Culture, Relationship and Community in Literature

“The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan, is a story of culture, journey, loss, tradition, and most of all; hope. Beautifully constructed, The Joy Luck Club is a story of four Chinese mothers and four Chinese daughters. The book is divided into four parts; sixteen chapters, the main focus in the novel is Jing-Mei Woo (June) the daughter of Suyuan (Joy Luck Club founder). Suyuan has already passed, but her story is still shared through June. After the death of her mother, June replaces her spot in the joy luck club.

The story continues as each mother and daughter presents their perspective of life, the world around them, and their past experiences. The Joy Luck Club, presents the cultural differences, generational gap, and challenges of cultural translation between these Chinese born mothers and Chinese American raised daughters. They come to discover that throughout their struggles, (despite their differences) the bond they share should be cherished. The novel ends with Jing-mei traveling to China to meet her two older sisters, and through this journey she feels her mother’s long cherished wish has been achieved and her Chinese heritage has been found.

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Amy Tan brings attention to the issue of immigration identity through the power of storytelling. Within the novel, the daughters struggle with fully accepting and remaining connected to their chinese heritage/cultural background, in their American surroundings. Most of their childhood was spent trying to break away from their Chinese identity. Jing-mei ignored her Chinese aspects, only wanting to believe that although she looked chinese, on the inside she wasn’t.

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By assimilating to American culture, Jing-mei lost her sense of self and became conflicted about her self-identity. Lena would open her eyes as wide as possible, just to look more European. She felt accustomed to the American beauty standards and wanted to attain those physical features. Overall, all of the daughters liked the American trends and customs; they had the idea that if they denied their true heritage then they would never have to come to terms with it and they wouldn’t have to feel like an outcast. The mothers eventually helped their daughters to embrace their Chinese identities and establish their personal identities.

The mothers find themselves feeling alienated from their loved ones as their thoughts and opinions are often misinterpreted and not fully understood. While, they share many stories about their personal experiences, and try to validate their advice for their daughters it is hard for the daughters to grasp the mothers viewpoint. Although the mothers continue to practice their own culture and tradition they are mentally and physically connected between two worlds. Towards the end of the book, in the chapter “Double Face”, Lindo Jong truly speaks on how it feels to have two separate identities. She returned to China after not being there for almost forty years. She took off her expensive jewelry, wore normal clothes, used local money, and spoke their language. But, even with all of this, something was different. She was changed, they could see both of her faces, the Chinese and the American in her. They knew she was not fully Chinese, not anymore. She deals with the loss of her homeland, a country that once recognized her as their own and the alienation in a country she now lives in. She now asks: What did truly she gain? What has been lost? Amy Tan truly resonates with the readers of “The Joy Luck Club” as she uses the stories within the novel to reflect the overarching theme of the complex relationship between mothers and daughters.

“The Joy Luck Club” was published in 1989, a time where it portrayed the time period perfectly. In writing the novel, Amy Tan focused on capturing the way of life in the 1980s, for the Chinese American community, but also all around the world. By illuminating the cultural and historical contexts of the 1980s, Tan captured worldwide attention. “The Joy Luck Club” soon brought awareness to the different aspects of immigration. The struggles, the losses, and the possibilities of what it means to be an immigrant. During the 1980s and 1990s, “almost 39,000 immigrants from China moved to America, admitted in 1992.” ( The Immigration Act of 1965, invalidated the 1924 Immigration Act (which restricted Asian immigration). This was a primary reason for this influx of immigrants to America in the years after. Asian Americans were “the nation’s fastest-growing minority group, by far.” (CQ Researcher) Earlier in the century, “Chinese immigrant children went segregated schools in the ‘Chinatowns’ where they lived.” Japanese Americans faced prejudice because of Japan’s involvement in World War II, and Chinese Americans also faced prejudice from people who thought they were Japanese. In the novel, the mothers and daughters both struggle to find their place in a country that constantly finds ways to alienate them.

The issue of immigration identity developed through racism, exclusion, and lack of services and support for immigrants. The racism faced when entering a new unfamiliar environment is overwhelming. The exclusion sets immigrants apart and makes them feel like they don’t belong in a place they tried so hard to get to. Most people don’t acknowledge all of the sacrifices and time it takes to really immigrate to another country. Many countries don’t offer services/support that immigrants actually need to have a stable job, house, etc.

The issue of immigration identity still exists due to the fact how difficult it is to find a personal identity, especially when you are mixed with multiple races. Your identity would extend beyond just balancing two cultures, to balancing several cultures. The stereotypical perspective that you can only adapt to one culture when you are made up of many different cultures is impractical.

If Amy Tan wrote “The Joy Luck Club” in modern day, the aspects of Immigration would be different. In that time period, Asian American immigration was at its beginning and people were not as accepting. Immigrants who came over to America were mainly given low-wage unskilled jobs and weren’t treated as equals. Despite the struggles of immigration today, there are more opportunities for immigrants to have better jobs, be welcomed in a more diverse environment, and become immersed in all America has to offer. Amy Tan would write the novel still reflecting being tied between two worlds but also being able to experience a part of home in a new country. America is more open to many different cultures and it would be easier to celebrate Chinese traditions/embrace your heritage.

The solution to immigration identity is immigration reform. Everyone really needs to be involved for real change, primarily the government. Our perspective of immigrants has to be more accepting as a whole. There needs to be real effort in getting immigrants a stable job that they can provide for themselves and/or their family, children a better education, and easier paperwork. Instead of limiting immigration, improve it. There has to be more community connectedness and the willingness for change. There has to be a form of multiculturalism.


  • Tan, A. (1989). The Joy Luck Club. NY: Ivy Books.
  • Leepson, M., & Worsnop, R. L. (1991). Asian Americans (Vol. 1, Rep.).
  • ‘the nation’s fastest-growing minority group, by far’
  • Xiao-huang Yin. (1998, February). Immigration and the Asian-American experience.
  • World and I, 13(2), 330+. Retrieved from
  • Immigration Act of 1965 Boosts Asian American Population. (2003). In DISCovering Multicultural America: African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans. Detroit, MI: Gale. Retrieved from
  • “invalidated the 1924 Immigration Act”
  • Henrickson, S.-H. (2003). Overview of The Joy Luck Club. In EXPLORING Novels. Detroit, MI: Gale. Retrieved from
  • ‘Themes and Construction: The Joy Luck Club.’ EXPLORING Novels, Gale, 2003. Research in Context, Accessed 4 Dec. 2018.
  • ‘Historical Context: The Joy Luck Club.’ EXPLORING Novels, Gale, 2003. Research in Context, Accessed 8 Dec. 2018.
  • “ almost 39,000 immigrants admitted in 1992.”
  • “immigrant children attended segregated schools in the ‘Chinatowns’ where they lived.”

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Culture, Relationship and Community in Literature. (2022, Feb 11). Retrieved from

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