The Joy Luck Club

Four mothers, four daughters, four families whose histories shift with the four winds depending on who’s "saying" the stories. In 1949 four Chinese women, recent immigrants to San Francisco, begin meeting to eat dim sum, play mahjong, and talk. United in shared unspeakable loss and hope, they call themselves the Joy Luck Club. Rather than sink into tragedy, they choose to gather to raise their spirits and money. "To despair was to wish back for something already lost. Or to prolong what was already unbearable." Forty years later the stories and history continue. -
Year of Publication
Late Printing Edition 2006
Number of Pages
Penguin Books
New York
ISSN Number
Average: 5 (2 votes)


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High Recommended

Field of Interest/Specialty: Mandarin Chinese
Posted On: 04/20/2015

I have been using this book/film for several years. Our AP Chinese class students watch the film at the beginning of the year, sign out the novel afterwards, and then write a reflection on the book. Both the film and the book are well received by our high school students. Reading through their discussions and reflection, I can tell they enjoyed it very much. Below is the exempt from a class activity that we had before.
“Normal” teenage rebellion is very difficult for these mothers to understand. Do you think that parents in our culture are more accepting of this phase of personal development? Why? Is that for the better?
Each of the women in the novel has faced difficulties in marriage. What are the differences in the sort of choices that have been available to each generation? What are the similarities?
In most families, there is a pull between the elders who want to honor the past and the subsequent generations, who are most concerned with the possibilities of the present. Are both important? Why? Which is more important?
Is there an aspect of this novel that has changed your way of thinking about the experience of immigration? Do you know anyone who has had the experience of adjusting to a different culture?
Did this novel make you think about your own parents/grandparents in a different way?
Who did you sympathize with most in the novel, the mothers or the daughters? Why?
Did you see yourself in any of the daughters/children of the older women? If so, how?
What lessons did the mothers learn from their daughters?
What lessons did the daughters learn from their mothers?
Would you recommend this novel? Why or why not?
Did this novel make you think you think differently about the relationship between men and women? How?
Theme: mothers and daughters; the universality of some issues; the importance of knowing and understanding your past;
Food imagery
Losing yourself… a number of mothers and daughters “lose” themselves;
What is Tan’s ultimate statement on Mother/Daughter relationships?
1) Tiger Mom – family education methods and styles
2) Woman’s social status in the past and in the modern days
3) Continuation of one’s life (Do we continue in the lives of our children and grandchildren?)
4) Family traditions (Why important?)
Online Discussions among AP/IB Chinese V
1. Luck Club Title
by Moez
What is the meaning behind the title “joy luck club”? So far I haven’t seen anything in the movie that helps me connect the title of the movie to the story that is being presented. Can anyone help me out?
by Kevin
The title is based on a weekly gathering of 4 women. Each one of the women sits at each corner of the mah jong table and they play mah jong eat food and gossip. This is a club that can be the women’s resting day to get away from work and other issues going on in their lives. It is probably called Joy Luck because it is supposed to be a meeting where everyone should be happy.
by Kathryn
From what I have watched of it and heard, each of the four women and their daughters know each other very well. However, they’ve each had something that has happened in their past that has made them very sad, and you could say they had a stroke of bad luck. I think that now that they have each other and the bad times have passed, they are happy and feeling lucky again. That’s how I interpreted the title.
2. Mother and Daughter Relationships
by BurgYang
Today in the movie we saw two mother-daughter relationships: the rebellious daughter who is unable to please her mother, and the caring daughter who tends to her mother on a regular basis. Which relationship type is more common among Chinese daughters? If one is more common, why?
by Scott
I think the more common relationship would be the daughter that can not please her mother. I think that the other relationship was the result of a very weird situation, where the mother was traumatized over the fact that she killed her own daughter, so she became dependent on her daughter for help.
by Moez
In the movie today, I saw a lot of examples of mother-daughter relationships and how they contrasted with each other. Do these relationships have a deeper meaning in understanding the natures and personalities of those mothers (the aunts in the movie)?
3. Chinese Dining Customs
by Jenny
In the movie Joy Luck Club, we watched a scene where one of the daughters brought her American fiance to a family dinner. His worst mistake was when the daughter’s mother brought out the best dish. She said it wasn’t salty enough, so he put soy sauce on it. Why do Chinese people criticize their best dish? I would think that they would praise their best dish. Won’t criticizing a dish make people want to eat it less?
by Kathryn
I think it’s supposed to be like a chef’s trick. The mother, knowing it was her best dish, was criticizing it so whoever ate it would disagree and say it was delicious, having nothing wrong with it. I think it’s supposed to be like an ego booster for the person, and to make them feel like their food is the best. I think that since it is so common, if a chef brings out the food and says “This isn’t good quality, I think it needs some pepper” or something like that, the people in China know that he is trying to say he is proud of the dish and wants you to try it. Also, in China, if you do not eat all of the food you are given, it is considered an insult to the chef and his cooking. So I think it might have a connection to that: He or she knows it’s his best dish, and you’ll have to eat it anyway, so giving it criticism makes you disagree with it and say it’s amazing. I think that’s it’s sort of an expectation, and that’s why the mother and daughter were so shocked when the American was saying it was dry and needed soy sauce.
by Moez
