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The Joy Luck Club
by Amy Tan
Jing-mei (June) Woo Timeline and Summary
When the novel opens, Jing-mei’s mother, Suyuan, has just died from a cerebral aneurysm. Her father asks Jing-mei to take her mother’s place at the Joy Luck Club, which Jing-mei is nervous about doing. At the first meeting, her mother’s best friends ("aunties") tell her that Suyuan’s twin daughters have been located in China. The aunties give Jing-mei enough money for her and her father to meet the twins in Shanghai. Jing-mei is touched by this loyalty to her mother, but fearful of having to tell her sisters about their mother. We enter into a flashback of Jing-mei’s childhood. After seeing the wild success of Waverly, Jing-mei’s mother is convinced that her daughter can be a prodigy too. Jing-mei attempts a number of prodigy-like things: being a Chinese Shirley Temple, memorizing the Bible, doing quick math, memorizing countries and capitals, etc. With each failed attempt, Jing-mei gets sadder and sadder, believing herself to be forever ordinary. One night Jing-mei determines to be ordinary, and so stops trying to be a prodigy. On one fateful evening, Jing-mei’s mother sees a little girl pianist on The Ed Sullivan Show and arranges a way for Jing-mei to receive piano lessons. Jing-mei’s teacher is a deaf man named Mr. Chong who doesn’t notice incorrect notes. So she determines not to try, or rather to not be a good pianist. A few weeks later, Jing-mei has her grand debut at a talent show. She is to play "Pleading Child" by Schumann. Everyone is there, including Jing-mei’s archrival Waverly. Only problem is, Jing-mei’s been practicing her curtsy more often than her scales. She completely and totally bombs her piece. Afterwards, Jing-mei assumes that her piano career is done, but her mother forces the issue. Jing-mei yells at her mother, saying that she’s not the kind of daughter her mother wants. Her mother says there are two kinds of daughters: obedient ones, and ones who follow their own minds. There is room for only one kind of daughter in this house, Jing-mei’s mother declares. Obedient ones. To win the fight, Jing-mei brings up the babies left behind in China. We return to the present day. Jing-mei explains that she continued to deliberately and repeatedly fall short of expectations, and that the fight over piano was never mentioned again. On her thirtieth birthday, Jing-mei’s mother offered her the piano. Jing-mei understands it as a sign of forgiveness. After her mother’s death, Jing-mei has the piano tuned for sentimental reasons. She sits down to play "Pleading Child," and realizes there is a companion piece called "Contented Child." After a while, she realizes they are two parts to the same song. We now flash back to last year’s Chinese New Year’s Eve dinner, when Jing-mei receives her "life’s importance" from her mother. Eleven people are present at the dinner: Waverly, Shoshana, Rich, Lindo, Tin, Vincent, Lisa, Mr. Chong, Jing-mei, Suyuan, and Canning. When the crabs are served, the Jong family takes all the best crabs. Jing-mei’s father and Mr. Chong get the best out of what’s left, leaving Jing-mei and her mother with really bad ones. Jing-mei takes the worst crab (one missing a leg), but her mother stops her and gives her the better of the two crabs. Then Waverly and Jing-mei get into a tiff. Waverly wins. Jing-mei feels bad, and in the kitchen after dinner, her mother gives her the pendent. The flashback ends. In the present, Jing-mei is now in China and is beginning to feeling Chinese. Her father, Canning, is so excited that Jing-mei compares him to a little boy. Jing-mei recaps the discovery of her half-sisters. Her father opened their letter, and the Joy Luck Club ladies wrote back – without telling them that their mother had died. For obvious reasons, this causes Jing-mei a lot of anxiety. She has to be the one to tell her sisters. She imagines the encounter in a number of different ways. Back in the present, Jing-mei and her father arrive in Guangzhou, where they are meeting Canning’s family. Members of Canning’s family (most importantly Canning’s aunt, who he hasn’t seen since he was nine) are there to greet them at the train station. Jing-mei takes Polaroid pictures while feeling overwhelmed by the rapidly spoken Chinese. They arrive at a sumptuous hotel, which, despite its grandeur, is very affordable. That night, they eat American food: hamburgers, French fries, and apple pie. Jing-mei wakes up in the middle of the night to hear Canning telling his aunt about Suyuan’s story. The next day, Jing-mei and her father leave Guangzhou for Shanghai, where they will meet the twins. They see each other, hug, and cry. Suyuan’s long-cherished wish has been fulfilled.