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Themes

The novel is anchored firmly in this Chinese-American world, where the daughters are too American for their mothers, and the mothers are too Chinese for their daughters. What this boils down to, in many cases, is that the daughters are not as respectful as their mothers would wish, and the mothers are too critical and old-fashioned according to the daughters. Intermittently throughout the book, however, we see how the bigger American world interacts with this Chinese-American one. In these cases, even Chinese-Americans, like the daughters, are seen as foreign, and occasionally encounter racism.

Questions About Foreignness and 'The Other'

  1. How do Americans see the various women of The Joy Luck Club? As old Chinese women who can’t speak English? As threats to a stable social position? More importantly perhaps, how do the women react to these various white American views?
  2. How do the older women of The Joy Luck Club react to the aid they receive from white Americans?
  3. Are there any clues that the Chinese mothers try to "Americanize"? To what extent do they try to become more American?
  4. We see (intimately, at least) only one non-Chinese mother-daughter relationship in The Joy Luck Club, the Sorcis, who are Italian-American. How does their relationship differ from the Chinese mothers and daughters? How is it similar?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The older generation of women in The Joy Luck Club remain foreign in the U.S. despite living in America for many, many years.

Amy Tan does not present a fair and balanced portrait of white America.

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