The Joy Luck Club

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Themes and Colors
Mother-Daughter Relationships Theme Icon
Storytelling and Tradition Theme Icon
Immigration, Language, and Mistranslation Theme Icon
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon
Sacrifice Theme Icon
Sexism and Power Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Joy Luck Club, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Fate and Autonomy Theme Icon

The notion of fate permeates the novel, as the protagonists waver between the traditional acceptance of a singular destiny and the opportunity to decide their own fates. The mothers often refer to the Chinese belief of predetermined outcomes; in particular, they regularly mention Chinese zodiac characters established by birthdates, which supposedly dictate personalities and personal weaknesses. Still, a common thread in all the stories is the ability to break out of one’s preordained life to pursue a more positive direction. As a child, Lindo is arranged to be married to Tyan-yu, a spoiled boy from a rich family. Once she’s folded into the family, more as a servant than a wife, Lindo initially resigns herself to the harsh life. She changes her mind when she sees her marriage candle blow out, signaling an inauspicious end to her marriage. When the candle is lit again in the morning, she knows someone artificially maintained the light, not fate itself. She then constructs a plan to scare her in-laws into releasing her from the marital contract and paying her way to America. Though fate might have delivered her to such circumstances, it is her own will and ingenuity that construct the solution and change the course of her life.

Similarly, An-mei’s mother refuses to accept her abusive lot in life, especially as her children suffer alongside her. Though seemingly fated to live with her shame, An-mei’s mother decides to kill herself at a time when her husband cannot refuse her anything, thus placing An-mei and her baby brother in a position of power. Though she dies, in doing so An-mei’s mother decides her own destiny and the fortune of her children. Though the traditional Chinese belief in predetermined fate exists and determines much of a person’s life, The Joy Luck Club reminds the reader that there is always room for free will to alter the future for the better.

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Fate and Autonomy Quotes in The Joy Luck Club

Below you will find the important quotes in The Joy Luck Club related to the theme of Fate and Autonomy.
Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

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.


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Part 3, Chapter 2 Quotes

That’s what she is. A Horse, born in 1918, destined to be obstinate and frank to the point of tactlessness. She and I make a bad combination, because I’m a Rabbit, born in 1951, supposedly sensitive, with tendencies toward being thin-skinned and skittery at the first sign of criticism.

Related Characters: Waverly Jong (speaker), Lindo Jong
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Waverly complains that she and her mother are destined to never get along, thanks to their incompatible Zodiac signs. Waverly is thin-skinned, while Lindo is frank and tactless--together, they just make each other miserable. Waverly makes no real effort to get along with her mother anymore--instead, she throws up her hands and says that they'll never get along.

The passage is interesting because although it shows the conflict between Waverly and her mother, it also shows the deep connection between them, rooted in their common knowledge of Chinese culture. Even two people whose Zodiac signs are incompatible have one thing in common: they both believe in the same Zodiac. Subtly, then, the passage communicates the unshakable bond between Waverly and Lindo, a bond that's tied to their Chinese heritage. (Yet this particular part of their heritage--the idea that the Zodiac predicts one's personal qualities--also keeps them apart, as they feel they are "fated" to never get along.)

Part 3, Chapter 3 Quotes

Ted pulled out the divorce papers and stared at them. His x’s were still there, the blanks were still blank. "What do you think you’re doing? Exactly what?" he said.
And the answer, the one that was important above everything else, ran through my body and fell from my lips: "You can’t just pull me out of your life and throw me away."

Related Characters: Rose Hsu Jordan (speaker), Ted Jordan (speaker)
Page Number: 196
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Rose stands up to her husband, Ted, and refuses to just comply with his wishes and sign the divorce papers, allowing him to immediately marry someone else. Ted is surprised to see Rose standing up for herself--she's been a relatively calm, meek wife, and Ted has taken advantage of her meekness by cheating on her with other women. Here, though, Rose seems to find inspiration in her mother's example. Just as An-Mei's voice inspired Rose when Rose was a child, Rose fills her own voice with confidence and assuredness, with the result that she at least gets acknowledgment and respect from Ted.

The passage gives us another good example of the positive relationships between mothers and their daughters. Based on the first half of the novel, it would be easy to conclude that Chinese mothers pass on nothing but submissiveness and suffering to their children, but as the novel approaches an ending it becomes clear that the characters have also learned inner strength and confidence from their parents.

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.