TMW Featured Article

Celebrating Family Through the Generations

Amy Tan, photo courtesy of the author

One of the most important parts of celebrating any holiday is bonding with your family. Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club” is a classic among many Asian families because of its honest depiction of the struggles within the culture while also being immigrants.

Summary of the Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club starts with four women with their own mahjong group. Mahjong is a Chinese game that requires certain sections to be divided. Much like the game, the story is divided into four parts with four sections, thus creating sixteen chapters.

The four mothers, one of whom is already deceased, share a story about their lives. A relevant parable also precedes each part to its themes within the section. The novel also shifts between the Chinese mothers and their American-born daughters, symbolizing the essential ties of family.

Aside from the book, Amy Tan’s work also has a successful film adaptation, where the Joy Luck Club movie was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in 2020. The latter deemed the film culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.

Themes of the Joy Luck Club

Some of the themes in the book include the relationship between mothers and daughters, the realities of immigration, the necessity of sacrifice, and sexism that is unique within the culture.

While many of the themes are controversial, the message of hope that comes with healing strained relationships between mother and daughter echoes through the pages. The Americanization of Chinese daughters is still a much-discussed topic today, with many Asian Americans admitting that they do not connect with their parents’ homeland, with some wishing they could connect with their roots more.

As of 2022, the PEW Research Organization
states that there is no single experience of being Asian in the United States. While there is no clear-cut definition of what it means to be Asian American, the Joy Luck Club has ignited many Asian Americans within the community to discuss their unique struggles and experiences.

Another theme is the universal feeling of daughters feeling inadequacy while their mothers have high hopes for them. While this situation is not unique to Asian culture, the need to ensure pride and honor within your family is stronger in many Asian families than in other cultures.

Takeaway: While the book is far from perfect, it’s hard to ignore its impact on the Asian American community. This option is a must-read if you’re thinking of celebrating Chinese New Year 2023 with a classic book.


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