The Joy Luck Club (novel)

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For the film, see The Joy Luck Club (film).
The Joy Luck Club
TheJoyLuckClub.jpg
First edition
Author Amy Tan
Country United States
Language English
Publisher G. P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date
1989
Media type Print (Hardback and Paperback)
Pages 288 pp
ISBN 0-399-13420-4
OCLC 18464018
813/.54 19
LC Class PS3570.A48 J6 1989

The Joy Luck Club (1989) is a best-selling novel written by Amy Tan. It focuses on four Chinese American immigrant families in San Francisco who start a club known as The Joy Luck Club, playing the Chinese game of mahjong for money while feasting on a variety of foods. The book is structured somewhat like a mahjong game, with four parts divided into four sections to create sixteen chapters. The three mothers and four daughters (one mother, Suyuan Woo, dies before the novel opens) share stories about their lives in the form of vignettes. Each part is preceded by a parable relating to the game.

In 1993, the novel was adapted into a feature film directed by Wayne Wang and starring Ming-Na, Lauren Tom, Tamlyn Tomita, France Nguyen, Rosalind Chao, Kieu Chinh, Tsai Chin, Lisa Lu, and Vivian Wu. The screenplay was written by the author Amy Tan along with Ronald Bass. The novel was also adapted into a play, by Susan Kim, which premiered at Pan Asian Repertory Theatre in New York.

Plot[edit]

The Joy Luck Club consists of sixteen interlocking stories about the lives of four Chinese immigrant mothers and their four American-born daughters. In 1949, the four mothers meet at the First Chinese Baptist Church in San Francisco and agree to continue to meet to play mah jong. They call their mah jong group the Joy Luck Club. The stories told in this novel revolve around the Joy Luck Club women and their daughters. Structurally, the novel is divided into four major sections, with two sections focusing on the stories of the mothers and two sections on the stories of the daughters.

Feathers from a Thousand Li Away[edit]

The first section, Feathers from a Thousand Li Away, introduces the Joy Luck Club through daughter Jing-Mei Woo, whose late mother Suyuan Woo founded the Joy Luck Club, and focuses on the four mothers. Jing-Mei relates the story of how her mother Suyuan was the wife of an officer in the Kuomintang during World War II and how she was forced to flee from her home in Kweilin and abandon her twin daughters. Suyuan later found out her first husband died, remarried to Jing-Mei's father, and immigrated to the United States. Her mother and Jing-Mei's father attempted to find Suyuan's daughters, and Jing-Mei's father assumed that Suyuan had given up hope. Jing-Mei, who has been asked to take her mother's place in the Joy Luck Club, learns from the other mothers that her half-sisters are alive and ask that Jing-Mei tell them about Suyuan's death.

The other three mothers relate the stories of their childhood. An-Mei Hsu's story relates how her mother left her family to become the fourth concubine of Wu Tsing, a rich merchant, while An-Mei was raised by her maternal grandmother. Her mother returns only to cut off a piece of her flesh to cook a soup in hopes of healing An-Mei's grandmother, though An-Mei's grandmother still dies. Lindo Jong explains how in childhood she was forced into a loveless marriage and was pressured by her mother-in-law's desire for Lindo to produce grandchildren. Through her own ingenuity, Lindo fabricates a convincing story to annul her marriage and immigrate to the United States. The final story of the first section follows Ying-Ying St. Clair, who tells the story of how she fell into a lake during the Zhongqiujie festival when she was only four. After being rescued by a group of fishermen, she realizes that she is lost. This experience emotionally traumatizes her, and she is dropped at the shore, and wanders into an outdoor performance featuring the Moon Lady, said to grant wishes. But when Ying-Ying approaches the Moon Lady after the play to wish to be returned to her family, she discovers the Moon Lady is played by a man.

