The Joy Luck Club

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Jing-mei “June” Woo Character Analysis

June is the main narrator in The Joy Luck Club, as her vignettes specifically bridge the histories between mothers and daughters, and between childhood memories and present-day events. She also has the most stories in the novel – “The Joy Luck Club, “Two Kinds,” “Best Quality,” and “A Pair of Tickets” – since she represents both herself and her deceased mother, Suyuan. Suyuan tried to make June into a child prodigy, but June hated the pressure to succeed. Instead, she decided that being her “true self” meant having the right to be mediocre, which continues to color her adult life as she struggles with an unfulfilling career and social life. It isn’t until the end of the novel that June understands that Suyuan’s critique was actually her way of encouraging June to reach her full potential. June brings Suyuan’s story to her long-lost half-sisters, and gains an even more profound understanding of who her mother was.

Jing-mei “June” Woo Quotes in The Joy Luck Club

The The Joy Luck Club quotes below are all either spoken by Jing-mei “June” Woo or refer to Jing-mei “June” Woo. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Books edition of The Joy Luck Club published in 2006.
Part 1, Chapter 1 Quotes

I’m shaking, trying to hold something inside. The last time I saw them, at the funeral, I had broken down and cried big gulping sobs. They must wonder how someone like me can take my mother’s place. A friend once told me that my mother and I were alike, that we had the same wispy hand gestures, the same girlish laugh and sideways look. When I shyly told my mother this, she seemed insulted and said, "You don’t even know little percent of me! How can you be me?" And she’s right. How can I be my mother at Joy Luck?

Related Characters: Jing-mei “June” Woo (speaker), Suyuan Woo
Page Number: 27
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we're introduced to one of the novel's key characters, June. June is the daughter of Suyuan, a woman who, along with some of her Chinese friends, participated in a weekly gathering called the Joy Luck club. Suyuan has died recently, and June has been asked to attend the Joy Luck Club in her mother's place. June is understandably upset, although, right now she seems more upset about having to take her mother's place--both at the Joy Luck Club and, in some ways, in life--than she is about the fact of her mother's passing.

As June prepares to join the Joy Luck Club, it occurs to her that she barely knows anything about her mother. Her mother immigrated to the United States long ago, and June knows nothing about her mother's former life in China--thus making it impossible to ever "replace" her. As a member of the Joy Luck Club, however, she'll learn about her mother from old friends.

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Not know your own mother? How can you say? Your mother is in your bones!

Related Characters: An-mei Hsu (speaker), Jing-mei “June” Woo, Suyuan Woo
Page Number: 40
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of this chapter, June's mother's friends, the members of the Joy Luck Club, are outraged that June claims to know so little about her own mother--June is an American citizen, and her knowledge of her mother is limited to their experiences in America. June knows little to nothing about her mother's life back in China, and she shows little interest in learning about it.

The function of the Joy Luck Club, we begin to see, isn't just to play games--it's also to preserve the memories of the past; i.e., of life in China. In such a way, Tan lays out the basic structure of the novel: June will learn about her mother from the other members of the Joy Luck club, and gain new respect for her mother and her mother's culture.

Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

I saw what seemed to be the prodigy side of me – because I had never seen that face before. I looked at my reflection, blinking so I could see more clearly. The girl staring back at me was angry, powerful. This girl and I were the same. I had new thoughts, willful thoughts, or rather thoughts filled with lots of won’ts. I won’t let her change me, I promised to myself. I won’t be what I’m not.

Related Characters: Jing-mei “June” Woo (speaker), Suyuan Woo
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, we see the tragedy emerging between June and her mother, Suyuan. Suyuan desperately wants her daughter June to be a child prodigy of some kind--and so she works hard to find something that June is good at. Suyuan seems motivated by a more abstract sense of socially-approved success than she is by love for her child as an individual. As a result, June finds herself growing alienated from her mother: she begins to hate herself, and hate her mother for forcing her to try to many different activities.

The passage is tragic because it shows a divide growing between mother and daughter, even when both have good intentions. June thinks of her mother as manipulating her for selfish reasons. This assessment is probably a little harsh, but it's also totally justifiable and admirable for June to want to assert her individuality and grow into her own person. At the same time, even if Suyuan pushes her daughter too hard to succeed, she wants the best for her child, and undertakes great sacrifices on her own part to give June access to resources she herself never had.

Maybe I never really gave myself a fair chance. I did pick up the basics pretty quickly, and I might have become a good pianist at that young age. But I was so determined not to try, not to be anybody different that I learned to play only the most ear-splitting preludes, the most discordant hymns.