Modesty is a huge policy in China. No one likes anyone who brags about how great of a cook they are. By playing down the delicious food, the chef appears to be modest and humble as they are not acting proud or stuck up over their food. By telling everyone that your dish is imperfect, it might also make them want to try it more, kind of like reverse psychology. In the movie, I think the mom says that its not salty enough, so they will probably say something small like that. Also, this kind of thing is common procedure in China, so it is understood that the dish the chef criticizes the most will be his/her best.
4. Marriage
by Kathryn
In the movie, Waverly discussed that at the beginning, she married a Chinese man to please her mother who came from China. However she ended up divorcing him. Was it expected that Chinese immigrants or American-born Chinese citizens were to marry within their ethnicity? What were the restrictions, if so, and why? And is it still that way today?
by Kevin
In my opinion, I don’t think it would make a difference what ethnicities the husband and wife are. Based on seeing how much Aunt Linda and An-mei went though, you can tell how bad their first husbands were in the past. There is still the restriction of being married if you are 18 years old.
by Rahel
From my own personal experience, I know my parents would definitely prefer me to marry someone from my own ethnicity. Not because of restrictions, but mostly because they can relate to them better, I think. Remember how Waverly had to teach her boyfriend at the time about Chinese customs at dinner and such, but failed? He was being rude, but they all knew better because he didn’t know anything at all.
From what some of friends tell me, it’s not just my parents either. I think it all stems from the Asian traditions of continuing the family line or something. They don’t want the name tainted or something. I’m sure it’s less restricted in modern times, but I think parents might still want their children marrying others from their own ethnicity. Just so that they can relate to their son-in-law better.
by Janvi
I agree that parents prefer their kids to marry into the same ethnicity in certain Asian families, but it is not extremely enforced in most cases. In cases with strong traditional roots/feelings, it may be. In this case, however, Waverly just wanted to please her mother and as a result, married a Chinese man. There might have been a stronger restriction back in the day, but as the 2nd,3rd generation come, it is likely not to be as much of a restriction.
5. Chinese Traditions?
by Kevin
There was one scene in the movie where a mother cuts her arm to spill out some of her blood into her mother’s soup in order to wish happiness and good luck. Why is that and are there any other unusual customs that people do to honor their family members?
by Theresa
Well I don’t think that the blood in the soup was to wish her happiness and luck. The way I viewed it was that in life the mother gives part of her to her children and when they child is dutiful and the mother is sick they attempt to give some part of what the mother gave him back, and by giving her some of their chi or life-force they hope that she can live and become better. Also I’m not sure about unusual customs but I know that people go to a temple to give offerings to whoever they pray to for their dead relative. Also I know people wear white for a month or so after someone dies, it’s considered bad form to not wear white during the mourning period.
6. Ideas behind The Joy Luck Club
by BurgYang
I am still trying to figure out what Amy Tan was trying to focus on in her book. Does she focus more on mother-daughter relationships? Or is she trying to show how recklessly falling in love can ruin lives? What is the main theme of The Joy Luck Club?
by Anish
I am sure the book could elaborate more on that question. Having not read the book and basing my opinion off of what I have seen from the movie, I feel like Amy Tan‘s purpose was to convey the various relationships between Chinese mothers and their daughters. I think she shows how even though mothers and daughters may not agree with each other, they are always there for each other.
by Rahel
I think the real message of Amy Tan‘s book is to show how degraded women have become in modern society. There is a definite contrast between the mothers and daughters in the story; however, the interesting part of this is the fact that both the mothers who lived in an older time and the daughters who live in modern America still experience problems. What’s even more interesting is that the daughters and mothers also have similar problems. I think that this is a message that these problems exist in both China and America in two different time periods, but they exist in different forms. I don’t think she’s saying that love ruin lives, but rather that’s the point where most women’s problems come from. They are seen as object for love and are normally give little to no respect by their significant others or mothers. It’s a problem that is prevalent for women in all societies, in in America. While I admit that some of the themes that you suggested are there, I think Amy Tan‘s real message was that women are still degraded even in modern society.
7. Women
by Kathryn
Women in the movie “Joy Luck Club” have had hard lives; each and every one. It makes me sad. I was wondering that in Chinese society if women are degraded that way and are treated that way on a normal basis. Has this changed?
by Rahel
I’m sure that it has gotten somewhat better, but I think it’s important to remember that China is a country that loves its traditions. It’s going to be hard to change the mindset of so many people who only know of one way of life. What’s more, some of these women also live in America, and it kind of shows you that these problems exist anywhere.
This kind of ties into YangYang’s question of what is the central theme of the book, but I think Amy Tan‘s message is to show how degraded women have become in modern society, China and America. As Americans, we like to think that we are fair and equal, but in reality, we’re not. Women tend to not get enough pay, they are still seen as objects, and they do not get the respect they deserve. What Amy Tan did was that she took something from her life (Asian mother daughter relations) and gave a story to it to create this central message. It’s a horrible reality, and I think that’s what makes the Joy Luck Club so brilliant. It’s a brave story that is not afraid to hurt and wants to change the world.

