NEA Big Read
The Joy Luck Club

The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

To me, imagination is the closest thing we have to compassion. To have compassion you have to be able to imagine the lives of others, including people who are suffering, and people whose lives are affected by us.

  1. Ask students to find a tale, a legend, or a myth of Chinese origin.They should learn the story well enough to be able to tell it from memory. They should be prepared, before they begin, to explain any words or cultural ideas their audience may not understand. After they finish the story, they should suggest any others it resembles in other traditions. Have students do the storytelling at a local library.
  2. Have students find something in their homes or neighborhoods that somehow bears the influence of China. This could be a restaurant menu, a photograph, an imported piece of clothing, a game, a toy. Ask them to introduce the item, explain what is Chinese about it, and try to guess something about the lives of the people who made it or are associated with it. Then have a group leader summarize what the collection of objects says as a whole.
  3. Invite an immigrant family to come and talk about the experiences of family members in America. (They may or may not be Chinese.) Include members of at least two generations, three if possible. Prepare a collective series of questions in advance and use these as a way to get the discussion started. Have the family talk about its journey, the use of language, expectations vs. realities, and generational changes. This discussion can take place in the library, a student assembly, or a bookstore.
  4. Ask students to imagine they are immigrants who have just come to America. They should write a letter home to someone in their family, describing how different they find the United States. The letter should emphasize something about their past life and their hopes for a new one. The letter should also give a sense of some of the difficulties and dangers that await them. Have students do their presentations at a local library or bookstore.
  5. Ask students to perform a scene from the novel, from 1930’s China or from 1960’s America. They should write the dialogue and take the parts of all characters. The characters may be from the book or imagined. The scene can be produced at a student assembly and include a discussion afterward.
  6. Host a screening of the movie adaptation of The Joy Luck Club at a local theater. Invite a scholar to come to the screening and lead a discussion afterward about the film’s interpretation of the novel.
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