Related Characters: Jing-mei “June” Woo (speaker)
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Suyuan thinks she's found something that June can succeed at: piano playing. Suyuan arranges for June to receive piano lessons, working extra hard and spending a lot of her own money to do so. June, who by this point dislikes her mother for forcing her to try so many different activities, rebels by deliberately playing the piano badly. In retrospect, June comes to realize that she could have been a successful piano player, but because she wanted to rebels against her mother, she devoted her energy to playing poorly.

The passage shows the limitations of Suyuan's approach to child-rearing. Suyuan wants her child to succeed, but because she's too forceful and aggressive in her motivation techniques, June works to not succeed. The tragedy is that at the same time that June is asserting herself, she is also ignoring her mother's sacrifice of work and money, and squandering the resources Suyuan has made available to her.

“You want me to be someone that I’m not!” I sobbed. “I’ll never be the kind of daughter you want me to be… I wish I wasn’t your daughter. I wish you weren’t my mother,” I shouted. As I said these things I got scared. It felt… as if this awful side of me had surfaced at last... And that’s when I remembered the babies she had lost in China, the ones we never talked about.
“I wish I’d never been born!” I shouted. “I wish I were dead! Like them.”
It was as if I had said the magic words Alakazam!—and her face went blank.

Related Characters: Jing-mei “June” Woo (speaker), Suyuan Woo
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, June rebels against her mother and takes things too far. Suyuan wants her daughter to succeed at playing the piano--an activity that June doesn't particularly enjoy. June resents her mother for pushing her so hard to succeed, and as a result, she lashes out. In this scene, June yells at her mother that she hates playing the piano, and hates her mother, too. Furthermore, she claims that she wishes she'd never been born--she wishes she'd died, like the two daughters Suyuan has "lost" in China.

Suyuan is so hurt by June's outburst that she backs off and never mentions the piano again. In all, the passage shows that the conflict between Suyuan and June is a two-way street, even if Suyuan "started it." After this, June feels guilty for pushing her mother away. For her part, Suyuan, Tan suggests, isn't just a stereotypical overbearing parent--she too has feelings of guilt and great loss, related to her two other daughters.

Part 4, Chapter 4 Quotes

The minute our train leaves the Hong Kong border and enters Shenzhen, China, I feel different. I can feel the skin on my forehead tingling, my blood rushing through a new course, my bones aching with a familiar old pain. And I think, My mother was right. I am becoming Chinese.

Related Characters: Jing-mei “June” Woo (speaker), Suyuan Woo
Page Number: 267
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, June is coming back to her mother's home in China. June was always opposed to returning to China--she thought of herself as an American, without any particular connection to Chinese culture, in spite of her heritage. But after Suyuan's death, June decides to return to China to learn about her mother's life and find out about her long-lost daughters.

The passage depicts an almost supernatural connection, not just between mother and daughter but between person and country. As June passes into China, she feels herself becoming Chinese. In spite of her American citizenship, June intuitively senses that she knows China--something in the environment triggers her. Here, as in other parts of the book, Tan conveys the extent of the relationship between a person and her background--try as she might, June can't escape her Chinese heritage.

"You don’t understand," I protested.
"What I don’t understand?" she said.
And then I whispered, "They’ll think I’m responsible, that she died because I didn’t appreciate her."
And Auntie Lindo looked satisfied and sad at the same time, as if this were true and I had finally realized it.

Related Characters: Jing-mei “June” Woo (speaker), Lindo Jong (speaker), Suyuan Woo
Page Number: 271
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, June talks to her mother's friend, Lindo. June is preparing to reunite with her long-lost sisters--the girls whom Suyuan left back in China when she came to America. June feels guilty about her mother's death, and the thought of having to appear before her long-lost sisters makes her feel even guiltier; she imagines that her sisters will blame her for her mother's death. June voices her anxieties to Lindo, and Lindo seems to look satisfied, as if June is only just realizing the truth.

Has June "killed" her mother through neglect? It would be wrong to say so, and Tan leaves open the possibility that Lindo doesn't truly agree with June's suggestion--perhaps June is only projecting her own guilt onto Lindo's face (and Lindo also looks "sad" here, whether because she thinks this suggestion is false or because she thinks it's tragically true). It really is the case, however, that June has turned her back on Suyuan, being unnecessarily harsh with her mother; as a result, Suyuan's life has been sad and lonely. June feels guilty about seeing her sisters because they never had the opportunity to even meet their mother, much less be frustrated by and unappreciative of her.

I look at their faces again and see no trace of my mother in them. Yet they still look familiar. And now I also see what part of me is Chinese. It is so obvious. It is my family. It is in our blood. After all these years, I can finally be let go.

