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Critical Analysis of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club

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The third quarter of the book, “American Translation,” explores the stories of the four daughters. In “Rice Husband,” Lena St. Clair discusses her deteriorating marriage with her husband Harold. From the beginning of their courtship, the two had always split things--money, chores, etc. Lena doesn’t fully realize how detrimental her relationship is until her mother visits her house and subtly criticizes their relationship. The chapter ends with her mother asking why she never stopped it from happening in the first place. Amy Tan highlights this theme of doing versus waiting, in which one can easily avoid a circumstance but chooses not to. On a more metaphorical level, Tan criticizes the distances within relationships, whether they are gender roles or monetary dealings.

The next chapter, “Four Directions,” is narrated by Waverly Jong who finds herself unwilling to tell her mother that she is marrying Rich. She recalls the last time her mother was angry—when she quit playing chess and eloped with a boy in high school. She expresses her fear that her mother may corrupt her perfect view of Rich if she told her she was marrying him. At one meal they have, Rich acts too “American” and addresses Waverly’s parents by their informal names. Eventually, Waverly musters the courage to tell her mother, only to find out that she already knew of their marriage. In the end, Waverly decides to have the honeymoon in China, thus returning from the west to the east. Amy Tan, again, shows the importance and the permanence of one’s origins and heritage in finding one’s self-worth and identity.

In “Without Wood,” Rose Hsu-Jordan, laments over her decision to divorce Ted. Upon sending the divorce papers, Ted also gives her a ten-thousand dollar check. Rose, who is conflicted and unable to let go, ignores the papers. She recalls her mother’s superstition where she is said to be “without wood,” thus bending too easily to other people’s will. She begins questioning herself—what she really wanted to get out of the divorce and what she wanted from the marriage in the first place. She even goes to her psychiatrist in search for answers. After two weeks, Ted comes over, demanding she signs the papers. She does so and gives him the papers; however, she asserts that she is staying in the house and keeping it after she finds a lawyer to defend her. She realizes the power of her words which are able to assert her demands. In this chapter, Amy Tan suggests it is imperative to have a voice and to be your own individual self, guided by no one else.

In the next chapter, “Best Quality,” Jing-Mei Woo recounts a New Year’s day, where she shopped with her mother. They purchased eleven crabs to cook for their dinner in which they invited Waverly’s family. The dinner is awkward as Waverly and Jing-Mei subtly insult each other and their jobs. After the dinner, Jing-Mei, thinking her mother is ashamed of her, finds out the opposite is true, and her mother tells her that she only picks out the worst. Through this, Jing-Mei discovers that she doesn’t really know her mother all that well. Amy Tan emphasizes the relationship between mother and daughter—parent and child.

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The last quarter of the book, “Queen Mother of the Western Skies,” begins with An-Mei Hsu’s story in China. She flees her home with her mother, who is the fourth concubine for a rich man. An-Mei discovers that she loves her new home, which is western, American, and rich. However, when she meets the other concubines, the second one manipulates the man, Wu Tsing. Soon, her mother commits suicide by poisoning herself. Wu Tsing fears her ghost will return to get revenge, so he promises to care for An-Mei as if she were his own daughter. The second wife becomes fearful as well. Amy Tan comments on one’s ability to change his or her destiny—the ability of one to have free will.

In “Waiting Between Trees,” Ying-Ying St. Clair describes how she has always had the ability to predict something before it actually happens. Her marriage, for example, in China was to a man she knew she would marry, though reluctantly. Later, this man cheats on her and leaves her for another girl. Depressed, Ying-Ying becomes a shop girl where she meets Harold St. Clair, and she knows she will marry him. In present-day, she predicts that her own daughter will divorce her husband, even though she chooses to do nothing about it. This chapter largely focuses on the differences between the two cultures: Chinese and American. The daughters know nothing about their mothers’ lives.

In “Double Face,” Lindo Jong expresses her frustration between her Americanized daughter and her Chinese self. She then tells the story of how she met her husband and complains that her daughter tells her American friends a completely different story. She laments that it is too late to change anything. All she wanted for her daughter was to get the best out of both cultures, but she ended up being more American than Chinese. She now wonders which is better. In this chapter, Amy Tan stresses the dichotomy between American and Chinese cultures as well as their values. And while she takes no apparent side, it is apparent that both have their advantages and detriments and that a balance between the two is necessary for understanding each other.

In the final chapter “A Pair of Tickets,” Jing-Mei begins her trip to China to meet her twin sisters. Along the way, she thinks of her mother and how she never really knew her. Her father travels with her to see his aunt. When they arrive, her father happily greets Aiyi, and Jing-Mei fears what she will say when she sees her sisters. However, when they finally arrive, her sisters know it is her.

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Critical Analysis of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 1, 2024, from
“Critical Analysis of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022,
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