A Study Guide to Cultural Conflicts in the Joy Luck Club

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The Joy Luck Club is a novel written by Amy Tan that focuses on four Chinese immigrant families starting a new life in San Francisco. The four families charter a club known as the Joy Luck Club and begin playing the Chinese native game of Mahjong. The author, Amy Tan, attempts to highlight the tender connection between mothers and daughters. Tan structures the book into four sections, like a mahjong game, and the story unfolds as the ladies share their stories in vignettes. The author does an outstanding job of discussing and illustrating the cultural diaspora and conflicts in this outstanding novel.

Plot Summary

The four Chinese mothers who emigrate to America are in search of a better life. They are in search of a better life, not only for themselves, but for their children as well. The book is centered on San Francisco in the 1970s. The four women who form the Joy Club Club are Suyuan Woo, An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-ying St. Clair. Each week they raise money and eat special ethnic Chinese foods that they hope will bring them good luck.

One of the primary focuses by Tan is the relationship between the first generation American daughters and their immigrant mothers. Because of the generation gap, there is a slight inability for the two parties to communicate effectively with each other. This novel’s themes and motifs are highlighted as the bond between daughter and mother are built.

Jing-mei Woo

The main character in the story is Jing-mei Woo. She has also adopted an American name, June, which illustrates her assimilation to American culture. Jing-mei echos the way of thinking of the mothers of the Joy Luck Club as Tan illustrates their difficulty in finding their identities between their old and new countries. Jin-mei’s narratives are imperative to bridging the gap between the generations of storytellers, as well as the culture and heritage in America and China.

Theme: Cultural Differences and Values

Tan uses the numerous narrators to illustrate the inability to relate concepts from one culture to another. The cultural differences between the mothers and their daughters create a barrier because of contrasting values. The American Dream changes between the opposing generations; the daughters want as much freedom as possible to pursue their dreams, whereas their mothers believe in a future of concrete success. The daughter’s assimilation of American culture is illustrated in their dating choices. The author accentuates the difficulty for Chinese-American individuals to find a balance between both their native and American cultures

The Bond Between a Mother and Daughter

The bond between the mothers and their daughters is created through their loving actions for each other. While at times they do argue and have conflicting opinions regarding things, it is obvious that they do care for each other. For example, An-mei throws her sapphire ring from her mother into the ocean in hopes of saving her son from the evil spirits. Also, Suyuan decides to take a difficult job of cleaning a house for a family that has a piano so that Jing-mei can practice it. These two examples illustrate the bond that can only be shared between a daughter and a mother.

The Search for One’s Identity

It is illustrated by the author that each of the daughters, Rose, Lena and Waverly, have all had instances where they have attempted to distance themselves from their Chinese features and heritage. However, as they mature, the daughters begin to become more interested in their heritage. This is clearly illustrated when Waverly is angered when she is told by Lindo that she will be easily recognized as a tourist in China. Throughout the novel, each of the primary characters has a difficult time finding their true identity and determining whether it is one of Chinese heritage or one of American culture.