Below you will find four outstanding thesis statements for “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan that can be used as essay starters or paper topics. All five incorporate at least one of the themes found in the text and are broad enough so that it will be easy to find textual support, yet narrow enough to provide a focused clear thesis statement. These thesis statements offer a short summary of “The Joy Luck Club” in terms of different elements that could be important in an essay. You are, of course, free to add your own analysis and understanding of the plot or themes to them for your essay. Using the essay topics below in conjunction with the list of important quotes from “The Joy Luck Club” at the bottom of the page, you should have no trouble connecting with the text and writing an excellent essay.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #1: The Power of Story
The Joy Luck Club is a novel of stories within stories. The way in which people relate with one another, the currency of their communication, is the stories that they tell about themselves, about their society, and about their traditions. In this way, through stories that are often elaborately-wrought and profoundly imagistic, the character reveal their conflicts and their strengths and values. There are a number of options among which you could select to examine the power of the story: (1) What, exactly, is the power of the story? Why do the characters engage in story-telling instead of directly narrating their experiences? To what degree is this story-telling cultural? (2) Examine one or more specific stories and analyze their characteristics. Identify the elements that constitute a “good" or effective story within the novel. Make an evaluation about which story is most powerful or least powerful, and defend your decision with textual evidence, which may include references to the reactions of the listeners of the story.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #2: Culture Clashes
One of the most important themes in The Joy Luck Club is what happens at intersection of American and Chinese cultures. When one character observes, “I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these things do not mix?” (254) she is making a statement about the possibility or impossibility of two distinct cultures finding compatibility with one another. Consider this statement and write an argumentative essay in which you either support or refute her claim that “these things do not mix." Be sure to incorporate evidence from the text, and offer conclusions about the consequences of accepting the position that you have chosen. For example, if you believe that “these things do not mix," how can an immigrant live comfortably in his or her new country? You may choose to address these implications in your essay on “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan by examining the consequences for the characters in the novel; alternately, you may decide to offer more general conclusions about the consequences for immigrants and society at large.
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #3: Life Lessons in “The Joy Luck Club
The Joy Luck Club contains numerous lessons, lessons that mothers convey to their daughters, and lessons that daughters teach their mothers through the crucible of their vastly different life experiences. Some of the lessons that are shared can be found in the quotes included below. Select one or more of the lessons that you consider to be most important and analyze its meaning, both literally and symbolically. Address the function that the lesson plays in the novel and in the lives of the characters, and in doing so, consider the following: What does the person giving the lesson expect by sharing it? What happens when the lesson is either not understood or not applied? How are relationships shaped and re-negotiated by the lessons that are taught?
Thesis Statement / Essay Topic #4: Autobiographical Links
Many of Amy Tan’s novels focus on Chinese and Chinese-American cultures and the immigrant experience. Amy Tan was actually not born in China—she was born in California—but her parents’ experiences and her interest in her heritage serve as the seed of inspiration for almost all of her literary work. The Joy Luck Club is perhaps the most autobiographical of her novels. Consider the following:
“Just as she was embarking on this new career, Tan's mother fell ill. Amy Tan promised herself that if her mother recovered, she would take her to China, to see the daughter who had been left behind almost forty years before. Mrs. Tan regained her health and mother and daughter departed for China in 1987. The trip was a revelation for Tan. It gave her a new perspective on her often-difficult relationship with her mother, and inspired her to complete the book of stories she had promised her agent." (http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/tan0bio-1)
Taking this information about the background of this novel and expanding upon it with your own research about Tan and theories related to autobiographical elements in fiction, write an essay in which you explain the function of autobiographical elements in The Joy Luck Club. You can also write an argumentative essay using this information and argue ways texts cannot be separated from the author.
This list of important quotations from “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan will help you work with the essay topics and thesis statements above by allowing you to support your claims. All of the important quotes from “The Joy Luck Club” listed here correspond, at least in some way, to the paper topics above and by themselves can give you great ideas for an essay by offering quotes and explanations about other themes, symbols, imagery, and motifs than those already mentioned and explained. Aside from the thesis statements for “The Joy Luck Club” above, these quotes alone can act as essay questions or study questions as they are all relevant to the text in an important way. All quotes contain page numbers as well. Look at the bottom of the page to identify which edition of the text by Amy Tan they are referring to.
“Over the years, she told me the same story, except for the ending, which grew darker, casting long shadows into her life, and eventually into mine.” (21)
“Even though I was young, I could see the pain of the flesh and the worth of the pain.” (48)
“I was no longer scared. I could see what was inside me.”(59)
“I discovered that maybe it was fate all along, that faith was just an illusion that somehow you're in control.” (121)
“I had new thoughts, willful thoughts, or rather thoughts filled with lots of won'ts. I won't let her change me, I promised myself. I won't be what I'm not.” (134)
“Only two kind of daughters. Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!” (142)
“And I remember wondering why it was that eating something good could make me feel so terrible…." (154)
“I saw what I had been fighting for: it was for me, a scared child…” (183)
“That was the night, in the kitchen, that I realized I was no better than who I was…. I felt tired and foolish, as if I had been running to escape someone chasing me, only to look behind and discover there was no one there.” (207)
“Then you must teach my daughter this same lesson. How to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever.” (213)
“I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these things do not mix?” (254)
Reference: Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Penguin, 2006.