Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements for “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “The Joy Luck Club” in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “The Joy Luck Club” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Power of Story
The Joy Luck Club is a novel of stories within stories. The way in which people relate with one another, the currency of their communication, is the stories that they tell about themselves, about their society, and about their traditions. In this way, through stories that are often elaborately-wrought and profoundly imagistic, the character reveal their conflicts and their strengths and values. There are a number of options among which you could select to examine the power of the story: (1) What, exactly, is the power of the story? Why do the characters engage in story-telling instead of directly narrating their experiences? To what degree is this story-telling cultural? (2) Examine one or more specific stories and analyze their characteristics. Identify the elements that constitute a “good" or effective story within the novel. Make an evaluation about which story is most powerful or least powerful, and defend your decision with textual evidence, which may include references to the reactions of the listeners of the story.Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Culture Clashes
One of the most important themes in The Joy Luck Club is what happens at intersection of American and Chinese cultures. When one character observes, “I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these things do not mix?” (254) she is making a statement about the possibility or impossibility of two distinct cultures finding compatibility with one another. Consider this statement and write an argumentative essay in which you either support or refute her claim that “these things do not mix." Be sure to incorporate evidence from the text, and offer conclusions about the consequences of accepting the position that you have chosen. For example, if you believe that “these things do not mix," how can an immigrant live comfortably in his or her new country? You may choose to address these implications in your essay on “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan by examining the consequences for the characters in the novel; alternately, you may decide to offer more general conclusions about the consequences for immigrants and society at large.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Life Lessons in “The Joy Luck Club
The Joy Luck Club contains numerous lessons, lessons that mothers convey to their daughters, and lessons that daughters teach their mothers through the crucible of their vastly different life experiences. Some of the lessons that are shared can be found in the quotes included below. Select one or more of the lessons that you consider to be most important and analyze its meaning, both literally and symbolically. Address the function that the lesson plays in the novel and in the lives of the characters, and in doing so, consider the following: What does the person giving the lesson expect by sharing it? What happens when the lesson is either not understood or not applied? How are relationships shaped and re-negotiated by the lessons that are taught?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Autobiographical Links
Many of Amy Tan’s novels focus on Chinese and Chinese-American cultures and the immigrant experience. Amy Tan was actually not born in China—she was born in California—but her parents’ experiences and her interest in her heritage serve as the seed of inspiration for almost all of her literary work. The Joy Luck Club is perhaps the most autobiographical of her novels. Consider the following:
“Just as she was embarking on this new career, Tan's mother fell ill. Amy Tan promised herself that if her mother recovered, she would take her to China, to see the daughter who had been left behind almost forty years before. Mrs. Tan regained her health and mother and daughter departed for China in 1987. The trip was a revelation for Tan. It gave her a new perspective on her often-difficult relationship with her mother, and inspired her to complete the book of stories she had promised her agent." (http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/tan0bio-1)
Taking this information about the background of this novel and expanding upon it with your own research about Tan and theories related to autobiographical elements in fiction, write an essay in which you explain the function of autobiographical elements in The Joy Luck Club. You can also write an argumentative essay using this information and argue ways texts cannot be separated from the author.
This list of important quotations from “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “The Joy Luck Club” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “The Joy Luck Club” above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Amy Tan they are referring to.
“Over the years, she told me the same story, except for the ending, which grew darker, casting long shadows into her life, and eventually into mine.” (21)
“Even though I was young, I could see the pain of the flesh and the worth of the pain.” (48)
“I was no longer scared. I could see what was inside me.”(59)
“I discovered that maybe it was fate all along, that faith was just an illusion that somehow you're in control.” (121)
“I had new thoughts, willful thoughts, or rather thoughts filled with lots of won'ts. I won't let her change me, I promised myself. I won't be what I'm not.” (134)
“Only two kind of daughters. Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!” (142)
“And I remember wondering why it was that eating something good could make me feel so terrible…." (154)
“I saw what I had been fighting for: it was for me, a scared child…” (183)
“That was the night, in the kitchen, that I realized I was no better than who I was…. I felt tired and foolish, as if I had been running to escape someone chasing me, only to look behind and discover there was no one there.” (207)
“Then you must teach my daughter this same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever.” (213)
“I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these things do not mix?” (254)
Reference: Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Penguin, 2006.