Twenty-Six Malignant Gates[edit]

The second section traces the childhoods of the Joy Luck children. In the first story, Waverly Jong talks about how she started playing chess, first with her brothers and then with old men in the playground near her school. At the age of nine, she becomes a national chess champion. She is embarrassed when her mother, Lindo introduces her to everyone she meets. This leads to an angry confrontation between the two of them. Lena relates the stories her mother told her when she was younger (her great grandfather sentenced beggar to die in the worst possible manner). Lena’s family moves to North Hill from Oakland. Her mother, who seems restless, delivers an anencephalic child who dies at birth. In Lena’s eyes, her mother becomes a ‘living ghost’. The story of their neighbors and the relationship between the mother and the daughter of the neighboring household is also mentioned. Rose Hsu Jordan wishes to tell her mother that she plans to divorce her husband Ted. She reflects on their relationship. She then goes on to relate an incident in which her family (her parents and six siblings) go to the beach. Her youngest brother, Bing drowns. She returns along with her mother An Mei to search for Bing, but in vain. The last story is that of Jing Mei Woo and the pressure that her mother puts on her to perform exceedingly well in some field (to be a child prodigy). She begins to learn to play the piano but doesn't perform well in a concert and stops playing. This disappoints her mother because she wanted her to be a great pianist and Jing-Mei shows no interest in being anything else but herself. Around her 30th birthday, Suyuan presents her an old piano which she used to play as a child. Although Jing-Mei admits she had forgotten how to play the piano, Suyuan encourages her to try again. She admits to Jing-Mei that she still has the talent to be a great pianist, but self-doubt holds her back.

American Translation[edit]

The third section follows the Joy Luck children as adult women, all facing various conflicts. In Lena's story, she narrates her troubling marital problems and how she fears being inferior to her husband, but does not realize he has taken advantage of her both at home and at work, where he is also her boss and earns much more than her. Ying-Ying is very much aware of this and encourages Lena to stop being passive and stand up to her husband or nothing will change. Waverly Jong worries about her mother's opinion of her white fiance, Rich, and recalls quitting chess after becoming angry at her mother in the marketplace. Believing that her mother still has absolute power over her and will object to her forthcoming marriage to Rich, Waverly confronts her mother after a dinner party and realizes that her mother has known all along about her relationship with Rich and has accepted him. Rose Hsu Jordan learns that her husband intends to marry someone else after divorcing her, she realizes that she needs to fight for her rights and refuses to sign the conditions set forth by her husband's divorce papers. In Jing-Mei's story, Jing-Mei has an argument with Waverly at a Chinese New Year's dinner the year before the story begins. Realizing that Jing-Mei has been humiliated, Suyuan gives Jing-Mei a special jade pendant called "life's importance," which Jing-Mei rues that she never learned the meaning of the pendant's name. She had also believed Suyuan had always been disappointed in her because she never lived up to her high expectations and was always a failure in her eyes. Suyuan eventually reveal her true meaning that Jing-Mei has a kinder heart than Waverly.

Queen Mother of the Western Skies[edit]

The final section of the novel returns to the viewpoints of the mothers as adults dealing with difficult choices. An-Mei reveals what happened after her grandmother died; she accompanied her mother back to where she lived as the abused fourth concubine of Wu Tsing, whose second concubine manipulates and controls the household and has taken An-Mei's half-brother as her son. After learning how her mother was forced into accepting her position after Wu Tsing's second wife arranged for An-Mei's mother to be raped and shamed, An-Mei finds her mother has poisoned herself two days before Chinese New Year, knowing that his superstitious beliefs will ensure An-Mei will grow in favourable conditions. During the funeral, she takes her younger half-brother and forces Wu Tsing to honor both them and their deceased mother or else. When the Second Wife attempts to discredit her, An-Mei quickly makes an example of her by destroying the fake pearl necklace that she originally gave to her, which exposes her cruelty and manipulation. This makes the Second Wife back down upon realizing that she has lost control of the household and that the trouble she had brought on herself. Fearing bad karma on the way, Wu Tsing honors both An-Mei and her brother as his children and their mother, his favorite 1st wife. Ying-Ying St. Clair reveals how her first husband, a womanizer, abandoned her and how she married an American man she did not love after relinquishing her sense of control in her life. Lindo Jong relates how she arrived in San Francisco and met An-Mei Hsu when they both worked at a fortune-cookie factory, which eventually gave her the means to plant the idea of marriage in her boyfriend's head.

