Litt 507 - Joy Luck Club as a Contemporary American Fiction
Philippine Normal University
National Center for Teacher Education
Taft Avenue, Manila
College of Languages, Linguistics, and Literature
DEPARTMENT OF LINGUISTICS, BILINGUAL EDUCATION & LITERATURE
A Round Table in an American Diner:
The Joy Luck Club as a Contemporary American Fiction
In Partial Fulfilments
of the Requirements in
Litt507 (Contemporary American Fiction)
Bernard M. Paderes
Dr. Jennie V. Jocson
I. Amy Tan's Background
Amy Tan was born in Oakland, California in 1952 to Chinese immigrant
parents. Her father, John Tan, was an electrical engineer and Baptist minister who
left China to escape the turmoil of the civil war, whereas her mother, Daisy Tan,
previously married, divorced her abusive husband but lost custody of her three
daughters. She was forced to leave them taking the last boat from Shanghai during
the advent of communism.
After Amy’s eldest brother and father died of brain tumors, Daisy took Amy
and her other brother to Switzerland, where she finished high school. By that time,
Amy and her mother were in constant conflict. When they came back to the U.S.,
Amy’s mother sent her to med-school, but she later defied her mother and changed
her program to English and linguistics. She received her bachelor’s and master’s
degrees at San Jose State University in 1974. While pursuing her graduate studies in
linguistics, she met her boyfriend, Loius DeMattei. The two got married and later
settled in San Francisco, California.
De Mattei, an attorney, took up the practice of tax law, while Amy Tan studied
for her doctorate degree in linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley.
However, she left her doctoral program and work as a language development
consultant for disabled children. Because of her experience, she found a job as an
editor of medical journals. With a partner, she started a business writing firm but
became a full-time freelance writer after a dispute with her partner.
Amy Tan prospered as a writer and was able to save enough money to buy a
house for her mother. However, the more she worked hard, the more she became
dissatisfied. She resorted to playing the piano and writing fiction as an outlet and
means of cure. Just as she was starting a new career, Tan’s mother became ill. Amy
promised herself that if her mother recovered, she would take her to China to se the
daughters her mother left behind some 40 years ago. Her mother regained her
health and they went to China in 1987.
II. Synopsis of the Story
The novel consists of sixteen interlocking stories about four immigrant
mothers and their American-born daughters. These stories are divided into four
sections, with two sections focusing the stories of their mothers and the other two
focusing on their daughters.
The mothers had left their sad secret lives in China: Suyuan, who was forced
to abandon her daughters in China; An-mei, whose mother was raped by a rich and
powerful merchant and consequently became his concubine resulting to her family
disowning her; Lindo, who was forced into an arranged marriage and was pressured
by her mother-in-law to produce grandchildren; and Ying Ying, who got married to
an abusive husband who physically and verbally abused her that soon caused her to
abort her baby.
The daughters also had their share of miseries: June, Suyuan’s daughter,
thought of herself as a failure because she did not live up to her mother’s wishes and
hopes; Waverly, Lindo’s competitive daughter, struggled to please her mother; Rose,
An-mei’s daughter, became depressed fighting for her rights in her divorce; and
Lena, felt that her life is stuck in a loveless marriage that made her feel powerless.
The crises that the daughters were experiencing were the result of their
dysfunctional relationship with their mothers. However, they were able to resolve
their crises when they finally confronted their mothers and resolved their conflcits
with their mothers.
III. Analysis of the Novel.
It seems easy to say that The Joy Luck Club is a contemporary American
novel simply because it was written after World War II and was written by a hybrid
American writer. However, it would be more accurate if the novel is analyzed into
the characteristics of an contemporary American fiction. It would be better to find
what makes it contemporary and American at the same time.
