Joy luck club is a moving story of four Chinese women immigrants and their four Chinese-American daughters and how they tried to cope with each other amidst their differing and oft-times clashing cultural aspects. Primarily set in the Chinatown of modern-day San Francisco, the book utilizes the representation by the number four throughout the story. There are four sections in the novel, each of which makes up four chapters as there are four seats at the mahjong table and as each chapter deals with a woman (to one mother or one daughter).
The story began when, after the death of Suyuan Woo, Jing-mei (“June”) was asked by her father Canning Woo to take the place of her mother in the Joy Luck Club. Her mother’s club was a group comprised of three other fellow Chinese immigrants to America—Lindo Jong, Ying-ying St. Clair and An-Mei Hsu—who would play mahjong and eat native Chinese delicacies together. June’s initial feelings towards her newfound club were one of shame because she deemed the old women’s traditional customs and dressing were rather strange and outmoded.
Through a series of flashbacks woven into the table gatherings, the novel depicts how the difficult relationships between the feudal-born mothers and their American-bred daughters were somehow harmonized as they explored their past and as the latter found their mothers’ heritage. Ying-ying as a young girl had, during the Moon Festival, secretly wished upon the supposedly one-day-only-visible Moon Lady, only to discover that the Lady was just a man in Joy Luck Club 3 make-up. She moved to America and remarried again after her Chinese husband left her for another woman.
Her daughter Lena is resentful of, and frequently argued, with her successful but miser-of-a-husband Harold over equal division of household expenses. An-mei Hsu’s story told of her mother committing suicide to free her from the powerful Wu Tsing who had forced her mother into concubinage. In America, An-mei married but suffered the accidental death of her youngest child. She describes her timid daughter Rose as lacking the element of wood, that is, she is able to bend in all directions and unable to stand on her own especially after being left by her husband Ted.
Lindo, who managed to escape the family of her cruel first husband, got a job in America in a factory of fortune cookies and later met her second husband Tin Jong. Her daughter Waverly is wary of having her honeymoon with her husband Rich in China owing to her apprehensions over blending in so well with her heritage that she would no longer be allowed to go back to America. The Joy Luck Club told of the struggles of the mothers and daughters with their differing aspects of cultures and generations.
As the mothers tried hard to inculcate in their daughters the understanding of the Chinese culture and to change their attitudes towards the opposite sex and the so-called “unglamorous” jobs, the young women in turn viewed the seniors as out-dated, out-of-reach, domineering and rather threatening. A central sub-plot in the novel was Suyuan’s shocking revelation that upon leaving China during Japan’s invasion, she had to abandon everything including her two baby daughters by her Chinese husband.
It was when Jing-mei traveled to China to meet with her twin half sisters that she at last found her identity and her ancestral heritage. Suyuan had ardently wished Joy Luck Club 4 to come back for her long-lost twins. June’s fulfilling this wish is the symbolic resolution for all the protagonists—forging the connection in spirit between the mothers and their respective daughters. Review The spirit of hope operates in the novel The Joy Luck Club throughout and much more than the spirit of joy or the turn of luck.
Bounded together by a rich heritage, a newfound city called San Francisco and unspeakable tragedies that marred their past, the four aging women protagonists clang on to hope rather than sink into desperation. Deciding to collect their strengths and hopes for a future, they started to regularly meet and talk over mahjong and delicious dim sum. As the stories each unfolded, the older women exhibited how they ultimately mustered their individual strengths in the face of grave loss and crises.
Holding on to the hope of building for themselves and their daughters and sons better lives in a foreign land and culture, they struggled to cope with American living and to face the calling of the past. The daughters, the modern Chinese in American, had Western minds and ways of handling situations and obviously didn’t understand their mother’s beliefs and ways. Despite these, the daughters’ personalities, strengths and weaknesses have been strongly influenced by their mothers.
As portrayed in the novel, it was really up to the modern Chinese women to decide for themselves whether to live a life of strength or of weakness. Yet, the seniors had always hoped that their daughters would understand them and would emulate more of their positive characters and absorb more of Chinese culture. Except for Ying-ying and her daughter, the mother pairs fought or argued with, or misunderstood each Joy Luck Club 5 other. Suyuan and Lindo who were both strong women also wanted their daughters to be strong like them.
Even fatalistic An-Mei who wasn’t as strong had hoped Rose would stand up on her own against her husband. Ying-ying also hoped that Lena would absorb more of the good chi or “tiger spirit” to be able to find and choose her path of happiness. In the end, the yearning wish of the mothers that they be able to forge with their daughters spiritual understanding and unity that is founded on the heritage of their hopes, characters and their Chinese culture would be realized.
Reference Tan, A. (1989). The Joy Luck Club. USA: Putnam Adult.