The novel's final episode returns to Jing-Mei and her mother's desire to find her lost twin daughters. Jing-Mei and her father fly to China, where Jing-Mei meets her half-sisters and embraces her Chinese heritage. In doing so, she was finally able to make peace with Suyuan.

Characters[edit]

Mothers[edit]

  • Suyuan Woo
During the Second World War, Suyuan lives in the Republic of China while her husband at the time served as an officer in Chungking (Chongqing). She starts the original Joy Luck Club with her three friends to cope with the War. There is little to eat, but they pretend it is a feast, and talk about their hopes for the future. On the day of the Japanese invasion, Suyuan leaves her house with nothing but a bag of clothes, a bag of food, and her twin baby daughters.
During the long journey, Suyuan contracts such severe dysentery that she feels certain she will die. Fearing that a dead mother would doom her babies' chances of rescue, she reluctantly and emotionally leaves her daughters under a barren tree, together with all her belongings, along with a note asking anyone who might find the babies to care for them and contact the father. Suyuan then departs, expecting to die. However, she is rescued by a truck and finds out her husband has died. She later remarries, goes to America, and forms a new Joy Luck Club with three other Chinese female immigrants she met at church. She gives birth to another daughter, but her abandonment of her twin girls haunts her for the rest of her life. After many years, Suyuan learns that the twins were adopted, but dies of a brain aneurysm before she can meet them. It is her American-born daughter Jing-mei who fulfills her long-cherished wish of reuniting with them.
As Suyuan dies before the novel begins, her history is told by Jing-mei, based on her knowledge of her mother's stories, anecdotes from her father, and what the other members of the Joy Luck Club tell her.
  • An-Mei Hsu
An-Mei is raised by her grandparents and other relatives during her early years in Ningbo after her widowed mother shocks the family by becoming a concubine to a middle-aged wealthy man after her first husband's death. This becomes a source of conflict for the young An-Mei, as her aunts and uncles deeply resent her mother for such a dishonorable act. They try to convince An-Mei that it is not fitting for her to live with her disgraced mother, who is now forbidden to enter the family home. An-Mei's mother, however, still wishes to be part of her daughter's life. After An-Mei's grandmother dies, An-mei moves out to live with her mother in the home of her mother's new husband, Wu-Tsing, much to the argument of her relatives who insists she remains at home with them.
An-Mei learns that her mother was coerced into being Wu-Tsing's concubine through the manipulations of his Second Wife, the favourite. This woman arranged for An-Mei's mother, still in mourning for her original husband, to be raped by Wu-Tsing. The stigma left An-Mei's mother with no choice but to marry Wu-Tsing and become his new but lowly Fourth Wife. She later lost her baby son to Second Wife, who claimed the boy as her own child to ensure her place in the household. Second Wife also tried to win over An-mei upon her arrival in Wu-Tsing's mansion, giving her a necklace made of "pearls" that her mother later revealed were actually glass beads by crushing one with her teacup. An-Mei's mother re-knots the necklace to hide the missing bead, but now An-Mei knows the truth about Second Wife's seeming generosity.
Wu-Tsing is a highly superstitious man, and Second Wife takes advantage of this weakness by making false suicide attempts and threatening to haunt him as a ghost if he does not let her have her way. According to Chinese tradition, a person's soul comes back after three days to settle scores with the living. Wu-Tsing, therefore, is known to be afraid to face the ghost of an angry or scorned wife. After Second Wife fakes a suicide attempt to prevent An-Mei and her mother from getting their own small house, An-Mei's mother successfully commits suicide herself, eating tangyuan laced with lethal amounts of opium. Also taking advantage of Wu Tsing's beliefs, she times her death so that her soul is due to return on the first day of the Lunar New Year, a day when all debts must be settled lest the debtor suffer great misfortune. With this in mind, Wu-Tsing promises to treat his Fourth Wife's children, including An-Mei, as if they were his very own flesh and blood by an honoured First Wife. When Second Wife attempts to dispute this at the funeral rites, An-Mei crushes the fake pearl necklace Second Wife gave her beneath her feet to show her awareness of all Second Wife's deception and to symbolise her new power over Second Wife, who now fears her and realizes the bad karma she has brought upon herself.
