Characters in “The Joy Luck Club” Novel by Amy Tan

The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, is about the special bond mothers and daughters share. Despite the annoyance, arguments, and conflicts, they are still able to reach acceptance, peace, and love. Four women leave China for America, hoping to build a better life for their yet unborn children. The author narrates different stories about each character’s unfortunate fates, cruel burdens of unsuccessful marriages, as well as untapped potentials. The analysis of literary work can be done through the prism of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s ecological perspective. His view presents the perception that can help understand complex family relationship workings. It also offers concepts that might be used to examine protagonists’ thought-provoking relations with families. Bronfenbrenner’s outlook on understanding family connection is useful because it comprises all of the structures in which families are entangled and reflects their vigorous manner. In this essay, an attempt will be made to investigate the main characters of the abovementioned piece with their interaction with Bronfenbrenner’s systems.

Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Perspective

The Microsystem

The microsystem is the primary entity that serves as the child’s platform for introductory learning about the surroundings, consisting of the most instantaneous environment. It provides a focal point where the children can experience the world around themselves. According to Mulisa (2019), the microsystem functions as the “innermost social system that consists of an individual’s immediate setting” (p. 106). Indeed, it may act as a nurturing cornerstone for the child. Furthermore, the system grows into the foundation of an evocative collection of memories of the first violence, bullying behavior, or dangerous sexual demeanor, to name a few. For example, June’s one of the earliest engagement with her mother, Suyuan, is associated with the constant pressure to succeed in every aspect of her life on the part of the latter. Consequently, such relationship transformed into various complexes regarding career and social life. Therefore, the sympathetic relations between parents and children directly impact the further growth of a healthy individuality.

The Mesosystem

The second level is called mesosystem, which helps to unite all of the other systems in which the family lives. As Jegatheesan, Enders-Slegers, Ormerod, and Boyden (2020) state, it comprises interlinking and procedures of “two or more microsystem settings,” involving the developing individual (p. 5). Mesosystem plays a crucial role in forming the practical reality for parents and their children. The interaction with other people outside the family and parents’ link to them is a significant factor in the child’s evolution. For instance, in the Joy Luck Club, it can be observed that each of the mothers is not only

in close connection with their daughters but also attached to so-called nieces. Taking Waverly’s perspective as an ample case, the mesosystem occurs when there is a strong relationship between long-time friend June and mother Lindo. Moreover, June says that she treats her dear aunties as her own mothers. Here, there are two microsystems involving the mother and friend. Both of the systems described above are linked, which acts as powerful mesosystem agents. Thereupon, the mesosystems are about the relation of one microsystem to another in ever-widening circles of contacts.

The Exosystem

The social climate where the intimate system of the child is linked to families and friends is called the exosystem. Since people exist in the system psychologically, there is a non-physical impact on them without being involved in various situations. Jaeger (2016) claims that “systems of which the child is not a member also affect development” (p. 165). What is more, the exosystem is the setting children experience subsidiarily, yet it is directly or indirectly impacting them. The attachment children feel within family ties establishes shelter for spending time with each other. The system can be encouraging to form a healthy environment for the child’s robust progress or denigrating to do devastating damage to their mentality. Hence, there is a myriad of cases where exosystems facilitate stressful ecology for the whole family without proper attention.

The Joy Luck Club comprises a set of scenarios where characters’ past experiences, dysfunctions in social life, and career stalemate are the reasons for the toxic atmosphere. Ying-Ying St. Clair loses her spirit in the course of the first failed marriage with a man of her dreams. As a result of constant tension between the two, Ying-Ying retaliates by killing their son, the only precious thing she can deprive of him. Now, she is full of sorrow and regrets, unable to grant the gratifying spirit to her daughter. June feels the mother’s grief and translates this into her own life. Accordingly, the exosystem takes place when June realizes the misery without ever physically being in those times.

The Macrosystem

An umbrella of cultural values, political events, societal beliefs, and legislation comprises an extensive arrangement called a macrosystem. It acts as a sturdy source of power and strength in people’s lives. Unlike any other systems, the macrosystem relates not to particular situations but to “general prototypes, existing in the culture or subculture,” preparing the ground for active engagement (Velez-Agosto, Soto-Crespo, Vizcarrondo-Oppenheimer, Vega-Molina, & García Coll, 2017, p. 902). This system influences the diverse ways in which people exist and participate in their relations. Thereby, the macrosystem is a comprehensive structure containing numerous elements with regard to morals and law.

The components of the macrosystem can be noted in Rose’s storyline. Rose Hsu is an Asian woman who married a white man named Ted. The first encounter with her future mother-in-law did not end well due to her racist behavior towards Rose. However, Rose is determined to spend a lifetime with Ted despite his mother’s bigotry. Here, the moral values or their absence represent Rose’s surrounding macrosystem, which inevitably contributed to further lack of confidence and self-assurance. As a consequence, she is unable to assert her voice and surrender to state her opinion. Therefore, this macro element is one of the factors which only added to ultimate unhappiness.

