The Joy Luck Club | Study Guide

Amy Tan

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The Joy Luck Club | Plot Summary

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The Joy Luck Club is a series of 16 short stories told from the points of view of four mothers—Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-ying St. Clair—who all immigrated from China to San Francisco in the 1940s, and of their daughters—Jing-mei Woo, Rose Hsu Jordan, Waverly Jong, and Lena St. Clair—who are all in their 30s. The stories are interrelated, with characters sometimes recurring across the narratives.

The novel is divided into four parts. Part 1 is about significant events in the mothers' childhoods and adolescences. Parts 2 and 3 are about the daughters' childhoods, their lives as adults, and their relationships with their mothers. Part 4 focuses on how the mothers use their past experiences to help their daughters in the present. The stories are told using first-person narration. The only exception to this format is Suyuan and Jing-mei Woo. Suyuan is recently deceased, so Jing-mei narrates her mother's story as well as her own.

The book begins as Jing-mei attends her first meeting as an official member of the Joy Luck Club, a mah jong group her mother, Suyuan, started when she moved to San Francisco from China in 1949. Mah jong is a game for four players that uses tiles instead of cards. Suyuan passed away two months before, and Jing-mei feels uncomfortable taking her mother's place. At the end of the evening Jing-mei learns her mother never stopped trying to find the twin baby daughters she left behind in China in 1944 during the Second Sino-Japanese War. A letter arrived from the twins after her death. The elder members of the Joy Luck Club give Jing-mei the letter and $1,200, telling her she must go to China to meet her half-sisters and tell them about their mother. Jing-mei is reticent at first, worried she doesn't really know her mother sufficiently to perform this task, but An-mei, Lindo, and Ying-ying convince her this is something she must do, and she agrees to go.

The rest of the stories in the book focus on the connection between mothers and daughters and the misunderstandings that often push them apart. An-mei, whose mother sacrificed her own life to give An-mei a better one, wants her daughter, Rose, who is going through a divorce, to learn to speak up for herself. Lindo, who extricated herself from an arranged marriage as a teenager, wants Waverly, who is engaged to a white man, to understand the importance of family and sacrifice. Ying-ying lost her "tiger spirit," the fierceness and cunning that characterize the revered animal, after her first husband abandoned her, then came to feel invisible during her second marriage. Now she wants to help her daughter, Lena, who is unhappy in her relationship, find her own tiger spirit. Jing-mei, meanwhile, examines her own role in her relationship with her mother, who she believes pushed her to be someone other than her true self. She comes to realize that Suyuan was proud of her just as she is.

The final chapter of the novel takes place in China, where Jing-mei and her father, Canning Woo, reunite with his aunt and her family before going to Shanghai to meet Jing-mei's half-sisters. Jing-mei finally hears the full story behind her mother's sacrifice of her daughters. She grieves for the mother she never fully knew and for her sisters who were with Suyuan for such a short period of time. Those same sisters are waiting for Jing-mei at the airport. They all embrace, and it feels as if Suyuan is with them, watching her greatest wish come true.

The Joy Luck Club Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Replacing her late mother, Jing-mei joins the Joy Luck Club.

Rising Action

2 Jing-mei discovers she has two half-sisters in China.

3 The traumatic pasts of four Chinese mothers are revealed.

4 Their four American daughters describe their own childhoods.

5 The mothers draw on their histories to help their daughters.

6 Traveling to China, Jing-mei wants to meet her half-sisters.


7 The story of Jing-mei's sisters' abandonment is revealed.

Falling Action

8 Jing-mei embraces her Chinese heritage.


9 Jing-mei meets her half-sisters.

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