1. “What will I say? What can I tell them about my mother? I don’t know anything. . . .” The aunties are looking at me as if I had become crazy right before their eyes. . . . And then it occurs to me. They are frightened. In me, they see their own daughters, just as ignorant. . . . They see daughters who grow impatient when their mothers talk in Chinese . . . who will bear grandchildren born without any connecting hope passed from generation to generation.
This quote, which is found at the end of the book’s first story, “The Joy Luck Club,” establishes some of the central themes of the novel. The passage establishes Jing-mei Woo as a representative of the book’s younger generation, the American-born daughters who feel largely out of touch with their Chinese identities and with their Chinese mothers. As Jing-mei acknowledges this, she also shows a deep sympathy with the older generation. She understands their fears about their daughters, their distress at the idea that their hopes and dreams may not survive them in these modern American women for whom so many of the old values no longer have meaning.
However, even while Jing-mei perceives the mother-daughter gap from both sides, this double perception ultimately serves not to accentuate the gap, but to bridge it. Throughout the novel, Jing-mei provides the connecting voice between the generations. She tells both the story of an American-born daughter longing for independence and the story of her mother, who fought hard to give her daughters the freedoms that she never had. Thus, by the last chapter of the book, Jing-mei will come to represent a figure of hope for both generations, that they might understand each other better than they had thought, that they might share in a dialogue of love that often transcends linguistic and cultural barriers.
2. I . . . looked in the mirror. . . . 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. I was like the wind. . . . And then I draped the large embroidered red scarf over my face and covered these thoughts up. But underneath the scarf I still knew who I was. I made a promise to myself: I would always remember my parents’ wishes, but I would never forget myself.
In this quotation, which is from Lindo Jong’s narrative “The Red Candle,” Lindo introduces what will become an important link between herself and her daughter Waverly. Here she narrates how she first came to recognize her inner invisible strength, a strength that her daughter will inherit and come to use in her chess matches.
This strength gives Lindo the power to endure the hardships that a restrictive and patriarchal society forces upon her. She stares into the mirror as she prepares for her arranged marriage to a man she does not love, knowing that to flee the marriage would be to go back on her parents’ promise to her husband’s family. Yet she also makes a promise to herself, which she determines to honor with equal devotion.
Lindo’s lesson in balancing duty to one’s parents and duty to oneself also links her to her own daughter, and to all of the daughters in the book, who must learn to revere their heritage and their elders without becoming passive, without giving up their own desires and aspirations. While the struggle for this balance often alienates mothers and daughters, it also brings them closer together, for all of them have faced this challenge at some point in their lives, whether or not the mothers choose to recollect it.
The central event in this passage—Lindo’s recognition of her value and her subsequent covering of it with her scarf—symbolizes another lesson in balance. She learns to listen to her own heart and maintain her strength even as she hides these away beneath the scarf. She knows that sometimes the strongest force is a hidden one. Although this gesture of concealment can also easily become a gesture of passivity, Lindo escapes the passivity that characterizes so many of the other female characters in The Joy Luck Club because she knows when to expose what she hides.
3. “A mother is best. A mother knows what is inside you,” she said. . . . “A psyche-atricks will only make you hulihudu, make you see heimongmong.” Back home, I thought about what she said. . . . [These] were words I had never thought about in English terms. I suppose the closest in meaning would be “confused” and “dark fog.”But really, the words mean much more than that. Maybe they can’t be easily translated because they refer to a sensation that only Chinese people have. . . .
This quotation is from Rose Hsu Jordan’s story “Without Wood.” Rose and her mother An-mei sit in church and speak about Rose’s visits to the psychiatrist. Challenging her daughter’s adherence to what she feels is an odd Western convention, An-mei asks Rose why she feels she must tell a psychiatrist—a complete stranger—about her marital woes, when she refuses to confide in her mother about them.