In terms of “contemporariness,” Klage (2006) identified some characteristics
of contemporary or postmodern literature. According to her, postmodern literature
shares the same qualities of modern literature, namely:
a. an emphasis on impressionism and subjectivity in writing;
b. a movement away from plain objectivity by narrating in the omniscient third-
person point of view, fixed narrative, and clear-cut moral positions;
c. a blurring of distinction between genres;
d. an emphasis on fragmented forms, discontinuous narratives, and random
seeming collages of different materials;
e. a tendency toward reflexivity, or self-consciousness, about the production of
the work of art;
f. a rejection of elaborate formal aesthetics in favour of minimalist designs;
g. and a rejection of the distinction between "high" and "low" or popular
Amy Tan claimed that The Joy Luck Club was supposed to be a collection of
interrelated stories than a novel. In an interview published on Penguin.com, she
mentioned that she wrote one story after another. She had envisioned that these
stories would have older and younger voices that belonged to respective families,
and these families would belong to one community, The Joy Luck Club. When the
story collection was published, reviewers considered it a novel.
In terms point of view, Tan made use of multiple narratives, which is a
feature of postmodern writings. This style is a movement away from the traditional
omniscient third person narrative with fixed narrative point of view. The stories
were told from the point of view of both mothers and daughters. Therefore, they
seem to be fragmented and discontinuous (Klage, 2006).
In terms narrative, Tan employed a form of narrative that she seems to share
with fellow Chinese author Maxine Hong Kinston in The Woman Warrior. Kingston
called this form as “talk-story.” It celebrates the oral histories used by women and
are kept off from the formal written histories employed by men (Welsch as cited in
Evans, 2009). This form seems to be fitting for telling popular tales, legends, and
myths (Shen, as cited in Bloom, 2009).
In terms of the theme, FitzSimons (2007) listed down some of the
characteristics that make a contemporary text American. These include issues faced
by women and immigrants. Specifically, she mentioned the following:
a. How American history affected American families;
b. How diversity affected minorities and immigrants;
c. and how the second and third generation immigrants see the theme of
The Joy Luck Club undeniably tackles the issues faced by women in the
traditional patriarchal Chinese society and the issues faced by second generation
Chinese immigrants in the United States. It shows how two generations of Chinese
immigrants come into conflict regarding culture and values.
In an analysis done by Lannholm (2010), he discussed the oppression and
voicelessness experienced by some of the characters due to their subordinate status
as females. For example, Lindo entered an arranged marriage in which the husband
determines the wife’s destiny. She experienced both physical and verbal abuses
from her mother-in-law when she could not give her any grandchildren; Ann Mei’s
mother was raped by a womanizer and consequently was disowned by her own
family thinking that she had brought disgrace to her family and her dead husband’s
name; and Ying Ying, who became a victim of domestic abuse which later caused her
to abort her baby and consequently left her feeling worthless and devastated. As for
the daughters, Lena experienced a loveless marriage because she wanted everything
to be “fair.” And Rose, who simply wanted to please her husband by being
submissive, ended up feeling depressed and worthless when her husband filed for
As for the cultural issues, the four mothers portray a stereotypical picture of
Chinese immigrants and their beliefs in the American dream. However, these
created conflict between them as they, the mothers were very faithful to their
Chinese roots in which obedience and subordination are highly esteemed (Thio,
1998), whereas their daughters were raised in America where independence and
autonomy are highly valued. This is shown through the constant conflicts between
the Suyuan and June and Lindo and Waverly. Both mothers were very critical of
their daughters and expect highly of them. They would often compare their
daughters, basking in reflected glory from their daughters’ achievement. In
consequence, their children felt exhausted and felt that they were taken advantage
of. However, both had different shattering effect on them: June gave up thinking that
she would not really live up to her mother’s standards while Waverly continued to
strive for more achievements thinking she was not still good enough. This has
become an interesting part of the story because the person vs. person conflict
becomes a person vs. self conflict; the external has been internalized. These conflicts
were only resolved when the daughters confronted their conflicts with their
mothers by listening to their stories and learning from them.
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interpretations. NY: Infobase Publishing Inc.
Evans, Robert. (2009). Critical insights: The Joy Luck Club. NJ: Salem Press Inc.
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present). Lecture Notes. Slavyansk State University.
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International Publishing Group.
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Tan, Amy. (1989). The Joy Luck Club. Penguin Books
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