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Notes on Characters from The Joy Luck Club

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The Joy Luck Club Major Characters

Jing-mei (June) Woo: Daughter of Suyuan and Canning Woo. Jing-mei always had a troubled relationship with her mother, so when Suyuan dies, she has to deal with her grief, frustration, and her many questions. She never understood why her mother was never satisfied with her. She never knew the whole story of her mother's previous life in China. She does not speak Chinese fluently, and she tried to reject Chinese culture and even, for a while, believed that she was not Chinese at all. After her mother's death, she begins to see that her mother's history is part of her, and China is part of her identity. When she finally meets her mother's other daughters in China, she feels like she has her mother back. She also begins to see that though they often fought and rarely saw eye to eye, her mother did love her and understood her, at times, even better than she understood herself.

Suyuan Woo: Mother of Jing-mei, Wang Chwun Yu and Wang Chwun Hwa. Wife of Canning Woo and, previously, Wang Fuchi. Suyuan had a troubled past--she gave up her twin daughters when they were babies and lost her first husband in the war. Though she married Canning in China and moved to California, she never forgot those babies, and spent her life trying to find them. She was at times a difficult mother for Jing-mei, and she was competitive and bullying to some of her friends. But she cared for her family, and the Joy Luck Club, so everyone misses her when she dies. Her husband and American daughter fulfill her greatest wish--finding her Chinese daughters--to try to bring her a kind of peace she could not have when she was alive.

Lindo Jong: Mother of Waverly, Vincent, and Winston. Wife of Tin Jong. Lindo's best friend is Suyuan, but they fight constantly. Lindo has always tried to take credit for Waverly's success, and because she feels close to her daughter, she tries to control her life. She gets upset when Waverly decides to marry a white man, but when he refuses to be intimidated by her, she accepts him. Lindo, like Suyuan, had a hard life in China--she was forced to marry a man she hated--but she used her cleverness to escape her fate. She received enough money from her in-laws to come to America. She is competitive and intimidating, even to her daughter and husband.

Ying-ying St. Clair: Though she was born a rich and spoiled girl, Ying-ying ends up relatively poor and meek. She believes her haughtiness cursed her. Because she thought she was too good for any man, she was forced to marry a bad man. From then on, she believed that she could see things before they happened, and she gives this power to her daughter Lena. She sees herself as still strong on the inside, but knows that she has willingly given up her strength so she will no longer cause herself such pain. She married Clifford St. Clair without really caring about him--she says she could not care about anyone, because she has turned herself into a ghost. By the end of the book, she realizes that she never should have done this: it has made her daughter weak as well. She decides to show her daughter how to be strong.

An-mei Hsu: Mother of Rose Hsu Jordan, Ruth, Janice, Mark, Matthew, Luke and Bing. Wife of George Hsu. Mother-in-law of Ted Jordan. An-mei is a mixture of strength and weakness. Like her own mother, who committed suicide to give her daughter a better life, An-mei sometimes accepts her sorrows too easily. She acknowledges that she and her daughter Rose are sometimes too easily influenced by others. But she also has a very strong faith in her ability to make things right. When Bing dies, for a long time she fully believes she can bring him back. She learned to have faith in herself, and to stand up for herself, from her mother, who told her to have a strong identity.

Waverly Jong: Daughter of Lindo and Tin, former wife of Marvin, fiance of Rich Schields. Waverly was a proud and often spoiled girl. She was a champion chess player and liked to brag about it. However, even her strong personality was no match for her mother. Lindo made Waverly feel so bad after they fought over her chess abilities that she quit playing chess altogether. Lindo has always been able to influence her and make her see flaws where she never saw them before, so that she, like Lindo, is never satisfied. She is therefore worried that Lindo will make her dislike Rich, her fiance who she loves deeply.

Lena St. Clair: Daughter of Ying-ying and Clifford St. Clair. Wife of Harold Livotny. Lena has always known that her mother was fragile, and she spent her childhood fearing that their family could fall apart at any moment. She thus became fragile and easily frightened herself. Today, she allows her husband to bully her, but is slowly realizing how angry with him she is. She is disappointed with her mother and never understood her father very well. Even though she looks English-Irish like him, she has always felt Chinese. She seems to believe, like Ying-ying, that she and her mother have the same spirit.

