The Joy Luck Club


Amy Tan

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The Joy Luck Club Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Amy Tan

Amy Tan was born to Chinese immigrants, John and Daisy Tan, in Oakland, California. After her father and brother both passed away when she was 15, Tan moved to Switzerland with her mother and younger brother. During this time, she learned about her mother’s first marriage to an abusive man in China, and the three daughters her mother had to abandon in Shanghai. This family history inspired her first novel, 1989’s The Joy Luck Club, which became a bestseller and, later, film. Other novels, such as The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Hundred Secret Senses, also received critical acclaim for their intimate portrayals of familial relationships. Tan currently lives in northern California with her husband, where she continues to write fiction, memoirs, and children’s literature.
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Historical Context of The Joy Luck Club

In the novel, Suyuan flees China as a young woman, when Japanese forces invade the city of Kweilin. This reflects actual historical events in the Second Sino-Japanese War, which was fought between 1937 and 1945. During the eight-year war (which overlapped with World War II), Japan aggressively attacked mainland China, hoping to expand the Japanese empire onto the Asian continent. Over twenty million Chinese citizens were killed or displaced during the ground invasions. Japan succeeded in capturing many major Chinese cities until it became involved in World War II in 1941, fighting against the United States and other Allied countries. Japan surrendered to Allied forces in 1945, after the United States dropped two atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, killing millions of Japanese citizens. As part of the surrender agreement, China regained all its seized land in 1946.

Other Books Related to The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club is considered a classic text in contemporary Asian American literature, and praised for its nuanced and compassionate characterization of the Chinese immigrant experience and the generational tensions between immigrants and their American-born children. Similar works include Maxine Hong Kingston’s The Woman Warrior and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies. The Joy Luck Club has also been compared to Sandra Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street, for its examination of racial and gender identities across multiple connected short stories.
Key Facts about The Joy Luck Club
  • Full Title: The Joy Luck Club
  • When Written: 1980s
  • Where Written: California
  • When Published: 1989
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Novel
  • Setting: San Francisco, CA; China
  • Climax: Suyuan’s sacrifice of her twin babies on the road to Chungking.
  • Antagonist: Various antagonists depending on storyline, including Japanese troops, Huang Taitai, Second Wife, and sometimes the Joy Luck Club mothers themselves.
  • Point of View: First-person limited

Extra Credit for The Joy Luck Club

Following In Her Footsteps. Just as June meets her Chinese half-sisters for the first time in The Joy Luck Club’s final chapter, Amy Tan went to China to meet her three half-sisters in 1987 at the age of 32. Her mother was forced to leave them behind when she fled Shanghai before the Communist takeover in 1949.

Shared Names. Amy Tan’s Chinese name is “An-mei,” which translates to “a blessing from America.” An-mei is also the name of one of her protagonists in The Joy Luck Club.