to start a new life and a new family with him. She wants Jing-mei to have a better life than she had and be successful in everything she does. Jing-mei consequently feels she's never lived up to her mother's high expectations, particularly when compared to the daughters of other mothers in the Joy Luck Club.

This is partly because of the cultural differences separating mother and daughter. Young Jing-mei has no frame of reference for truly comprehending the hardship of Suyuan's past that inspires the high hopes her mother has for her. Likewise, immigrant Suyuan has difficulty understanding the cultural forces shaping Jing-mei's life growing up in the United States, which are extremely different from those that dictated how Suyuan was raised in China. The lives of mother and daughter rarely intersect.

The intersection of the past and the present is the narrative arc that ties together the stories in The Joy Luck Club. Each of the daughters must learn the value of her mother's experiences and wisdom in order to move forward with her own life. Jing-mei's task is particularly difficult because her mother is no longer there to give her guidance, but it also has the potential to be the most rewarding as she tries to figure out how to reconcile her Chinese heritage with her American self.

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