Book Nook: The Joy Luck Club

By Lauren Raziano, Multimedia Editor

‘The Joy Luck Club’ by Amy Tan explores themes of cultural conflict of a group of women in San Francisco. 

The four women who are a part of the Joy Luck Club are Kieu Chinh, Tsai Chin, France Nuyen, Lisa Lu who get together to play Mahjong, a Chinese game played with rectangular pieces with the goal of collecting the most sets of tiles. Their daughters, Ming-Na Wen, Tamlyn Tomita, Lauren Tom, and Rosalind Chao, are the main characters who are followed in the novel as they face personal struggles. 

I enjoy reading novels that have “interlocking stories.” The novel is broken into multiple stories with multiple perspectives, set in locations such as San Francisco and Chinese cities. 

I think the novel is relatable because throughout Tan’s storytelling, she writes about the conflicts mothers and daughters face in their personal struggles. The conflicts required the women to sacrifice a part of their identity through relationships and life. 

In the story Two Kinds, Jing-Mei tells of her mother’s immigration story. Suyan Woo persevered through her immigration struggle to America with the hope of the American Dream. 

Suyan sacrificed her life in China for the hope of her American future, “America was where all my mother’s hope lay. She had come here in 1949 after losing everything in China: Her mother and father, her family home, her first husband, and two daughters, twin baby girls. But she never looked back with regret. There were so many ways for things to get better”. 

In America, she was challenged with a new language, culture, and status but she persevered by establishing the Joy Luck Club as a way of continuing an aspect of her sacrificed past. Suyan knew, with no regret, that in America she could provide for her family and give her daughter new opportunities. 

Lindo Jong’s story, The Red Candle, describes her experience in an arranged marriage and her escape to new freedom. After her family’s house was destroyed by a flood, Lindo Jong was given to the Huang family as a servant. Lindo became a cook servant and obedient to her soon-to-be mother-in-law, Huant Taitai. 

On her wedding day after her 16th birthday, she cries, “I wondered why my destiny had been decided, why I should have an unhappy life so someone else could have a happy one”. She acknowledges that she would respect her parents’ wishes but not forget herself, “I was strong. I was pure. I had genuine thoughts inside that no one could see, that no one could ever take away from me”. 

From observing the family members and the servants she learns the dynamics of the household and crafts a way to leave her arranged marriage without disgracing her family. She pretended to have a vision from her husband’s grandfather, describing that the candle went out on the day of their marriage, meaning the marriage was doomed and that Tyan-yu would die if he stayed in the marriage. 

Convinced that the vision was real, the Huang family released Lindo from her marriage,  so she bought a train ticket to the main village of Pecking and left for her new life in America. Through lying and sacrificing the honor of her family and the truth from her husband, she found her happiness and fled to America so that she could start her own family.

In another chapter, Ani-mei witnessed the impact of sacrifice on relationships through her relationship with her mother and her son. Ani-mei’s mother was a third concubine to a wealthy man and the second wife constantly controlled the house and the husband. By eating poisoned food, Ani-mei’s mother sacrificed her life so that Ani-mei could live a better life, “When the poison broke into her body, she whispered to me that she would rather kill her own weak spirit so she could give me a stronger one”. 

Because of the Chinese culture surrounding her death, Ani-mei’s mother provided Ani-mei with a new purpose in life and a stronger spirit as the husband revered her as if she had been his first and only wife. Ani-mei continued her life in America and the importance of sacrifice was brought up again when Ani-mei threw her mother’s sapphire ring into the ocean as a distraction from the Ocean mythical monster that was holding her son. 

Ani-Mei’s sacrifice of the heirloom sapphire ring into the ocean represents how Amy Tan wanted to express the sacrifice mothers will make to protect their children and Ani-Mei mother’s personal sacrifice of suicide shows the lengths that mothers will go to, to provide a better life for their daughters. 

Through the characters, Suyan Woo, Lindo Jong, and Ani-mei, Amy Tan displays the theme of perseverance through sacrifice. 

All these women sacrificed a part of their identity or relationship to develop into who they hoped they wanted to be. Their sacrifice for their daughters displays the importance of the strong material bond the characters have for each other. Despite the difficulties, Suyan Woo and Lindo Jong sacrificed their relationships for a chance at a better life and in Ani-mei’s life, sacrifices were made to preserve relationships. “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan explores the universal theme that through sacrifice comes the freedom of a better life.