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Joy Luck Club Essay Question

Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements for “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “The Joy Luck Club” in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “The Joy Luck Club” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Power of Story

The Joy Luck Club is a novel of stories within stories. The way in which people relate with one another, the currency of their communication, is the stories that they tell about themselves, about their society, and about their traditions. In this way, through stories that are often elaborately-wrought and profoundly imagistic, the character reveal their conflicts and their strengths and values. There are a number of options among which you could select to examine the power of the story: (1) What, exactly, is the power of the story? Why do the characters engage in story-telling instead of directly narrating their experiences? To what degree is this story-telling cultural? (2) Examine one or more specific stories and analyze their characteristics. Identify the elements that constitute a “good" or effective story within the novel. Make an evaluation about which story is most powerful or least powerful, and defend your decision with textual evidence, which may include references to the reactions of the listeners of the story.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Culture Clashes

One of the most important themes in The Joy Luck Club is what happens at intersection of American and Chinese cultures. When one character observes, “I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these things do not mix?” (254) she is making a statement about the possibility or impossibility of two distinct cultures finding compatibility with one another. Consider this statement and write an argumentative essay in which you either support or refute her claim that “these things do not mix." Be sure to incorporate evidence from the text, and offer conclusions about the consequences of accepting the position that you have chosen. For example, if you believe that “these things do not mix," how can an immigrant live comfortably in his or her new country? You may choose to address these implications in your essay on “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan by examining the consequences for the characters in the novel; alternately, you may decide to offer more general conclusions about the consequences for immigrants and society at large.

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Life Lessons in “The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club contains numerous lessons, lessons that mothers convey to their daughters, and lessons that daughters teach their mothers through the crucible of their vastly different life experiences. Some of the lessons that are shared can be found in the quotes included below. Select one or more of the lessons that you consider to be most important and analyze its meaning, both literally and symbolically. Address the function that the lesson plays in the novel and in the lives of the characters, and in doing so, consider the following: What does the person giving the lesson expect by sharing it? What happens when the lesson is either not understood or not applied? How are relationships shaped and re-negotiated by the lessons that are taught?

Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Autobiographical Links

Many of Amy Tan’s novels focus on Chinese and Chinese-American cultures and the immigrant experience. Amy Tan was actually not born in China—she was born in California—but her parents’ experiences and her interest in her heritage serve as the seed of inspiration for almost all of her literary work. The Joy Luck Club is perhaps the most autobiographical of her novels. Consider the following:

“Just as she was embarking on this new career, Tan's mother fell ill. Amy Tan promised herself that if her mother recovered, she would take her to China, to see the daughter who had been left behind almost forty years before. Mrs. Tan regained her health and mother and daughter departed for China in 1987. The trip was a revelation for Tan. It gave her a new perspective on her often-difficult relationship with her mother, and inspired her to complete the book of stories she had promised her agent." (

Taking this information about the background of this novel and expanding upon it with your own research about Tan and theories related to autobiographical elements in fiction, write an essay in which you explain the function of autobiographical elements in The Joy Luck Club. You can also write an argumentative essay using this information and argue ways texts cannot be separated from the author.

This list of important quotations from “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “The Joy Luck Club” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “The Joy Luck Club” above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Amy Tan they are referring to.

“Over the years, she told me the same story, except for the ending, which grew darker, casting long shadows into her life, and eventually into mine.” (21)

“Even though I was young, I could see the pain of the flesh and the worth of the pain.” (48)

“I was no longer scared. I could see what was inside me.”(59)

“I discovered that maybe it was fate all along, that faith was just an illusion that somehow you're in control.” (121)

“I had new thoughts, willful thoughts, or rather thoughts filled with lots of won'ts. I won't let her change me, I promised myself. I won't be what I'm not.” (134)

“Only two kind of daughters. Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!” (142)

“And I remember wondering why it was that eating something good could make me feel so terrible…." (154)

“I saw what I had been fighting for: it was for me, a scared child…” (183)

“That was the night, in the kitchen, that I realized I was no better than who I was…. I felt tired and foolish, as if I had been running to escape someone chasing me, only to look behind and discover there was no one there.” (207)

“Then you must teach my daughter this same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever.” (213)

“I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these things do not mix?” (254)

Reference: Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Penguin, 2006.


Joy Luck Club (Tan) - Discussion Questions

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Discussion Questions 
1. Although the women in The Joy Luck Club are Chinese or Chinese American, and their heritage plays an important part in their lives, they also have experiences that all of us face, regardless of culture, even today. They struggle with raising their children, contend with unhappy marriages, cope with difficult financial circumstances, and are disheartened by bad luck. Which of the eight main characters did you identify with the most? Why?