An-Mei later immigrates to America, marries, and gives birth to seven children (four sons, three daughters). The youngest, a son named Bing, drowns at age four.
  • Lindo Jong
Lindo is a strong-willed woman, a trait that her daughter Waverly attributes to her having been born in the year of the Horse. When Lindo was only twelve, she was forced to move in with a neighbour's young son, Huang Tyan Yu, through the machinations of the village matchmaker. After some training for household duties through her in-laws, she and Tyan-yu married when she turned sixteen. She soon realised that her husband was a mere boy at heart and had no sexual interest in her. Lindo began to care for her husband as a brother, but her cruel mother-in-law expected Lindo to produce a grandson. She restricted most of Lindo's daily activities, eventually ordering her to remain on bed rest until she could conceive and deliver a child.
Determined to escape this unfortunate situation, Lindo carefully observed the other people in the household and eventually formed a clever plan to escape her marriage without dishonouring herself, her family and her in-laws. She managed to convince her in-laws that Huang Tyan Yu was actually fated to marry another girl who was already pregnant with his "spiritual child", and that her own marriage to him would only bring bad luck to the family. The girl she described as his destined wife was in fact a mere servant in the household, indeed pregnant but abandoned by her lover. Seeing this as an opportunity for her to be married and living comfortably, the servant girl cheerfully agrees with Lindo.
Freed from her first marriage, Lindo decided to emigrate to America. She married a Chinese-American man named Tin Jong and has three children: sons Winston and Vincent, and daughter Waverly.
Lindo experiences regret over losing some of her Chinese identity by living so long in America (she is treated like a tourist on a visit to China); however, she expresses concern that Waverly's American upbringing has formed a barrier between them.
  • Ying-Ying "Betty" St. Clair
From a young age, Ying-Ying is told by her wealthy and conservative family that Chinese girls should be meek and gentle. This is especially difficult for her, as she feels it out of step with her character as a Tiger. She begins to develop a passive personality and represses her feelings as she grows up in Wuxi. Ying-Ying marries a charismatic man named Lin Xiao not out of love, but because she believed it was her fate. Her husband is revealed to be abusive and openly has extramarital affairs with other women. When Ying-Ying discovers she is pregnant, she has an abortion and decides to live with her relatives in a smaller city in China.
After ten years, she moves to Shanghai and works in a clothing store, where she meets an American man named Clifford St. Clair. He falls in love with her, but Ying-Ying cannot express any strong emotion after her first marriage. He courts her for four years, and she agrees to marry him after learning that Lin Xiao had died, which she takes as the proper sign to move on. She allows Clifford to control most aspects of her life; he mistranslates her words and actions, and even changes her name to "Betty". Ying-Ying gives birth to her daughter, Lena, after moving to San Francisco with St. Clair. When Lena is around ten years old, Ying-Ying becomes pregnant a third time, but the baby boy is anencephalic and soon dies.
Ying-Ying is horrified when she realises that Lena, a Tiger like herself, has inherited or emulated her passive behaviors and trapped herself in a loveless marriage with a controlling husband. She finally resolves to call upon the more assertive qualities of her Tiger nature, to appeal to those qualities in Lena. She will tell Lena her story in the hope that she will be able to break free from the same passivity that ruined most of her young life back in China.

