Free Critical Essays On The Joy Luck Club

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." (http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/tan0bio-1)

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.

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The Joy Luck Club Amy Tan

(Full name Amy Ruth Tan) American novelist, screenwriter, and children's writer.

The following entry presents criticism on Tan's The Joy Luck Club (1989). See also Amy Tan Criticism.

The Joy Luck Club (1989) is Tan's most successful and widely acclaimed novel. It is regarded as a significant achievement in documenting the hardships and struggles of immigrants in America and in portraying the complexities of modern Chinese-American life.

Plot and Major Characters

The Joy Luck Club is a collection of sixteen interrelated stories, centered around the diverse emotional relationships of four different mother/daughter pairs. To escape war and poverty, the four mothers emigrate from China to America. In the United States, they struggle to raise their American-born daughters in a vastly different culture. The novel opens with the death of Suyuan Woo, the matriarch of the Joy Luck Club, a social group of women who play the Chinese tile game mah-jongg and rely on each other for support. Suyuan founded the club in China and later reformed it in San Francisco. Suyuan's daughter, Jing-mei, takes her mother's place at the east side of the club's mah-jongg table. Jing-mei's interactions at the table with her older “aunties” symbolize the generational conflicts that play a major role in all of the stories. Each of the mother/daughter pairs has their own personal and cultural conflicts that are unique to their situation. In each relationship, events in the mother's past deeply affect how she identifies with and relates to her daughter. Because Suyuan lost a husband and was forced to abandon her twin daughters during the Japanese invasion of China, she consistently pushed Jing-mei to succeed and make a better life for herself. But her mother's high expectations paralyze Jing-mei, who begins to doubt her own talents and abilities. “Auntie” Lindo managed to escape her disastrous arranged marriage by manipulating her husband's family. In America, Lindo's daughter Waverly becomes a junior chess champion whose achievements give Lindo a great sense of pride. Waverly feels that Lindo takes too much credit for her success and, eventually, she accuses her mother of living vicariously through her. This confrontation causes each of them to question their own personal identity and the respect they have for each other. “Auntie” Ying-Ying grew up in a wealthy family. After her husband leaves her, Ying-Ying is forced to move in with some of her poorer relatives. She emigrates with her second husband, Clifford, to America, where she is forced to change her name to “Betty” and adjust to an even lower standard of living. Ying-Ying's daughter, Lena, is a successful architect, but her husband doesn't value her. Furthermore, Lena's lifestyle and materialism clash with Ying-Ying's traditional Chinese ways, which she fears will be forgotten. “Auntie” An-mei Hsu's mother served as a wealthy gentleman's concubine. Because of her mother's occupation, young An-mei was raised surrounded by riches, but was not allowed to share in any of the luxuries. Her mother eventually commits suicide, giving An-mei a way to escape the life of a concubine. Rose Hsu Jordan, An-mei's daughter, struggles with filing divorce papers after her husband leaves her. Rose's indecisiveness comes from recurring nightmares, inspired by her mother's stories and her mother's assertion that she can read Rose's mind. The novel concludes with Jing-mei, who decides to discover the end of her mother's life story by finding and meeting her abandoned twin half-sisters. Her aunties give Jing-mei the money she needs to travel to China, affirming the healing effect of storytelling and the very real—if elusive—bond between generations.

Major Themes

The major theme of The Joy Luck Club concerns the nature of mother-daughter relationships, which are complicated not only by age difference, but by vastly different upbringings. The daughters—who have grown up embracing the American emphasis on individuality—feel that their mothers are “Old World fossils.” They rebel against the Chinese tradition of heeding their elders and pleasing parents above all else. The mothers are appalled at their daughters' insolence. They fear that their daughters' desire to achieve the American Dream will prevent them from ever learning about or understanding their Chinese heritage. Despite these fears, all four of the mothers attempt to give their children the best of both worlds. As Lindo states, “American circumstances but Chinese character. … How could I know these two things do not mix?” The painful events in the mothers' pasts and their “Chinese character” have a definite impact on their daughters' present lives. The power and importance of storytelling is another significant theme in the novel. One reason the mother-daughter relationships suffer is that neither generation speaks the language of the other—literally and metaphorically. The mothers try to compensate for this difficulty in communication by relating information through stories. However, most of the stories only frustrate their daughters, who are at a loss to interpret what they really mean. When the daughters—particularly Jing-mei—are finally able to see the true meaning behind their mothers' tales, they find that the stories are an important form of instruction and comfort. Issues of self-worth and identity are also central to The Joy Luck Club. All of the women (both mothers and daughters) wrestle with their past, their present, their ethnicity, their gender, and how they view themselves, as they struggle to construct their own life story and find a place for themselves in the world.

Critical Reception

Many critics have asserted that although the characters in The Joy Luck Club are Chinese-American, their struggles have a strong resonance for all people, especially women raised in America. Reviewers have studied the novel from a variety of angles and have generally agreed that the book presents a poignant, insightful examination of not only the generation gap between mothers and daughters, but of the gaps between different cultures as well. Critics have argued that the book works as an exploration of the issues that are vital to all immigrants in America—including ethnicity, gender, and personal identity. Some reviewers have identified the mother-daughter relationships in the book as part of a growing tradition of matrilineal discourse that is becoming ever more popular in America. Others have lauded the multiple perspectives presented in the novel, citing the work's multiple viewpoints as a unique strength that invites analysis on several levels. One critic has even analyzed the fable-like qualities of The Joy Luck Club, interpreting it as a modern-day fairy tale. Although several reviewers have argued that the novel presents stereotypical portrayals of China and of Chinese people, many critics feel that it addresses important universal issues and themes—common to all, despite their age, race, or nationality.

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