Rose Hsu Jordan: Wife of Ted Jordan, daughter of An-mei Hsu. Rose often feels guilty and powerless. She sometimes thinks that she was responsible for her younger brother's death. She accepts the blame that Ted heaps on her for the failure of their marriage. She has nightmares where a traditional Chinese character chases her. At first, she believes that her mother does not understand her, and wants her to stay in her marriage even if she is unhappy. But then she realizes that all her mother wants is for her to be strong. She finally stands up to Ted and suddenly realizes how powerful she really is. Then she feels connected to her mother in a way she never did before.

Minor Characters

Canning Woo: Father of Jing-mei, husband of Suyuan. Canning is a quiet, even-tempered man who often allowed his wife to make the important decisions in their family. He never took anything as seriously as she did. He is very hurt by her death, and wishes he had better understood her need to find her other daughters. When he returns to China, Jing-mei can see he feels happy and at home the way he rarely does in America.

Popo: An-mei's grandmother. An-mei loves her grandmother and sees that her harshness is mostly a sign of love, but she abandons the love of Popo in favor of her mother. Popo never realized that her daughter, An-mei's mother, had not married her second husband willingly, so she died without forgiving her for 'dishonoring' the family.

An-mei's mother: Though she is never named, she has a profound influence over An-mei. Beautiful and stylish, yet condemned to the sad life of a Fourth Wife, she teaches An-mei both how sad life can be and the few ways one can overcome that sadness. She loves her daughter so much that she kills herself so that she can have a better life.

Tyan-yu: Lindo Jong's first husband. Spoiled and bad-tempered, from the time they are very young he tries to hurt her as much as possible. He lies to his mother, telling her that Lindo won't sleep with him, when it is he who will not sleep with Lindo. She escapes him because he is superstitious and cowardly, so when she tells him his ancestors said he would die if he stayed married to her, he was happy to let her leave and gave her enough money to go to America.

Huang Taitai : Lindo's mother in law, Tyan-yu's mother. She spoiled her son all his life, and always believed that her family was better than Lindo's because they were richer. Though she never did any work herself, she enjoys ordering other people around. Though she usually thinks Lindo is stupid, she is frightened when Lindo makes up the story of her dream about their ancestors. Believing that she and her son are in danger, she makes Lindo leave.

Clifford St. Clair: Husband of Ying-ying St. Clair and father of Lena. Though he loved his wife, he never understood her. He did not even speak her language, and had his daughter translate for him. He renamed Ying-ying Betty without a second thought. He never knew that she came from a rich family. He was always cheerful and tried to pretend there was nothing wrong, even when Ying-ying was very depressed. He died young because his arteries were blocked.

Ted Jordan: Husband of Rose Hsu Jordan. He always enjoyed having control over Rose, until he made a mistake in his surgical practice. Then he tried to force her to make more decisions in their life together, and got angry when she could not. He cheated on her and told her he wanted a divorce, trying to bully her into giving up her house. When he sees he can no longer control her, he is afraid.

Bing Hsu: Rose's younger brother, who drowned at the beach because no one was watching him. His death is the reason that An-mei lost her faith in God--she believed that Bing could not be really dead, and tried to bring him back with her faith. When she saw this could not be done, she put her bible under the table in the kitchen.

Harold Livotny: Lena St. Clair's husband. He takes much of the credit for Lena's work, underpays her, and takes her for granted. He insists they share all costs, and reminds her often that he makes more money than she does. He controls what they buy and what their house looks like. Lena wonders who hurt him so much that he rejects the intimacy that comes from sharing.

Rich Schields: Waverly Jong's fiance. He loves her for being herself, something she never experienced before. He takes care of her daughter and is not intimidated by her mother, even though Lindo at first dislikes him because he is white. He fits comfortably into her life, accepting her Chinese heritage and her American cultural background.

Shoshana Jong : Waverly's daughter with her first husband. Though Waverly hadn't planned to have Shoshana, she now loves her unconditionally. She is very pleased that Shoshana and Rich get along.

Wu Tsing : An-mei's mother's second husband. He raped mother so that she would be forced to marry him. Superstitious and selfish, he cheats on all his wives and throws his money away, but then repents of all his sins when mother kills herself.

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