The Joy Luck Club Book Essays

Topic #1
One of the unifying images of the novel relates to the Daoist concept of yin and yang and seeking balance between the two. In what ways does the author make use of these images?

I. Thesis Statement: Author Amy Tan uses images of yin and yang to underscore the characters’ search for balance.

II. Rose in “Half and Half” and “Without Wood” must learn to speak for herself.

III. Ying-ying in “Waiting Between the Trees” must face her pain to help her daughter.

IV. Waverly sees An-mei as “protective ally” and as opponent before accepting her as she is in “Four Directions.”

V. Jing-mei in “A Pair of Tickets” embraces both her American and Chinese heritage.

VI. Conclusion: The pursuit of balance teaches, as the grandmother tells her granddaughter in the final vignette, “how to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever.”

Topic #2
One of the unusual features of this novel is its narrative technique. Tan uses 10 different narrators in 20 stories and vignettes spanning 2 continents and at least 73 years. The result, however, is a coherent
whole. What devices make this possible?

I. Thesis Statement: Author Amy Tan uses vignettes, allusions among stories, and ongoing conflicts to add unity to the novel.

II. The vignettes add...

(The entire section is 453 words.)

My Interpretation of The Joy Luck Club

Children, as they become adults, become more appreciative of their parents. In The Joy Luck Club, the attitudes of four daughters toward their mothers change as the girls mature and come to realize that their mothers aren’t so different after all.

As children, the daughters in this book are ashamed of their mothers and don’t take them very seriously, dismissing them as quirky and odd. “I could never tell my father . . . How could I tell him my mother was crazy?” (p. 117). They don’t try to comprehend their culture, which is a big part of understanding their traditional Chinese mothers. On page 6, one of the daughters states, “I can never remember things I don’t understand in the first place,” referring to Chinese expressions her mother used. When their mothers show pride in them, the girls only show their embarrassment. One daughter shows her shame when she says to her mother, “I wish you wouldn’t do that, telling everyone I’m your daughter” (p. 101). The girls cannot relate to their mothers because they were raised in a different world. No matter how much the mothers care for them or how much they sacrifice to make their girls’ lives better, the daughters are blind to their mothers’ pain and feelings.

All four of the Joy Luck mothers need their daughters to understand them, pass on their spirit after they are gone, and understand what they have gone through for their girls. One mother dreams of doing this on her trip to a new life: “In America I will have a daughter just like me . . . over there nobody will look down on her . . . and she will always be too full to swallow any sorrow! She will know my meaning because I will give her this swan . . . it carries with it all my good intentions” (pp. 3-4). Another mother plans how she will give her daughter this perception:

Things don’t exactly turn out the way the mothers hope, though. Their hopes and dreams are shattered when they realize their daughters’ misconceptions of them. On page 282, a mother laments, “When my daughter looks at me, she sees a small, old lady. If she had chuming [inside knowledge of things] she would see a tiger lady.” One daughter sees the fear of the remaining mothers after she tells them that she doesn’t know anything about her dead mother that she can pass on:

This fear does not persist, however. As the daughters mature, the two generations discover that they aren’t so different after all. One mother says, “She puts her face next to mine, side by side, and we look at each other in the mirror . . . these two faces, I think, so much the same! The same happiness, the same sadness, the same good fortune, the same faults” (p. 292). One daughter, after her mother’s death, sits down to play the piano that she had refused to touch before to defy her mother. Amy Tan uses the metaphor of two piano pieces to compare the mother to this daughter: “The piece I had played for the recital . . . was on the left-hand side of the page . . . and for the first time . . . I noticed the piece on the right-hand side . . . It had a lighter melody but the same flowing rhythm [as the recital piece and] . . . was longer but faster. And after I played them both . . . I realized they were two halves of the same song” (p. 155).

The daughters, as they grow to be adults, become more appreciative of their mothers. Their attitudes change over time to create an understanding and respect that hadn’t been there before:

In conclusion, as children, the daughters didn’t understand their mothers or their culture. The daughters were being raised in a different world. Their perceptions of their mothers changed, though, as they grew up and realized that they weren’t so different from them after all. They finally understood and respected their traditional Chinese mothers.

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