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The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club


by Amy Tan

The Joy Luck Club Theme of Language and Communication

In The Joy Luck Club, linguistic barriers are an extremely important reason the mothers and daughters continually misunderstand each other. The daughters were all born in the U.S. while their mothers are Chinese immigrants who speak broken English. Linguistic barriers also exist between the mothers and the daughters’ love interests, resulting in strained relationships with the in-laws.

Questions About Language and Communication

  1. Some of us here at Shmoop would argue that there’s "mother-speak" and "child-speak," and the two are just not the same language. In The Joy Luck Club, "mother-speak" just happens to be Chinese, and "child-speak" just happens to be English. What are your thoughts? Is the whole Chinese-English thing the least of these women’s problems, or is it the biggest barrier to mutual understanding?
  2. To what extent does "linguistic barriers" simply mean "cultural barriers"?
  3. Which women have the worst language problems? Does this mean they also have the worst other sorts of problems as well?
  4. How is it that Lena and Harold have language and communication problems even though they both speak English? Is this Harold’s fault for not being understanding? Does Lena not communicate well out of old habits from her family (Ying-ying and St. Clair don’t speak the same language)? Or is it something else?

Chew on This

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

Because of linguistic difficulties, the older generation must instead use stories to impart their life lessons.

Linguistic barriers are merely another manifestation of deeper estrangements between mother and daughter – namely, cultural differences.

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