Related Characters: Jing-mei “June” Woo (speaker), Suyuan Woo, Wang Chwun Yu, Wang Chwun Hwa
Page Number: 288
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of the novel, June finally reunites with her long-lost siblings. As she does so, she feels that she's also accomplished a task she's been attempting for many years. June has been interested in tracking down her siblings, and yet she's always felt a sense of incompleteness, both because of her strained relationship with her mother and because of her ignorance of and disconnection from her own culture. By traveling to China and finding her half-sisters, June honors her mother's memory, both respecting her mother's heritage and completing the task that Suyuan herself was never able to do.

The passage is both the culmination of the entire book and the beginning of the rest of June's life. June has always felt that her Chinese heritage is a millstone around her neck--she wishes she could break free of it. Here, in the instant that June is finally most in touch with her Chinese "roots," she can finally move on with her life. And yet at the same time, she seems to have no desire to abandon her Chinese heritage anymore: she's just getting to know her sisters. In all, the passage sums up one of the key themes of the novel: heritage, like a mother or daughter, can be freeing and imprisoning, often at the same time.

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Jing-mei “June” Woo Character Timeline in The Joy Luck Club

The timeline below shows where the character Jing-mei “June” Woo appears in The Joy Luck Club. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1: The Joy Luck Club
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Storytelling and Tradition Theme Icon
Two months after her mother Suyuan passes away, Jing-mei “June” Woo is asked by her father Canning to take over her mother’s spot in the... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Storytelling and Tradition Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Suyuan tells June the origin story of the Joy Luck Club in a lighter tone when June is... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
...Chungking, she only has three silk dresses left that she’s wearing on her body. When June asks about the babies’ fates, horrified, Suyuan only says that “your father is not my... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Back in the present day, June arrives at An-mei’s house for the Joy Luck Club meeting. She immediately feels out of... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
After the game, June tries to leave, but the three women stop her and reveal that Suyuan had finally... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Storytelling and Tradition Theme Icon
The three older women are outraged that June would think she didn’t know Suyuan after a lifetime of being raised by her. June... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4: Two Kinds
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
June remembers Suyuan telling her that a person could be anything in America if he or... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Suyuan and June try different avenues of talent to find something June is amazing at, but they always... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
June gets sick of seeing Suyuan’s disappointment, and one night, looks at herself in the bathroom... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
...a little Chinese girl playing the piano on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and decides that June should excel at that. Having no spare money, Suyuan agrees to clean an old piano... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
June starts her piano lessons, but quickly learns that her old teacher is deaf and can... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
The pointless lessons continue, and June gets more apathetic as Suyuan becomes more boastful of June’s “talents,” despite never having heard... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
...of the talent show, all of the Joy Luck Club members are in attendance, and June comes on stage, completely confident. The beginning of the song sounds so good to daydreaming... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Two days later, Suyuan tells June to practice at her usual time in the afternoon; June assumed that the talent show... (full context)
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
In the following years, June believes that to be authentic to herself, she has the right to fall short of... (full context)
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
Soon after Suyuan’s passing, June gets the piano reconditioned for “purely sentimental reasons,” and discovers her old lesson books in... (full context)
Part 3, Chapter 4: Best Quality
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
On the Lunar New Year holiday before she passes away, Suyuan gives June “her life’s importance,” a jade pendant on a gold chain. June is unsure why Suyuan... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Storytelling and Tradition Theme Icon
June then flashes back to that Lunar New Year day, when she went with Suyuan to... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
Midway through dinner, conversation strikes back up again. Waverly compliments June’s new haircut, but then acts horrified when she learns that June goes to a gay... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Storytelling and Tradition Theme Icon
Angry at Waverly’s pettiness, June retorts that she’d have more money if Waverly’s advertising firm paid her for completed work.... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
After everyone leaves, June asks Suyuan what was wrong with the broken crab, and Suyuan says that it had... (full context)
Part 4, Chapter 4: A Pair of Tickets
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
In the final chapter of the novel, June flies to China with her father to meet her long-lost half-sisters. As soon as she... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
June and Canning first go to Guangzhou, formerly Canton, to see Canning’s aunt. In the forty... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
June struggles with the thought that she’ll have to break the news of Suyuan’s passing to... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
...Guangzhou, Canning reunites with his aunt for the first time in forty years. She introduces June to their extended Chinese family, even though June is unable to converse with them. They... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
After dinner, June is left alone for the first time of the trip, and she starts missing her... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Late that night, after most of the relatives have fallen asleep, June wakes up and hears Canning tell his aunt about his life in the past forty... (full context)
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Storytelling and Tradition Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Canning’s aunt falls asleep, leaving just June and her father awake. June asks if he knew why Suyuan abandoned the twins in... (full context)
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Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
On the plane to meet her half-sisters, June is wracked by doubt, particularly about how she will tell her mother’s story to strangers... (full context)