Linguistic barriers between Chinese and American cultures are especially prominent in this section of the novel, “American Translation.” The passage highlights linguistic discrepancy twice. In the first instance, An-mei appears unable to pronounce “psychiatrist.” Yet her mispronunciation may also be deliberate: by calling the doctor a “psyche-atricks,” she may be deviously disparaging him as someone who plays tricks on the psyche—a quack not to be trusted. The second illustration of language barriers arises in Rose’s own meditations on the Chinese words her mother has used. She struggles to explain them and then wonders whether they can be “translated” into English at all. While one might find substitutes for them in English, she doubts whether the true feeling they connote can be felt by a non-Chinese person. The question then becomes whether these problems of translation inevitably alienate immigrant mothers from their American-born daughters, leading to the situation that An-mei complains of: a situation in which mother and daughter are unable to confide in each other or discuss their inner experiences with one another—in which they must go to strangers for help and support.
4. Her wisdom is like a bottomless pond. You throw stones in and they sink into the darkness and dissolve. Her eyes looking back do not reflect anything. I think this to myself even though I love my daughter. She and I have shared the same body. . . . But when she was born, she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and has been swimming away ever since. All her life, I have watched her as though from another shore. And now I must tell her everything about my past. It is the only way to . . . pull her to where she can be saved.
This quotation comes from the beginning of Ying-ying St. Clair’s second narrative, “Waiting Between the Trees.” Seeing her daughter Lena in a painful marriage, Ying-ying resents her daughter’s stubborn refusal to learn from her the Chinese ways of thinking, which Ying-ying regards as wiser than the American ways. Yet she also acknowledges the extent to which her own passivity has led to her daughter’s failure to stand up for herself in a dysfunctional marriage. Thus, she knows that the only way to save her daughter is to tell her story, the story of how her submission to fate and other people’s wills led to discontent and even agony.
The imagery here creates an especially potent effect and resonates throughout the novel. Although Ying-ying thinks of herself and her daughter as having shared the same body, as being of the same flesh, she also sees Lena as having sprung away like a slippery fish that now exists on a distant shore. Significantly, while many of the mother-daughter pairs view themselves as reflections of one another, Ying-ying looks into Lena’s eyes and sees not her reflection but a “bottomless pond.” What joins the women—their mutual passivity—is also what divides them.
Ying-ying’s notion that the telling of a story can “save” her daughter is not unique in The Joy Luck Club. Throughout the book, the mothers insist on the importance of stories not only in guiding their daughters and protecting them from pain, but also in preserving their own memories and hopes, keeping their culture alive.
5. . . . I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these two things do not mix? I taught [my daughter] how American circumstances work. If you are born poor here, it’s no lasting shame. . . . In America, nobody says you have to keep the circumstances somebody else gives you. She learned these things, but I couldn’t teach her about Chinese character . . . How not to show your own thoughts, to put your feelings behind your face so you can take advantage of hidden opportunities. . . . Why Chinese thinking is best.
In this passage from “Double Face,” Lindo Jong questions the feasibility of the mixed cultural identity she once wished for her daughter. She fears that Chinese identity has come to constitute merely Waverly’s exterior, while American identity dominates her interior self. Lindo blames herself for Waverly’s lopsided duality.
Yet, from Waverly’s own narrative, we know that Lindo’s fears are not entirely justified: Waverly exhibits a deep respect and concern for her Chinese identity. Waverly attributes much of her early talent in chess to her mother’s lessons in how “not to show [her] thoughts,” and she seems to have brought this skill to her adulthood.
Just as Lindo’s fears are exaggerated, her descriptions of the American and Chinese ways of life also appear idealized: she seems to believe somewhat naively in the “American Dream,” the notion of equal opportunity for all. At the same time, she describes Chinese thinking as “best” and speaks of the Chinese values of obedience and modesty as if they were universally ascribed to in China.
Thus, when Lindo fears that the American and Chinese cultures cannot mix, she is contemplating the combination of two extremes. In reality, each identity is itself mixed: just as the American culture is not wholly about autonomy and liberty, the Chinese culture is not wholly about passivity, obedience, and self-restraint. Nonetheless, the challenge of finding a way to combine aspects of both into one’s own unique personality is a challenge faced not only by Waverly, but all of the novel’s daughter characters—even, to some extent, by the mother characters, as they become increasingly accustomed to their lives in the United States.