Review of The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

Field of Interest/Specialty: Secondary English Instruction
Posted On: 08/13/2013

At age 36, Jing mei becomes the Joy Luck Club’s youngest member, filling her recently deceased mother’s place at the mah jong table. This entrance into her mother’s world, one from which Jing mei had previously distanced herself, compels Jing mei to grapple with questions of culture and identity—both her mother’s and her own. Through this struggle and the stories of six other women who have shaped Jing mei’s life, Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club explores the generational and cultural conflicts between a group of Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters. Tan’s narrative prowess and her rich, picturesque use of the English language present Chinese culture and its tensions with “Western” worldviews with insight and beauty. Her writing is both a window and a mirror, a glass through which readers obtain a new view of their own culture and relationships while peering into the misfortunes, joys, and discoveries of Tan’s characters.
Each of the four sections comprising Tan’s novel illustrates the varying degrees of the truth in Jing mei’s mother’s aphorism: “Once you are born Chinese: You cannot help but think and feel Chinese” (267). The novel’s chapters, featuring pivotal moments in the lives of the seven narrators, stand separately as meaningful, poignant stories. However, under Tan’s pen each chapter becomes a thread in a larger web that reflects life’s complexity, mystery, and interconnectedness, thus deepening readers’ understandings of relationships, values, and traditions in Chinese culture. During their former lives in China, the mothers experience tragedy and undergo upbringing and hardships that define their character. The mothers’ sorrows include war, poverty, oppressive marriages, and lost children. On the other hand, their daughters battle different demons: assimilation into American culture, aging parents, divorce, and professional failure. Thus, in America, the members of the Joy Luck Club are misunderstood, underappreciated, and all but silenced by their Americanized daughters. However, as backward and misinformed as these daughters think their mothers are, in the end each of them, in her own way, learns from her mother and, even if unwittingly, still seeks her mother’s approval.
Because of its artful storytelling and insight into 20th century Chinese culture, The Joy Luck Club would make an excellent addition to a high school English classroom, ideally in grades 10-12. Tan’s complex—and potentially confusing—narrative structure may present a challenge for some younger secondary students. Furthermore, some teachers and students may be uncomfortable with the subject matter of divorce and Tan’s occasional sexual references. Teachers could avoid objectionable content (and perhaps simplify the narrative) by choosing to read selections of the novel.
I am looking forward to using The Joy Luck Club as one of the more nonconventional texts in my Grade 9 Introduction to American Literature course. Through comparing and contrasting the traditional Chinese, American, and Chinese-American experiences relayed in Tan’s novel, students will hopefully gain understanding of Chinese culture and formulate a more balanced perspective on their own culture and the literature it creates.