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Literature: The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club is an 1989 novel by Amy Tan, which was adapted into a 1993 film, directed by Wayne Wang.

The book centers around four mother-daughter pairs living in San Francisco. The mothers are Suyuan Woo, An-Mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-ying St. Clair. The daughters are, respectively, Jing-Mei (June) Woo, Rose Hsu Jordan, Waverly Jong, and Lena St. Clair. All of the mothers immigrated from China during their lives, and much of the book talks about their relationships with their mothers, with the exception of Suyuan Woo. The book is structured in sixteen chapters, each narrated in first person by one of the characters; the first four are told by the mothers, the next eight are told by the daughters, and the last four are told by the mothers, all with the exception of Suyuan Woo, who is dead at the beginning of the novel, so Jing-Mei takes her chapters. Most of each chapter is dedicated to a flashback of the narrator's childhood, usually regarding a particular incident or series of events involving that character's mother.

Film and book The Joy Luck Club provide examples of:

  • Abusive Parents:
    • Abusive aunt and uncle in young An-Mei's case.
    • Lena thinks she encounters one in the apartment next to her as a child, but it turns out the mother and daughter are only playing.
    • In Lindo's case, a forceful abusive mother-in-law who puts a lot of pressure on Lindo and her son to conceive a child.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The film kept most of the stories (with some changes), but trimmed some parts.
  • Adaptation Expansion: Some parts were added to the film.
  • Adult Fear:
    • Being forced to abandon your baby girls to the elements in the desperate hope someone will find and take care of them, because you simply can't carry them any more.
    • Waverly running away from her mother in a busy street as a child.
    • 4-year-old Bing's death. While at the beach, he is left unattended for a moment, and ends up accidentally drowning.
    • Having to make a bargain that when your four-year-old child turns 15, she will leave and marry a Spoiled Brat, and you will never see her again.
  • Arranged Marriage: Lindo's first marriage, to a Spoiled Brat.
  • Artistic License – Music: At the end of the section Two Kinds, she mentions playing two songs from Robert Schumann's Scenes from Childhood, Pleading Child and Perfectly Contented, thereafter realizing that the two songs are actually two halves of the same song. The two songs, actually known as Bittendes Kind and Glückes genug, are actually separate songs from the same book, Kinderszenen, only that they are beside each other. At least the German names were translated into the English names properly.
  • Bald of Evil: Lena's boyfriend Harold's baldness is a visual cue to his cold soullessness, along with the grey clothing and furniture. His replacement is notable for having thick, luxurious hair, symbolic of his warmth and goodness.
  • Batman Gambit: Lindo's plan of getting out of her first marriage.
  • Break the Cutie/Break the Haughty: Varying cases through all of the characters.
  • Broken Bird: Young An-Mei, An-Mei's mother, Ying-ying.
  • Cheerful Child: 4-year-old Ying-Ying in "The Moon Lady."
  • Child by Rape: The film adaptation directly indicates An-Mei's half-brother is a product of this.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Most of the mothers.
  • Darker and Edgier: Arguably, the fate of Ying-Ying's first baby in the movie. In the book, Ying-Ying gets an abortion. In the movie, Ying-Ying carries it to term but later drowns it, acting listless the whole time.
  • Defiled Forever: An-mei's widowed mother is raped by a strange man, and is then forced to marry him because she is considered defiled.
  • Destructive Romance: Rose comes to realize that she's living in one.
  • Domestic Abuse: Lena's husband is of the financial abuse variety. Ted grows into an emotional abuser to Rose.
  • Dull Eyes of Unhappiness: Poor Ying-ying.
  • Driven to Suicide: Well... it's a long story in the case of An-Mei's mother.
  • The Eighties: The novel's set time.
  • Extreme Doormat: Tan makes it pretty clear on just how terrible the consequences can be if a woman acts as such.
  • Flashback: All the mother and daughter stories up to the present.
  • Heroic Sacrifice Meets My Death Is Just the Beginning: An-mei's mother, trapped into a horrific marriage to her rapist, commits suicide by poison, but does so two days before the new year. Folklore states that the third day after death is when a spirit returns to settle old scores — and you do not want a spirit angry with you on New Year's Day. An-mei's mother ensures her daughter and son will be cared for.
  • Like Brother and Sister: The extent of Lindo's relationship with her first husband.
  • Love Martyr: Rose's believes that her submissive respects her husband Ted. Of course, she outgrows this mindset.
  • Meaningful Name: Loads. "Rose," in reference to her demureness in her marriage. And Lindo's intentionally invokes this with "Waverly."
  • Memento MacGuffin: The jade necklaces.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In the film, Ying's reaction after she kills her child.
  • Odd Name Out: Matthew, Mark, Luke and Bing.
  • Parental Abandonment:
    • Entirely unwillingly, on Suyuan's part.
    • An-Mei's mother, due to her circumstances. She takes An-Mei so she could live a better life in a wealthier household, ironically committing this again by abandoning An-Mei's younger brother (it's implied that taking her son to a house where she served as a concubine would be frowned upon).
  • Pet the Dog: The introduction of Second Wife seems to be this. She gives An-Mei a "genuine" pearl necklace as a welcoming offer. Then An-Mei's mother exposes the necklace as fake to An-Mei, hinting to Second Wife's conniving and manipulative nature..
  • Poor Communication Kills: Mr. St. Clair could never understand his wife fully because of this, resulting in a marriage run mostly by tolerance than true love. Even Lena realizes that her father can merely "put words in her mother's mouth." Also a common case between the mothers and daughters.
  • Precision F-Strike: In the film adaptation, Ted gives this to his own mother after she makes remarks towards Rose.
  • Pretty in Mink: Waverly's fiance giving her a mink coat.
  • Rape as Backstory: An-Mei's mother in "Magpies."
  • Rape as Drama: Tyan-yu and Lindo in "The Red Candle." Huang Taitai enables and condones this because she wants an heir. However, nothing happens anyway. In the film, Tyan-yu thrusts something at Lindo and makes her scream — but it's only his pet lizard! His mom is in Selective Obliviousness.
  • Rich Bitch: Ying-ying in her youth, before she was broken by her terrible first marriage. The Second Wife in An-mei's story is this to a T.
  • The Roaring Twenties: In the sequences with the mothers' childhoods. More evident in An-mei and Ying-ying's stories, given how they were raised in wealthy families with some Western influence.
  • Sexless Marriage: Lindo's and Tyan-yu's marriage, being he has no interest in her.
  • Stage Mom: Suyuan and Lindo in regards to their daughters' piano playing and chess playing. Suyuan especially counts since the only reason Jing-Mei picked up the piano in the first place was because Suyuan was trying to force her into being a child star.
  • Trophy Wife: Wu-Tsing engages in concubinage to attain a few of them.
  • "Well Done, Daughter" Girl: Waverly and Jing-Mei feel this about their mothers, who constantly compared each of their daughters to the other's.
  • World War II: Most prominent in Suyuan's story.
  • You Are a Credit to Your Race: Implied by Mrs. Jordan when she speaks to Rose at an outdoor barbecue.
  • You Know What They Say About Asians: Again implied by Mrs Jordan to Rose.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Rose's husband and, even more severely, Ying's first husband.

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alternative title(s): The Joy Luck Club; The Joy Luck Club
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