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

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Even though The Joy Luck Club takes place primarily in San Francisco in the United States, much of the novel occurs in flashbacks, set in China. The serene beauty of this Eastern country, marred by the violence of war, is evoked in the tale of Suyuan and her daughters. During the course of the flashbacks, the cities of Hong Kong and Shanghai, and the surrounding districts and towns, like Kweilin and Taiyuan, are portrayed in detail.

The Joy Luck Club, for which the book is named, is located in modern day San Francisco, where four Chinese mothers have made lives for themselves after leaving their native countries years earlier. A miniature of the old country has been recreated in San Francisco’s Chinatown, where most of the immigrants live in the city. Their houses are replicas of homes in the motherland and are adorned with traditional Chinese furniture and decorations. Within Chinatown, the older inhabitants continue to follow their native customs and celebrate their important festivals. They also gather often to enjoy each other and to eat Chinese delicacies.

Although many of the younger generation Chinese descendants still live in Chinatown, they are very different from the older generation of immigrants. They have largely adopted the American way of life.

The novel includes anecdotes and stories from three generations of women, spanning a period of time that is sixty to eighty years in length and ending in the 1980s, when the book was published. The novel closes with a visit to China in the present day. This ending unifies the geographical and historical settings of the novel in a most fulfilling way.


Major Characters

The Daughters

Jing-Mei “June” Woo
The narrator who opens the novel. She introduces The Joy Luck Club of San Francisco. Although Jing-Mei is good-natured and large-hearted, she lacks ambition and is content to be a copywriter in a small advertising firm. She ends up in China, meeting her long lost half-sisters and fulfilling her mother’s dying wish.

Rose Hsu Jordan
Another daughter of the Joy Luck Club and the wife of Ted, a physician. Because Rose is timid and accepting, she is often taken for granted. When Ted asks Rose for a divorce, her mother inspires her to stand up for herself. As a result, she refuses to let Ted walk all over her and take away her home.

Waverly Jong
Another daughter of the Joy Luck Club. As a child, she was a prodigy at chess. As an adult, she is a successful tax-consultant and an ambitious, selfish, and strong-willed woman. She has a daughter, Shoshana, and is about to marry her second husband, Rich Shields. Waverly has confused ideas about her mother and her Chinese heritage; she is also afraid of her mother’s disapproval.

Lena St. Clair
Another daughter of the Joy Luck Club and the wife of a successful American businessman, Harold Livotny. He exploits her, refusing to share his wealth with her. Although she is a talented interior decorator, she suffers from her unhappy marriage, is anorexic, and feels she leads a hollow existence.

The Mothers

Suyuan Woo
Jing-Mei’s mother and the founder of the Joy Luck Club. As she tires to survive war-worn China, she abandons her twin infant daughters, hoping their lives will be spared. After she marries Canning Woo and comes to America, she desperately tries to locate her daughters in China. At the opening of the novel, Suyuan has died, and Jing-Mei carries out her mother’s goal in life - to find the twins.

An-Mei Hsu
Rose’s mother and a member of The Joy Luck Club. An-Mei witnessed the sufferings of her own mother, who killed herself in an effort to insure her daughter’s freedom. At a young age, An-Mei managed to escape to America, where she married and had seven children. She considers herself to be an independent and strong woman.

Lindo Jong
Waverly’s mother and a member of The Joy Luck Club. As a young girl in China, Lindo was married off to an impotent husband. She manages to escape her husband and his mother and come to America, where she marries Tin Jong and has three children.

Ying-ying St. Clair
Lena’s mother and a member of The Joy Luck Club. Unlike her friends who came out of poverty in China, she hails from a wealthy Chinese family. When she was a young woman, she married and became pregnant. When her husband abandoned her, she aborted the baby. She later married an American named Clifford St. Clair, whom she grew to love.

Minor Characters

Canning Woo
Suyuan’s second husband and Jing-Mei’s father. He asks his daughter to take the place of his wife in The Joy Luck Club and later accompanies her to Shanghai to meet his wife’s lost twin daughters.

Clifford St. Clair
Ying-ying’s husband and Lena’s father. He is a good-hearted man who loves his wife but does little to boost her morale.

Tin Jong
A Cantonese man who woos and marries Lindo while she works in a fortune cookie factory. An unassuming man, he remains in the shadow of his wife and daughter.

Wu Tsing
A wealthy, insensitive old merchant who rapes An-Mei’s mother and forces her to become his fourth wife.

An-Mei’s grandmother. She disowns her daughter for becoming Wu Tsing’s concubine, not realizing her daughter had no choice. Popo acts as the guardian to An-Mei until her mother takes her away.

An unattractive boy in the neighborhood. Lena is terrified she will one day have to marry him. When he dies from the measles, Lena feels responsible for his death and develops an eating disorder.

Ted Jordan
A medical student who marries Rose and then leaves her.

Harold Livotny
An architect who establishes his career with the support of his wife. He refuses to acknowledge her contribution, however, and obtusely insists on dividing their household bills down the middle. His wife comes to resent their mechanical life and tells him she is unhappy.

Rich Shields
A successful tax-accountant in a reputed firm. He loves and becomes engaged to Waverly Jong. He accepts her child, but makes many well-intentioned mistakes trying to impress her family.

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The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan: Book Notes Summary

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