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Free Study Guide-The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan-Free Booknotes Online
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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS

The plot of The Joy Luck Club is both loose and complex. It is really a group of separate stories woven around the members of a ladiesí club, located in San Franciscoís Chinatown. The disparate stories are held together by the fact that all four of the women have daughters of approximately the same age and background. Although each of the daughters is Chinese by heritage, they were all born in the United States and have become very Americanized. Each of the mothers has difficulty trying to understand her modernized daughter and struggles to instill in each of them Chinese traditions and values. In addition, each of the four mothers in the novel suffered greatly in their previous life in China and feels bonded to each other by the struggles. Each, however, handles the suffering in a different way.

The novel, which is about four mothers and their four daughters, is appropriately divided into four sections, each of which is divided into four parts. Each of the sections is introduced by a parable that relates to the four parts that follow it. Then each of the four parts is told by a different mother or daughter. The parts (or chapters) are always narrated in first person in the present tense; but each part is filled with flashbacks. The mothers usually look back to their experiences in China, and the daughters reflect on their childhoods.


Since the book is really a series of stories, the plot is not unified by time, place, or character. Since much of the book consists of flashbacks, the time of the novel spans several decades. Although the current tale is all set in or around San Francisco, there are diverse locations, including the homes of the mothers and their adult daughters. The setting also encompasses China, for the flashbacks are often set there, and Jing-Mei and her father travel there in the last chapter of the book. Additionally, the book is not unified by character. Instead, it is a complex tale of four mothers and four daughters, most of whom narrate at least two of the chapters; therefore, even the point of view changes throughout the book.

In spite of the looseness of the plot, Amy Tan does a marvelous job of weaving the separate stories into a whole. The book begins and ends with Jing-Mei telling the story of her mother, Suyuan; she also narrates two additional chapters within the novel. Jing-Meiís story becomes related to all the others in the novel, for she takes the place of Suyuan in the Joy Luck Club and learns about the past of An-Mei, Ying-ying, and Lindo. Jing-Mei also knows the other daughters. In fact, when Jing-Mei was a young girl, Suyuan constantly held Waverly up to her as a model to emulate.

The novel is further unified by theme. Each of the mothers strives to instill in her daughter their Chinese heritage and customs. Each of the daughters, who want to be Americans, resists being Chinese. By the end of the novel, however, Jing-Mei, Waverly, Lena, and Rose all have a better appreciation of their mothers and the tradition in which they were raised. The similarity of their experiences is the final unifying factor that holds the loose plot together into a complex whole.

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