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Free Study Guide: The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan - BookNotes

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Lena has married Harold, a successful architect, and they have moved into a new home with all the modern conveniences. Lena is very proud of her home and wants to show it off to her mother. She brings Ying-ying to stay in the guestroom. Ying-ying is not impressed with the house and sees flaws in everything, including the construction and the furniture. She also sees flaws in Lenaís marriage. Her motherís presence makes Lena recall her childhood, when she feared that she would be forced to marry a boy she did not like. In retaliation, she hated the boy and tormented him. She was also so fearful of being forced into a bad marriage that she refused to eat and developed anorexia. When the boy died unexpectedly, Lena was finally able to return to normal.

Lena admits to herself that her present marriage is not perfect. Her husband barely knows her and is not interested in her likes or dislikes. Although he has become successful and wealthy, he does not share with Lena. Though she supported him financially as he built his business, he now refuses to acknowledge her contribution. He also forces her to pay half of the bills. During her stay, Ying-ying senses that the marriage is not a good one. She encourages Lena to stand up for herself. Taking her motherís advice, Lena tells Harold she is not happy, but she breaks down in tears when he expresses his surprise at her feelings.

Waverly struggles with telling her mother, Lindo, that she is engaged to a man named Rich. She blames the failure of her first marriage on Lindo; and now she fears her motherís disapproval about her second marriage. She tries many ways to break the news to Lindo, even taking her out to lunch in order to tell her; but fearing criticism, Waverly always hesitates to tell her story. Later she brings her mother to the home she shares with her fiancé in order to break the news, but Waverly fails again. When she finally takes Rich with her to her motherís house, things go very badly, and Waverly still does not break the news. When she tells her mother she is engaged, Lindo responds surprisingly well.

Rose Hsu Jordanís life is also in turmoil. Her husband, Ted, has found another woman and wants a divorce. Unable to come to terms with her separation from Ted, she fails to pay heed to her motherís words of wisdom and drowns herself in self-pity and sleeping pills. Fortunately, she comes to her senses before it is too late. When Ted comes to collect the signed divorce papers and the agreement signing over the house to him, Rose stands up for herself, as her mother has advised. She refuses to give the house to Ted.

Jing-Mei reflects on the time her mother gave her a jade pendant on the Chinese New Year. To help in the celebration of the New Year, Suyuan invited the Jongs for dinner. To prepare for the meal, Jing-Mei and her mother shopped for crabs. An-Mei carefully selected the best crabs, rejecting one with a missing claw, for to eat a maimed crab on New Yearís is bad luck. The shopkeeper, however, gave An-Mei the crab for free. At dinner, Suyuan wound up with the maimed crab and refused to eat it, for she did not want bad luck. During the dinner party, Waverly Jong insulted Jing-Mei, hurting her feelings. Her mother noticed Jing-Meiís sadness. To cheer her up, she gave her a New Yearís present after the guests had left. It was a lovely jade pendant. Now that Suyuan is dead, Jing-Mei wears the pendant with a new sense of delight.

Section IV opens with the story of a laughing infant that is compared to the Buddha and the Queen Mother of the Western Skies. As the childís grandmother watches over the infant, she recalls the lost innocence of her daughter in contrast to the pure innocence of the baby. She hopes that her daughter will be renewed and that the grandchild will grow up in happiness. Section IV then tells about the unhappiness that some of the Chinese women have endured.

In the first part of Section IV, Rose tells her mother, An-Mei, how unhappy she is in her marriage. Since her mother knows the pain of unhappiness, she encourages Rose do whatever it takes to be happy again. An-Mei reflects on the misery and sacrifices of her own mother, who had been raped and forced into sexual servitude to a wealthy merchant. Though the home of the merchant was grand and luxurious, life there was less terrible. An-Meiís mother was one of several wives, and she was the least respected. Knowing that she was unable to rise above her situation, she killed herself in the hopes of teaching An-Mei not to be slave to anything. An-Mei has tried to raise Rose to be independent. When she learns that her daughter is being divorced by her husband, Ted, she encourages Rose to stand up to him.

The second story of the fourth section returns to Ying-ying, who is still staying in the house with Lena and Howard. Concerned about her daughterís marriage, she thinks about her own past. She remembers her misery when her first husband deserted her, leaving her pregnant and alone. She also remembers that she could not, at first, love her second husband because she had shut herself off from her emotions. Now she wants to help her daughter free her own emotions in an effort to find happiness.

The third segment is about Waverly Jong and her mother, Lindo. As the segment opens, Waverly is trying to plan her honeymoon. She would like to travel to China; however, she tells her mother that she is afraid that she will be mistaken for a Chinese citizen and retained there. Her mother Lindo laughs at her daughter. She knows that Waverly is totally Americanized and very un-Chinese. No one in China would mistake her for a native. Lindo has been back to the homeland, and everyone teased her about being totally American. Lindo then recalls her immigration to America. People had told her to adopt American ways as quickly as possible, but she found it difficult at first, for she was working in a Chinese fortune-cookie factory. She also fell in love with a Chinese man.

The final segment closes the novel. Jing-Mei and her father travel to China, just as the women in the Joy Luck Club have encouraged them to do. They are reunited with their extended Chinese family, and Jing-Mei gets to know her twin half-sisters, whom her mother had been forced to abandon many years ago. For the first time in her life, she feels a true connection with her Chinese heritage. As the book ends, Jing-Mei is filled with Suyuanís spirit and a sense of peace.

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