The Joy Luck Club
by Amy Tan
One of our first introductions to Suyuan is as the founder of the Joy Luck Club, or rather, two Joy Luck Clubs. In both China and America, Suyuan starts the club in order to bring together a community of women to celebrate their happiness and luck in life despite the suffering and obstacles they are facing. In China, the suffering is the Sino-Japanese War; in America the challenge is a new culture, a new language, and economic struggle. Through founding of the Joy Luck Club, Suyuan shows that she isn’t the kind of person to sit back and let life happen to her; she’s a go-getter who’s active in seeking out her own happiness and is determined to live life to the fullest no matter what circumstances surround her.
Just as she started two Joy Luck Clubs, Suyuan started two lives: one in China and one in America. In both lives she shows her strength of will and determination. In China, she is born to wealthy family, marries an officer in the army, and gives birth to twin girls. Despite her life of luxury, when she hears that the Japanese are coming to her town and will likely kill her and her daughters, Suyuan takes her children and possessions in a wheelbarrow and leaves town on foot. After the wheelbarrow breaks, her strength is gone, and she’s sure she’ll die, she provides for her daughters as best she can, placing them on the side of the road with money, valuables, and family information so they can be saved.
Clearly Suyuan doesn't die in China like she expects, but she loses her entire family. Again her strength of will triumphs; Suyuan is able to build a new life in America. She remarries, learns English well enough, raises a daughter, and even ends up owning her own apartment complex. Suyuan strongly believes in the American Dream: that a person can come to American and become rich or famous or whatever they want to be, so long as they try. Her notion of America is in line with her own values – Suyuan believes in actively reaching for her own happiness.
Suyuan also has some negative qualities. She is extremely good at finding faults in others, maybe because she is such a go-getter herself. She criticizes other women’s cooking, weaknesses in her friends’ characters, and…her daughter, Jing-mei.
Suyuan and Jing-mei
In her relationship with her daughter, Jing-mei, Suyuan can be very critical. Suyuan has high standards and believes that a person can be anything in America so long as they try – that’s part of why she came to America in the first place. In Suyuan’s mind, Jing-mei doesn’t try hard. A perfect example is when Suyuan attempts to get Jing-mei to play the piano. Though it would be cool if Jing-mei became a piano prodigy, all Suyuan really wants is for her daughter to try hard, mean it, and not give up – all of which Jing-mei refuses to do. Suyuan sees the same lack of determination in her daughter’s college career; Jing-mei can’t pick a major and then ends up not finishing college at all. Since Suyuan came to the U.S. in part to give her future children more options, it is probably difficult to see her daughter not taking full advantage of the opportunities available.
Suyuan and her Long-Cherished-Wish
Suyuan’s name means "Long-Cherished Wish." Maybe when she was given her name, it wasn’t completely appropriate, but as her life progresses, we realize that Suyuan’s long-cherished wish is to be reunited with her twin daughters that she left behind in China.
This is another way in which Suyuan displays her determination: she doesn’t give up hope that she will find her daughters, and continues to work to locate them. Suyuan does everything in her power to find the girls, from touring through China, to writing to friends, begging them to look for her girls. Suyuan’s work pays off, the girls are found, but only after Suyuan’s death from a cerebral aneurysm.
Suyuan’s death may have something to do with her "long-cherished wish" as well. At the opening of the book the ladies of the Joy Luck Club say that Suyuan died "with unfinished business left behind" – she hadn’t yet found her twin daughters. Canning, Suyuan’s husband also says that she died because "she had a new idea inside her head […]. But before it could come out of her mouth, the thought grew too big and burst. It must have been a very bad idea." It was a bad idea – the thought that her long-cherished wish might not be fulfilled, that her twin daughters were dead. Suyuan actually got this idea from Canning. When she had wanted to go to China again, Canning thought she wanted to go be a tourist. Feeling like they were too old to be tourists, he told her that it was "too late." Suyuan took "too late" to mean that it was too late to find her daughters, they were dead. Canning thinks that thought killed her – that’s how important this wish was to her.