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

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The Joy Luck Club - Jing-Mei Woo


Suyuan, Jing-Mei Woo’s mother, started the Joy Luck Club in San Francisco. It is composed of a group of Chinese women who come together to share their friendship and to play games. The real purpose, however, is to support one another and to save their Chinese culture and heritage.

At the beginning of this part of the book, Jing-Mei is thirty-six years old, and her mother, Suyuan, has suddenly died of a cerebral aneurysm. Jing-Mei’s father asks his daughter to go to the Joy Luck Club in her mother’s place, to honor her memory. Jing-Mei agrees to attend one of the meetings. She then tells the story of the Joy Luck Club.

Suyuan had told Jing-Mei that she began the first Joy Luck Club back in Kweilin, China. Then, when Suyuan moved to America in 1949, she formed a Joy Luck Club in San Francisco. She had chosen members for the second club from the First Chinese Baptist Church; all of the selected women had undergone suffering, much like she. When Suyuan tried to tell her daughter all about the club, Jing-Mei never really listened. As a result, all she knows about the Joy Luck Club is that the ladies meet to play mahjong, to gossip, and to share gifts with one another.

Suyuan had also told her daughter about the soldier who had come to her house in Kweilin. He told her she must flee at once to avoid the atrocities of the Japanese invaders. She quickly packed a few belongings and left with her two small children. Little by little, she was forced to abandon her belongings. Eventually, she left her children behind as well, hoping they would be spared. Jing-Mei was shocked. She had never heard her mother’s tragic story and had never known about her abandoned sisters.

Honoring her father’s wish, Jing-Mei travels to An-Mei’s house to attend a meeting of the Joy Luck Club. It begins with the reading of the minutes. Then as An-Mei prepares the food, the other women gossip. After supper, they play mahjong.

As she is about to leave, Jing-Mei is approached by some of the women in the group. They give her $1200 to travel to China. They explain that her mother’s lifelong dream had been to locate her lost twin daughters. Because of her efforts, the daughters have been located. They want Jing-Mei to go and meet them, for it would answer Suyuan’s dream.


This opening chapter is very significant, for it explains the meaning of the book’s title and introduces several of the themes. Jing-Mei explains how her mother, Suyuan, started the first Joy Luck Club in Kweilin, China. Then when she came to America in 1949, she began another Joy Luck Club in San Francisco. Although Jing-Mei knows little about the club, she states that the Chinese women who belong meet together to play mahjong, gossip, share their oriental culture, and support one another.

Key themes are also established in this chapter. The first is the pain caused by lack of communication. Jing-Mei and her mother, Suyuan, often have difficulty communicating. Being very traditional, Suyuan is extremely proud of her Chinese heritage and fights to keep it in place. Jing-Mei, born and raised in America, does not understand or care about the old customs and is embarrassed by her mother’s traditionalism and somber attitude. She thinks of herself as American and adopts the culture that surrounds her. The differences between mother and daughter make it hard for them to really communicate. Jing-Mei cannot understand the suffering her mother has endured; and Suyuan cannot understand the frivolity of Jing-Mei. When Suyuan finally tells her daughter about the twin daughters that she abandoned in China, Jing-Mei is completely shocked.

The theme of lack of communication is developed throughout the novel. Each of the four mothers and daughters has difficulty really talking to and understanding one another. In addition, Amy Tan had the same problem with her mother, Daisy; their worlds were so different, it was difficult for them to really communicate. Like Suyuan, Daisy Tan also intentionally withholds information from her daughter. It is not until they are preparing to move to Switzerland that Daisy tells Amy that she has left three daughters behind in China. Amy is completely surprised at the news, just like Jing-Mei. In addition, Daisy has also suffered greatly in life, just like Suyuan, and Amy has trouble relating to her mother’s past, just like Jing-Mei.

Suffering is another key theme of the novel. The Joy Luck Club was first started in Kweilin, China, to keep the women from thinking about the horrors of war surrounding them. It is, in essence, a club formed out of suffering. When Suyuan starts the second club in San Francisco, the women she seeks as members have all endured suffering, just like she. As a result, there is an immediate bond between them, and a willingness to share with one another.

The Joy Luck Club is very important to Suyuan. It is not surprising that after Suyuan’s death, her husband asks Jing-Mei to take the place of her mother at the club. While attending the meetings, Jing-Mei learns many things about her mother and the other Chinese women. She also sees the closeness of the members. When they learn that Suyuan’s lost daughters have been located, they give Jing-Mei the money to travel to China to meet them, for they know this is what Suyuan would want.

This section also begins to develop some of the key characters of the book. It becomes obvious that Suyuan and her daughter are different in their nature and temperament. Suyuan is a very ambitious lady with an iron-will and strong determination. She wants the best for her daughter and is determined to make her succeed. Jing-Mei, however, lacks her mother’s determination and falls short of her expectations. Suyuan is fiercely proud of her Chinese heritage and struggles to make Jing-Mei understand and appreciate it. Jing-Mei, however, simply wants to be accepted as an American and is embarrassed by her oriental background. These differences intensify the communication gap between mother and daughter.

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The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan: Book Notes Summary

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