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The Joy Luck Club | Study Guide

Amy Tan

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The Joy Luck Club | Quotes


I can never remember things I didn't understand in the first place.

Jing-mei Woo, Part 1, Chapter 1

In the opening pages of The Joy Luck Club, Jing-mei is trying to remember a Chinese expression her mother had used to describe a type of soup. She can't remember because she has never been able to grasp the subtleties in the Chinese language. This speaks to the way the difference in language and culture separate the mothers and daughters in the novel.


You must peel off your skin, and that of your mother, and her mother before her.

An-mei Hsu, Part 1, Chapter 2

An-mei's mother cuts a chunk of her arm and puts it in a medicinal soup for her own mother, Popo, who is dying. An-mei says daughters must metaphorically peel off their own skin to see the love and influence of their mother beneath. All mothers and daughters are connected, and daughters need to honor that. But they also need to discover their own strength apart from their mothers.


I would always remember my parents' wishes, but I would never forget myself.

Lindo Jong, Part 1, Chapter 3

Lindo's parents arranged for Lindo to marry Huang Tyan-yu, a spoiled boy from a moderately wealthy family. She doesn't want anything to do with him but goes through with the marriage to honor her parents. On the day of her wedding she realizes she is free to think whatever she pleases, even if the rest of her life is unhappy. This kind of independent thinking is what ultimately leads to her freedom. What she realized as a teenager is what she wants her own daughter to understand—there is a way to be yourself while still honoring your parents.


I wished to be found.

Ying-ying St. Clair, Part 1, Chapter 4

Ying-ying says this while recalling the Moon Festival where she was separated from her family. It is the wish she asks the mythical Moon Lady to grant. But it also applies to her life as an adult. Ying-ying lost her tiger spirit during her ill-fated first marriage and didn't reclaim it for fear she would suffer again. As she watches her daughter suffer in her own marriage, she wishes to resurrect her tiger spirit and her own strength to set her daughter free.


Chinese people do business, do medicine, do painting ... We do torture. Best torture.

Lindo Jong, Part 2, Chapter 1

Waverly Jong was teasing her mother when she brought up "Chinese torture," but her mischief falls flat. Lindo doesn't understand Americans consider Chinese torture barbaric, nor that her daughter is trying to get a rise out of her. Her matter-of-fact response is indicative of the language and cultural disconnect between the mothers and daughters in the book.


I have already experienced the worst. After this, there is no worst possible thing.

Lena St. Clair, Part 2, Chapter 2

Young Lena can't stand to see her mother suffer after Ying-ying's miscarriage, and she wants to find a way to help her mother to "the other side" of grief. She imagines a scenario in which a girl saves her mother by pulling her "through the wall" and back into hope and life. The mother in the story realizes that she has "already experienced the worst." This is representative of all the mothers in the Joy Luck Club. They have each experienced the worst possible thing that could happen to a person—the loss of a marriage, the loss of a child, the loss of an entire family. Instead of letting grief rule the rest of their lives, however, the women move forward, stronger than before.


I think now that fate is shaped half by expectation, half by inattention.

Rose Hsu Jordan, Part 2, Chapter 3

Rose blames herself for the death of her youngest brother, Bing, when she was supposed to be watching him. She doesn't believe fate is an unchangeable destiny. Instead it's something that happens if one fails to take control of it. Her need to be in control, ironically, leads her to a crippling inability to make decisions. After taking her own advice she alters her fate by asserting herself during her divorce.


Only ask you be your best. For you sake.

Suyuan Woo, Part 2, Chapter 4

As a child, Jing-mei resents her mother because she thinks Suyuan wants her to be the best when Suyuan really only wants her to try to be her best. This can be said for many of the clashes between the mothers and daughters in The Joy Luck Club. The mothers want their daughters to do well so they will succeed in life, but the daughters feel pressure to be better than everyone else and ultimately rebel because they feel as if their mothers simply want to control them.


In her hands, I always became the pawn.

Waverly Jong, Part 3, Chapter 2

Throughout Waverly's life Lindo Jong pushes Waverly to practice chess, then brags when Waverly does well, and even tries to take credit for Waverly's success. Waverly can't stand it. Instead of enjoying the game of chess, she focuses on her ongoing battle with her mother, which eventually ends her winning streak. She then quits the game altogether. It isn't until Waverly is an adult that she realizes her mother was actually on her side all along.


A mother is best. A mother knows what is inside you.

An-mei Hsu, Part 3, Chapter 3

An-mei is hurt that Rose Hsu Jordan is talking to a psychiatrist about her problems instead of talking to her mother about them. From her point of a view, a psychiatrist couldn't possibly have more insight into Rose's psyche than a mother could, nor could the psychiatrist give good advice. An-mei raised Rose to be the woman she is today, so she feels she knows her daughter best.


I was taught to desire nothing, to swallow other people's misery, to eat my own bitterness.

An-mei Hsu, Part 4, Chapter 1

An-mei's mother taught her the lesson many Chinese mothers imparted to their daughters: hide your feelings. An-mei tries this for a while, then sees how terribly the strategy works out for her mother, who commits suicide. She learns it is better to speak up and say what you want than to be inwardly miserable all the time. She tries to teach this to Rose, but the lesson doesn't take.


She sprang from me like a slippery fish, and has been swimming away ever since.

Ying-ying St. Clair, Part 4, Chapter 2

Ying-ying's description of Lena St. Clair's birth is an apt metaphor for all the mothers and daughters in The Joy Luck Club. The mothers want to keep their daughters close and teach them lessons from their own Chinese upbringing, but the daughters are intent on being independent, or "swimming away" from their mothers.


I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character.

Lindo Jong, Part 4, Chapter 3

The mothers in the Joy Luck Club all came to the United States so they could give their children better lives than they would have had growing up in China. They thought it was possible to raise children with the opportunity and freedoms granted to everyone in the United States while instilling Chinese values. They soon learn this isn't possible, or as Lindo says, "How could I know these two things do not mix?" American culture outside of the home supersedes Chinese culture inside the home, and the mothers are left to raise children that are American through and through, which contributes to the cultural gap between them that the mothers and daughters in the novel experience.


"No, tell me in Chinese," I interrupt. "Really, I can understand."

Jing-mei Woo, Part 4, Chapter 4

Jing-mei's father, Canning Woo, begins to tell Jing-mei about what happened after her mother, Suyuan Woo, left her babies behind in Kweilin. He starts to speak in English, which isn't his first language. Jing-mei knows something will be lost in translation if he speaks in English, so she insists he speak in Chinese instead. This insistence on Chinese is symbolic of the growing connection between Jing-mei and her heritage as she learns more about her mother's past.

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