2. When Jing-mei’s aunties tell her about her sisters, they insist that she travel to China to see them, to tell them about their mother. They are taken aback when Jing-mei responds. “What will I say? What can I tell them about my mother? I don’t know anything. She was my mother” (p. 36). Jing-mei thinks that the reason this upsets the aunties is that it makes them fear that they may not know their own daughters either. How does this exchange set the stage for the stories that follow? To what extent do you think that Jing-mei is right? How well do any of the mothers and daughters know each other in this book?

3. Discuss the topic of marriage as it is represented in The Joy Luck Club. Each of the women faces difficult choices when it comes to marrying—whether it be Lindo Jong being forced into an early union with a man she loathes, Ying-Ying St. Clair starting life over with an American man after being abandoned by her first husband, or Rose Hsu Jordan, who is facing divorce from a man whose family never understood her. How are the daughters’ romantic choices influenced, if at all, by their mothers, who had fewer choices of their own?

4. When she is young, Waverly Jong is a chess prodigy. It is a common conception in the United States that young Asian children are more driven than their peers and more likely to excel because their parents demand more of them. However, it is Waverly’s mother who influences Waverly to quit chess, due to a hurtful argument. What do you think of mother and daughter’s reactions to this event? Find other examples that challenge American stereotypes of Chinese culture in The Joy Luck Club.

5. While Waverly was a prodigy and grew up to be successful in her career, Jing-mei (or “June” as she is called in America) has had more difficulty. Her parents also wished for her to be a “genius,” as if hard work alone could will it. Using Jing-mei Woo’s chapter “Best Quality” (p. 221) as a platform, discuss the differences between the daughters of the members of the Joy Luck Club. What does the dinner scene between Waverly and June say about each of their characters? How is their behavior influenced by family and culture?

6. Throughout their stories, the women in The Joy Luck Club and their daughters exhibit many signs, at different moments, of both strength and weakness. On page 170, when Lena St. Clair is describing her relationship with Harold, she claims that “I think I deserve someone like Harold, and I mean in the good sense and not like bad karma. We’re equals.” Knowing what you do about Lena and Harold’s relationship, do you think that’s true? Does a thought like this represent strength or weakness on Lena’s part? What are some other moments of strength and weakness, both major and minor, that you can identify in the women in this book?

7. The title of the book, The Joy Luck Club, is taken from Suyuan Woo’s establishment of a gathering between women, first in China, and later in San Francisco. The club has been maintained for many years and undergone many changes since its inception—for instance, the husbands of the women now attend, and they pool their money to buy stock instead of relying only on their mahjong winnings. What do you think is the significance of these meetings to the women who attend them? Why do you think these four families have continued to come together like this after so much time has passed? Can you think of any rituals that you have with friends that are similar to this?

8. In Rose Hsu Jordan’s story, “Half and Half,” a terrible tragedy befalls her youngest brother Bing while she is watching him. At first she is fearful that her parents will be angry with her, but instead her mother relies on both her Christian faith and Chinese beliefs in ancestor worship. On page 140, Rose says the following: “I think about Bing, about how I knew he was in danger, how I let it happen. I think about my marriage, how I had seen the signs, I really had. But I just let it happen. And I think now that fate is shaped half by faith, half by inattention.” What does she mean by this? Do you agree with her? Do you think that Rose’s mother, An-mei, truly lost her faith that day when they lost Bing?

9. Suyuan Woo is the only member of the Joy Luck Club who does not have her own voice in this book—she died a few months before the story begins. Why do you think the author made that choice? Why is it significant that her daughter is the main narrator, and that it is the story of her lost daughters in Kweilin that serve as a beginning and end to the book?

10. When Jing-mei visits China with her father toward the end of the book, she is constantly struck by the signs of capitalism everywhere: in the hotel she finds “a wet bar stocked with Heineken beer, Coke Classic, and Seven-Up, mini-bottles of Johnnie Walker Red, Bacardi rum and Smirnoff vodka, and packets of M&M’s, honey roasted cashews, and Cadbury chocolate bars. And again I say out loud, ‘This is communist China?’ ” (p. 319). What does she mean by this observation and question? What do you think she was expecting when she made the trip? In this scene, Jing-mei is also visiting her parents’ homeland for the first time, after hearing so many stories about it. Have you ever visited a foreign place and found it to be very different from what you had imagined?

11. What are your thoughts on the structure of The Joy Luck Club? It is not a traditional novel told by one narrator, but the stories are very intricately connected. How did that affect your reading experience? What were some of the differences you noticed in the way that you read this book as opposed to other novels or collections of stories?

12. Amy Tan’s work has been highly anthologized for students, and her books, especially The Joy Luck Club, are read in more than thirty countries around the world. Why do you think this book has such a universal appeal? What are some of the elements of the plot and aspects of the characters that make so many different kinds of people want to read it?
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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