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

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THE JOY LUCK CLUB: ONLINE NOTES / LITERATURE ANALYSIS

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

The Mothers

Suyuan Woo

Suyuan is the mother of Jing-Mei and the wife of Canning Woo. By the beginning of the novel, Suyuan has passed away, but her presence throughout the book is incredibly strong and vibrant. As the founding member of both the Chinese and the San Francisco branches of the Joy Luck Club, Suyuan is the thread that connects all the characters in the novel. She is the force in San Francisco’s Chinatown that has brought all the mothers together and sought to keep their Chinese heritage alive. As a result, her spirit lives on after her death.

Suyuan represents the silent, suffering woman who rises above her circumstances to carve a niche for herself in society. As a young girl, she had been married to an army officer and burdened with twin daughters. She had the responsibility of running the house while her husband was away fighting on the battlefield. To divert her mind from the dull routine of her life and her fears about the war, she started a Joy Luck Club and invited other women to join with her. The only requirement was that they had to have experienced sufferings and/or sorrows.

While Suyuan’s husband was away fighting, the Japanese invaded her native city of Kweilin, forcing her to flee from her home with her infant twins. She walked for days, seeking shelter and security. Along the way she left behind the possessions that she carried. Finally, feverish, starving and bleeding from hands and feet, she left the twins on the side of the road in order to go and find some food. She passed out on the way and was rescued by a missionary truck; but her twins were permanently separated from her.

Suyuan came to America, where she gave birth to another daughter, Jing-Mei. She also founded a second Joy Luck Club. She shared the story of her past with the other women in the club and disclosed to them that her one wish in life was to be reunited with her lost daughters. Her faith that she would one day find the missing twins transformed her from a bitter and unhappy victim of war to a vibrant mother and friend, who was liked by everyone. Suyuan’s wisdom, hope, spirit, and belief in Chines tradition are developed throughout the novel and help to unify it into a whole. After her death, Jing-Mei takes Suyuan’s place in the Joy Luck Club. The women of the club give her the money to travel to China to meet her half-sisters, who have finally been located. In making the trip, Jing-Mei finally comes to fully understand her mother’s Chinese spirit and strength of character.

An-Mei Hsu


An-Mei is the friend of Suyuan, the mother of Rose Jordan, and the wife of George Hsu. She is intelligent, perceptive, and sensible. She has always understood her position in life and acted according to her conscience. Like Suyuan, she suffered greatly in her earlier life in China. As a child, she had been taken by her mother to the house of Wu Tsing, where her mother was a concubine. Not wanting An-Mei to experience a similar life, her mother kills herself to set An-Mei free. Her death instills courage and strength in An-Mei. She is able to assert her identity and raise her voice against exploitation.

When she comes to America, An-Mei works in a fortune cookie factory, marries George Hsu, and has seven children. Although An-Mei suffers personal loss in her life, she does not turn bitter. When her son, Bing, drowns, she loses faith in God, but not in herself. Because she believes in herself, An-Mei is always willing to reach out a helping hand to others. She helps Lindo Jong to establish herself in America and encourages Jing-Mei to undertake a journey to China to fulfil her mother’s wish. An-Mei also tries to give Rose a similar strength of character to her own. When she sees her daughter suffering because of her husband, she persuades Rose to confront Ted and assert her rights.

Although An-Mei is a scarred woman, she is never defeated. Repeatedly through the book, she shows her strength of character.

Lindo Jong

Lindo Jong is the mother of Waverly and the wife of Tin Jong. In all aspects, she is a combination of the old and the new. Although she is a traditionalist, determined to preserve her Chinese heritage, she is also individualistic and encourages her children to be the same. Like Suyuan and An-Mei, Lindo suffered in her early life in China. At a young age, she was married off to a man she did not know or love. Although she was treated poorly by her husband and his family, she was an obedient girl and never contemplated running away from her horrid situation, for she would not want to dishonor the name of her parents. In the end, she concocts a story that allows her to honorably get out of the marriage, which was never consummated.

A natural thinker, Lindo Jong is intelligent, enterprising, and practical. When she escapes to America, she finds a husband and quickly has three children so she can insure her American citizenship. As a devoted mother, she wants her children to have the best of both the old world and the new. She encourages Waverly to be the best she can be and is pleased when she becomes a chess prodigy. Her expectations for her daughter are so high that Waverly resents Lindo and her interference, but she longs for her approval and blessing. When Waverly decides to marry Rich Shields, she fears telling Lindo about her plans, but she knows she must have her mother’s approval. To Waverly’s surprise, Lindo blesses the union and even tries to impress Waverly’s future in-laws, in order to please her daughter.

In every way, Lindo proves she is a wise and determined woman and a devoted mother.

Ying-ying St. Clair

Ying-ying is the mother of Lena Livotny and the wife of Clifford St Clair. During the course of the novel, she evolves from a wild youth to a cautious and disillusioned woman. Growing up in a wealthy Chinese family, she admits that she was a tiger in search of its prey. She married the wrong man at a young age. When she became pregnant, he deserted her for another woman, causing her to become disillusioned and bitter. She aborts her unborn child and goes to live in poverty and squalor with her cousins. Her body is alive, but her spirit is dead.

Ying-ying marries Clifford St. Clair even though she does not love him for many years. When she has a daughter, she overprotects her because she feels insecure. As a result, Lena grows up and is unable to stand up for herself. She also fears her mother’s disapproval. As an adult, she dreads her mother coming for a visit, for she knows that Ying-ying will be critical of her new home and her shallow marriage. In truth, Ying-ying is critical because she wants something better for Lena than what she has experienced herself. She knows what it is like to endure unhappiness, and she wants more for her daughter. As a result, she encourages Lena to stand up to her insensitive husband and tell him that she is not happy with their dull, mechanized marriage. In the end, Lena understands and appreciates her mother’s spirit.


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