This fascinating novel begins when Jing-Mei Woo joins the Joy Luck Club to replace her late mother Suyuan. The Joy Luck Club was founded by Suyuan when she was a young woman living in China, but she formed a new one when she moved to the U.S. with her church friends: Lindo Jong, An-Mei Hsu, and Ying Ying St. Clair. The book illustrates the relationships between the mothers of the club and their daughters through mini sections from the perspective of each person.
Structurally, this book is composed in a very different way. There are four books within the novel and four sections in those, each narrated by a different character. Instead of the same narrator throughout the book, each section is told in the eyes of a mother or daughter, except for Suyuan (who has recently passed away). This way of telling the story is very helpful for character development. For example, according to Jing-Mei talking about Lindo Jong, “Auntie Lin looks exasperated, as though I were a simple child” (Tan 22). But in a section devoted to Lindo’s story, she looks at herself in a different way, “I was strong. I was pure. I had genuine thoughts inside that no one could see, that no one could ever take away from me” (Tan 53). This not only shows the harsh and slightly discouraging side of Lindo, but also her internal strength.
Sexism is a prominent theme in this book. There is an instance of arranged marriage involving Lindo, and she is matched up to marry when she was only two years old. Lindo soon learns her role as an obedient wife: to cook, clean, and produce grandchildren for her mother-in-law. Lindo struggles to keep her mother-in-law happy while her husband sits around all day and orders her around. Mother Ying Ying St. Clair witnesses the mystical Moon Lady speak, “‘For a woman is yin…the darkness within, where untempered passions lie. And man is yang, bright truth lighting our minds'” (Tan 82). This shows how women were treated as untrustworthy and unpredictable and men as the leaders of society.
Once again discussing Lindo Jong’s arranged marriage, the symbol of the red candle also shows what marriage means for a woman. The day after the wedding ceremony, a red candle with a wick at either end is lit, and if it burns throughout the night without going out and only ashes remain by morning, the marriage will thrive. However, if the candle goes out, it is seen as inauspicious and a sign of future back luck. The red candle is a ticking time clock until a woman is no longer free, until she is property of her husband and his family, a mere object. The candle flame is the chains that bind a woman to her promise that she made to her husband, to always be loyal and obedient. As long as it burns, the bride is trapped and doomed to a life of oppression.
So far I enjoy the book very much. I think it would be a good read for future freshman classes because it is relatively easy without difficult vocabulary. There are some sensitive subjects involved, but it works for the theme of identity. It also goes hand in hand with the history unit we are learning now, because it talks about the Japanese invading China and its effects on the people and Confucian beliefs. I can’t wait to see how the story progresses.