The Joy Luck Club (novel)

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The Joy Luck Club
First edition
AuthorAmy Tan
CountryUnited States
PublisherG. P. Putnam's Sons
Publication date
813/.54 19
LC ClassPS3570.A48 J6 1989

The Joy Luck Club is a 1989 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.


First Chinese Baptist Church at 15 Waverly Pl, San Francisco

The Joy Luck Club consists of sixteen interlocking stories about the lives of four Chinese immigrant mothers and their four American-born daughters.[1] 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 introduces the Joy Luck Club through Jing-Mei Woo and focuses on the four mothers. Jing-Mei relates the story of how her mother Suyuan had to leave from her home in Kweilin during World War Two and her twin daughters. Suyuan later found out her first husband died and remarried to Canning Woo. The couple then immigrated to the United States, where their daughter Jing-Mei was born. Suyuan and Canning looked for Suyuan's daughters. Unfortunately, Suyuan died before she could obtain her goal. Jing-Mei later learns that they are alive. Jing-Mei is asked to go to China to meet her half-sisters and notify them of their mother's death. An-Mei Hsu's story relates how her mother left her family to become Wu Tsing’s concubine. Her mother returns to try to heal An-Mei's grandmother to no avail. Lindo Jong says she was pressured by her mother-in-law to marry. Lindo annuls her marriage and moves to the United States. Lastly, Ying-Ying St. Clair is lost after she fell into a lake at the festival. This experience causes her to panic and accidentally find a performance about the Moon Lady. When Ying-Ying approaches the Moon Lady for help, she discovers the Moon Lady isn’t real.

Twenty-Six Malignant Gates[edit]

In the first chapter, Waverly Jong started playing chess. As a child prodigy, she turns into a chess champion. She is annoyed when her mother shows off her daughter to everyone. A heated argument follows. Lena’s mother told her her great grandfather made a beggar die in the worst way. Lena’s family moves to North Hill. Her mother gave birth child who dies at birth. To Lena, she is a ‘living ghost’. The relationship between the mother and the daughter of the neighboring household is also mentioned. Rose Hsu Jordan wants to tell her mother that she wants to divorce Ted. She flashbacks to a scene where her family are at the beach. Her youngest brother drowns. They search for Bing unsuccessfully. Jing Mei Woo is forced by her mother to be a child prodigy. She failed in a concert and stops playing. When Jing-Mei is older, Suyuan gives her an old piano. Jing-Mei doesn’t know how to play the it. She can still be a great pianist if she tried.

American Translation[edit]

Ying-Ying tells Lena that she needs to stand up to her husband. Waverly Jong wonders what her mother will think about her fiance, Rich. Waverly confronts her mother the morning afterward an attempt. Her mother had known all along. Rose Hsu Jordan realized that Ted will marry someone else. She doesn’t sign the divorce papers. She gets the house. After Jing-Mei was humiliated by Waverly, her mother gives her a jade pendant. She tells Suyuan was disappointed in Jing-Mei. She says she is proud of her.

Queen Mother of the Western Skies[edit]

An-Mei and her mother go back to where her mother was forced to be a concubine. Her mother uses Wu Tsing's beliefs to her advantage. Ying-Ying St. Clair‘s her first husband left her and she married someone she didn’t love. She told Lena to leave Harold. Lindo Jong met An-Mei Hsu when they both worked at the same place, which gave her the idea to influence her boyfriend into marriage. Suyuan wanted to find her lost twin daughters. Jing-Mei and her father go to China and reunite.



  • 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. When her mother came to her family for their assistance, they cruelly refused and disowned her. 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. An-Mei takes her younger brother's arm and demanded that Wu Tsing honors them and her mother or face great consequences. When Second Wife attempts to dispute this at the funeral rites, An-Mei quickly makes an example of her and show her awareness of all Second Wife's deception by crushing the fake pearl necklace under her feet. This symbolizes her new power over the woman who made her mother's life miserable by abusing her and taking her brother away. Now fearing An-Mei, Second Wife realizes the bad karma she has brought upon herself and backs down having lost control of the house. 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 and their mother as his honored First Wife.
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 realized that her husband was a mere boy at heart and had no sexual interest in her. It's loosely implied that he might have been gay. 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 agreed 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.


  • Jing-Mei "June" Woo
Jing-Mei has never fully understood her mother and seems directionless in life. During Jing'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. Only when she visits China to meet her half-sisters and tell them about their mother, Jing-Mei finally accepts her Chinese heritage and makes her peace with her mother.
One critic[who?] has suggested[2] 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 hires a good lawyer and fight for possession of the house, which she eventually wins. This forces Ted to take Rose more seriously and not continue taking her for granted. It's unknown if they ever reconciled.
Waverly Jong is named for (and grew up on) Waverly Place in San Francisco's Chinatown
  • 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 Chen, and she is engaged to her boyfriend Rich Schields. When Waverly believes that Lindo will object to her engagement to Rich after a failed dinner party, she discovers her mother had already accepted it.
  • 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. When Ying-Ying breaks a leg from a table belonging to Harold, Lena finally admitted she's unhappy in her marriage including how frustrated she is with him for taking credit for her business and design ideas. Ying-Ying encourages her to leave Harold and not come back until he treats her with more respect.


The Joy Luck Club has received criticism for perpetuating racist stereotypes about Asian Americans.[3][4] Literary figures such as Chinese American author Frank Chin said that it depicted Chinese culture as backwards, cruel, and misogynistic. He attributed the acclaim and popularity of The Joy Luck Club to playing up racist stereotypes welcomed in mainstream America.[5] He also noted that it lacks authenticity for its fabricated Chinese folk tales that depict "Confucian culture as seen through the interchangeable Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Vietnamese mix (depending on which is the yellow enemy of the moment) of Hollywood."[6][7]

Harvard Crimson writer, Allen Soong, reflected that "while the women ... are fully fleshed-out characters who are a remarkable improvement over the "exotic Oriental" Cassandra from "Wayne's World," the male characters are merely additions to the long list of negative images of Asian men in our culture."[8]

Novelist Nancy Willard, in a somewhat positive critique, said that "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."[9]


  1. ^ "Joy Luck Club Summary". SparkNotes. Archived from the original on 3 March 2017. Retrieved 2 March 2017. (in English)
  2. ^ "Amy Tan: Overview".
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ Yu, Philip (August 26, 2010). "Chinky Or Not Chinky: Do Asian American Authors Have An Anti-Asian Male Bias?". You Offend Me You Offend My Family. YOMYOMF. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  5. ^ Fei, Deanna (May 25, 2011). "I Called Amy Tan A Dirty Word—And Then She Friended Me". Huffington Post. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  6. ^ Ono, Kent A. (10 December 2004). "A Companion to Asian American Studies". Wiley – via Google Books.
  7. ^ "Google Groups".
  8. ^ Soong, Allen (October 8, 1883). "Unaccepted Images". Harvard Crimson. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  9. ^ Willard, Nancy (July 1989). "Tiger Spirits". The Women's Review of Books. 6 (10): 12. doi:10.2307/4020553.

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