The Joy Luck Club Plot Summary
After her mother Suyuan's death, thirty-six year old Jing-mei (June) Woo joins The Joy Luck Club. The club, which Suyuan founded in China during the war, consists of four women playing mah jong, eating good dinners, and gambling. Suyuan created the club as a way to improve the spirits of her friends during wartime. Her first husband died in the war and she was forced to abandon their twin baby daughters on the side of a road. Soon after, she met and married Canning Woo and moved to America. There, she restarted the club with three other women her age: An-mei Hsu, Lindo Jong, and Ying-ying St. Clair. The four women and their daughters, who are about the same age, grow older together, and each mother/daughter relationship is full of sadness, anger and joy. June, for example, isn't sure she can replace a dead mother she hardly knew. Then she learns that her mother's other daughters have been found: they live in China, and the other women of the Joy Luck Club are sending June to meet them.
The mothers remember their childhood in China. An-mei lived with her grandmother and was forbidden to even speak her mother's name. When her mother tried to rescue her, she was sent away. Everyone tells An-mei that her mother dishonored their family by marrying again after her husband died. Still, her mother returned to nurse her own mother after she grew very sick. Lindo's marriage was arranged when she was very young. She hated the spoiled young man she was required to live with. When he wouldn't sleep with her and her mother-in-law demanded a baby, Lindo made up a story about an angry ancestor who would kill her husband if they stayed married. She was given enough money to go to America and told to keep her mouth shut about their curse. Ying-ying remembers going to a moon festival as a young girl and finding out that the magic and ceremony is often just an act.
The daughters remember growing up with Chinese mothers in California. Sometimes they felt like they weren't Chinese at all, and didn't know how to deal with the Chinese culture in their homes. Waverly was a chess champion, but she quit when she and Lindo fought and Lindo told her it was not as easy to play or not play as she believed. Now she worries that her mother will not accept her second husband. Lindo was always able to make Waverly change her mind, seeing flaws where she once saw perfection, and she doesn't want this to happen with Rich. Lena remembers her mother as a meek woman who always wondered what bad thing would happen next. She made Lena just as meek and afraid-but Lena learned from a neighbor that not every problem is the end of the world. She knows her mother can see things before they happen, so she wonders what her mother will think of her relationship with her husband: he bullies her and takes her for granted. Sure enough, Ying-ying doesn't understand Lena's life with Harold. Rose Jordan has some of the same problems with lack of confidence. Her husband asked her for a divorce recently because she could never make any decisions. Rose still feels guilty because her youngest brother died by accident when she was fourteen. She can't decide what to do about her husband. Then she realizes that her mother supports her. She sleeps for three days and then contacts her husband, telling him that she will not leave their house like he wants her to. She will fight for it. June Woo remembers that her mother was never satisfied with her: she always wanted June to be a genius, so June was determined to waste any talent she had, just to spite her mother. As an adult, June has always felt inferior to Waverly, and believed her mother thought she was as well. During new year's dinner, she got into a fight with Waverly, and afterward her mother told her that she understood her and implied that she loved her.
The mothers think about their pasts. An-mei remembers that her mother killed herself to make a better life for her children, because in a marriage with four other wives, that was the only way for her children to have any of the benefits from her rich husband (who she was forced to marry, contrary to what her family believed). Ying-ying remembers how she gave up her strength, her will, so that she would no longer be hurt when bad things happened to her. She now realizes that in doing this she has made her daughter weak as well, and resolves to teach her daughter to be strong. Lindo remembers how she came to America, and, looking at her adult daughter Waverly, she sees how similar they are-both inside and out. The book ends with June going to China to meet her half-sisters. Her father is happily reunited with his family. June is at first nervous, but when she meets first her father's family and then her sisters, she sees that part of her is Chinese after all: her blood.