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The Joy Luck Club

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.