Daughters[edit]

  • Jing-Mei "June" Woo
Jing-Mei has never fully understood her mother and seems directionless in life. During June's childhood, her mother used to tell her that she could be anything she wants; however, she particularly wanted her daughter to be gifted, a child star who amazes the world, like Ginny Tiu (seen briefly on television) or June's rival Waverly. At the beginning of the novel, June is chosen to replace her mother's seat in the Joy Luck Club after her mother's death. At the end of the novel, June is still trying to deal with her mother's death, and she visits China to see the twin half-sisters (Wang Chwun Yu and Wang Chwun Hwa) whom her mother had been forced to abandon when the Japanese attacked China.
One critic[who?] has suggested[1] that the reason for the communication gap between Jing-Mei and her mother, and between the other daughters and their mothers—a major theme of the novel—occurs because the mothers come from a high context culture and the Americanized daughters from a low context culture. The mothers believe that the daughters will intuitively understand their cryptic utterances, but the daughters don't understand them at all.
  • Rose Hsu Jordan
Rose is somewhat passive and is a bit of a perfectionist. She had an unsettling childhood experience when her youngest brother, Bing, drowned while she was supposed to be watching him, and his body was never recovered. Rose marries a doctor, Ted Jordan, who loves her but also wants to spite his snooty, racist mother. After a malpractice suit, Ted has a mid-life crisis and decides to leave Rose. Rose confides in her mother and An-mei tells her the story of her own childhood. When Ted comes for the divorce papers, Rose finds her voice and tells him that he can't just throw her out of his life, comparing herself to his garden, once so beloved, now unkempt and full of weeds. An-Mei tells her that Ted has been cheating on her, which Rose thinks is absurd, but she later discovers this to be true. She wants to hire a good lawyer and fight for possession of the house, which she eventually wins.
  • Waverly Jong
Waverly is an independent-minded and intelligent woman, but is annoyed by her mother's constant criticism. Well into her adult life, she finds herself restrained by her subconscious fear of letting her mother down. During their childhood, June and Waverly become childhood rivals; their mothers constantly compared their daughter's development and accomplishments. Waverly was once a gifted chess champion, but quit after feeling that her mother was using her daughter's talent to show off, taking credit for Waverly's wins. She has a daughter, Shoshana, from her first marriage with Marvin, and she is engaged to her boyfriend Rich Schields.
  • Lena St. Clair
Throughout Lena's childhood, she gradually becomes her mother's voice and interprets her mother's Chinese words for others. Like her father Clifford, she translates Ying-ying's words to sound more pleasant than what Ying-ying actually says. Ying-ying has taught Lena to beware of consequences, to the extent that Lena visualizes disaster in the taking of any risk. Lena's husband, Harold, is also her boss. He takes the credit for Lena's business and design ideas. He demands financial "equality" in their marriage. Lena is an associate while Harold is a partner, so he has a larger salary than she does. However, he insists that all household expenses be divided equally between them. Harold believes that by making everything equal, they can make their love equal as well. Lena feels frustrated and powerless. She is like her mother, like a ghost, and her mother wants to help her regain her spirit and stand up for herself.

Reception[edit]

Though Amy Tan's book has been widely praised by critics, it has also been alleged by Chinese-American author Frank Chin that it perpetuates racist stereotypes such as the presumed illiteracy of Asian Americans,[2] and contains fabricated "traditional" stories.[3][4] Chinese-American director Wayne Wang was impressed with the story and created a film version of the novel.[5] Novelist Nancy Willard praises Tan for her work: "Amy Tan's special accomplishment in this novel is not her ability to show us how mothers and daughters hurt each other, but how they love and ultimately forgive each other."[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ CUNY Brooklyn article
  2. ^ Chin, Frank (2005). "Chapter 8: Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake". In Kent A. Ono. A companion to Asian American studies. Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 134–135. 
  3. ^ Come All Ye Asian American Writers of the Real and the Fake
  4. ^ Review: The Joy Luck Club
  5. ^ "Asian images in film spotlight - The Joy Luck Club". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 3 July 2008. 
  6. ^ Willard, Nancy (July 1989). "Tiger Spirits". The Women's Review of Books 6 (10): 12. doi:10.2307/4020553. 

External links[edit]