Study Guide

The Joy Luck Club Identity

By Amy Tan


The idea of identity in The Joy Luck Club is one that is adaptable, yet fundamentally unchanging.

In China, identity was based on your family’s social status, who you marry, which number of wife or concubine you are, etc. In America, identity can change with fads – whether or not it’s cool to use your Chinese name, whether you are Chinese American versus just American.

Both mothers and daughters have to grapple with what it means to be Chinese versus being American—and which is better.

Part of identity, however, is unchanging. Your family, for example, makes up an essential part of a person’s identity; your mother is in your bones. The characters also think that being Chinese is in your DNA; it’s a part of your identity that you can’t shrug off.

Questions About Identity

  1. Suyuan seems to think that being Chinese is in your DNA and therefore her daughter is Chinese. Lindo, on the other hand, seems pretty sure that Waverly is not at all Chinese. Why the difference of opinions? Do you agree with either Suyuan or Lindo?
  2. According to this book, what are the hallmarks of being Chinese? Just genetics? How does Lena figure into such a paradigm?
  3. Which characters undergo an identity change?
  4. Are identities fluid in this novel or is there an unchanging, core identity which each character maintains?
  5. How does visiting China help Jing-mei come to terms with her Chinese heritage?

Chew on This

This book argues that there is no such thing as a pure cultural identity.

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