NEA Big Read
The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

To me, imagination is the closest thing we have to compassion. To have compassion you have to be able to imagine the lives of others, including people who are suffering, and people whose lives are affected by us.

  1. Which story is your favorite and why? Do you prefer the stories set in China or California?
  2. How are the notions of balance (yin and yang) and energy flow (feng shui) an important theme in the novel? Does the Chinese notion of balance and flow translate to the characters' lives in America?
  3. The Joy Luck Club was written as a collection of short stories. Is the order important? Could this have been told as a single story? What would that change?
  4. In your experience, does the book reinforce or shatter stereotypes of Chinese culture?
  5. By telling a story from the perspective of Chinese immigrants and first-generation Americans, what does the book reveal about American culture?
  6. Tan has said that she wishes to break from "the ghetto of ethnic literature." Does The Joy Luck Club cross from the ethnic to the universal?
  7. Although June is not sure why her mother gives her the jade necklace, she assumes it's because of her humiliation by Waverly. Is she right?
  8. How do the struggles of the daughters mirror the tragedies of their mothers? What does this suggest about the relationships between parents and children?
  9. Ying-ying sees herself as both a tiger and a ghost. Why does she use these characterizations? How would Lena? How would they be different?
  10. The "broken English" of the mothers is often more colorful than the "perfect English" of their daughters. How does the way the mothers choose to express themselves reflect their identities? What is lost in translation?
  11. How do the mothers decide to use their mah jong winnings? Does this show assimilation? Why, or why not?
  12. The ritual of mah jong is central to the story. What rituals do American women perform that reflect culture and identity?
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