The Chronosystem

The chronosystem frames the historical context, happening in different systems. The history or dynamic of the relationship with parents may assist in the explanation of the current state of the connection. Furthermore, this background has a substantial influence on the ways family members respond to distinct strenuous situations. Societal norms and standards are the additional components identifying reaction during trying times. Hence, this system concentrates on the transitions as a person grows and develops with the flow of time together with social conditions.

Waverly’s plot depicts that divorce and constant seeking for approval can be traced back by considering the relationship with her mother. It starts with chess playing when Waverly shows her potential by winning one award after another. Lindo is beyond being proud of her genius daughter, walking on the streets and displaying Waverly on the magazine’s cover page. Nevertheless, it only creates tension between the two due to Lindo taking credit for the daughter’s success. In this emotional state, Waverly confronts Lindo, implying that it is embarrassing to be her daughter. The historical context helps to understand why Waverly loses trust in herself. She treats her mother as the lifetime opponent and oppressor, antagonizing their relation up to adulthood. Thus, Waverly’s background is the motive for further self-confidence issues.

June and Waverly’s Ecology

June’s Ecology

Jing-mei Woo or June is dealing with her mother’s unexpected death. The Joy Luck Club Suyuan attended has an empty seat that should be taken by June. Her microsystem consists of the mother, father, and three friends. She started exploring the world with her parents, which ultimately formed an overall grasp of the environment. Suyuan, a Chinese immigrant, desires her daughter to reach for the stars by pushing the limits. As a result, it turned into a persistent pressure to be the best at everything. June’s microsystem is stressful enough for her to rebel against her controlling mother and admit that she is imperfect, accepting her true nature. She has an extremely active mesosystem since four women tend to meet and interact every week playing mah-jong. There is an active and regular engagement between her mother and other daughters. Such mesosystem enhances June’s loving attitude to everyone, surrounded by people understanding and caring for each other. Accordingly, June’s microsystem is mainly focused on intrusive mother, while the mesosystem is a vigorous part of her life.

June always wondered what her mother left behind in China, remaining to be the mystery until the very end. Suyuan provided little information about her past life before migrating to America. June always wondered about the events of those days and indirectly let it impact her life. The lack of knowledge can trigger unpleasant assumptions and worries about her mother’s fate. On the next level, June’s macrosystem consists of the effect of assimilation into American culture and language. This could be the reason for the misunderstanding of Suyuan’s mindset and intentions. The historical framework of June’s relationship may shed more light on her personality. Since Waverly is a chess champion, Suyuan thinks her daughter must become a virtuosic pianist. However, June is not the one and realizes it before her mother does. This context presents the routes of June’s insecurities and life dissatisfaction. Thereby, the dark past and pressing burden to win are the critical components of June’s environment.

Waverly’s Ecology

Waverly Jong becomes a national chess champion by nine and retires the sport by fourteen. Her first marriage leaves her with a daughter, Shoshana. Consequently, she takes a leading position at a large accounting company where Waverly meets her second husband, Richard. Here, the microsystem is centered around her mother, friends, daughter, and Rich. Lindo gives her daughter the tactical abilities, which helped to win chess games. Afterward, she uses the capabilities to conceal her inner thoughts. Eventually, this transforms into a misinterpretation of Lindo’s opinion on Rich. Her rivalry with June also appears to be a prominent part of her microsystem as Waverly does not miss a chance to boast about her career. The mesosystem includes a close family-like relationship between all eight main characters. It can be seen when Lindo helps June to cope with her loss, trying to find her twin sisters.

Waverly tends to make assumptions about her mother’s judgment of Richard. The exosystem is degrading her to think that Lindo will reject Rich, putting Waverly in stressful situations. She supposes that Lindo will destroy the image of her loved man and poison the mind with a negative outlook on life. The macrosystem revolves around her fear of losing Chinese heritage. By blending in American culture, Waverly misses a sense of the Chinese legacy as well as language. As a matter of fact, she forfeits the ability to understand the language altogether. Through the chronosystem, it is clear that Waverly projects her worries onto her mother, treating Lindo as an opposer to her way of living. Therefore, Waverly’s set of ecological perspectives is based on the concern of her mother’s viewpoint.

Differences and Similarities

Both June and Waverly’s ecological factors share similarities and differences. The microsystems of the main characters stand on the same ground of the mother-daughter relationship of cultural and generational conflicts. Either of them experiences miscommunication with their parents stemming from the mothers’ competition. The Lindo-Suyuan rivalry has transformed into Waverly-June one, where all of them bear the cost of needless fights. Thus, the mesosystem and exosystem are also a subject for the resemblance between the two. As daughters of immigrants, women feel the gap between them and their parents, unable to grasp the mother tongue fully. However, Waverly’s chronosystem is distinguished in that June realizes her worth and reaches self-awareness before the former does. Hence, the first four ecological levels seem to be corresponding, while the last one is the distinctive element.

Environmental Conflict and Personal Bias

Environmental Conflict

One of the most prominent conflicts addresses the relationship between Waverly and her mother, Lindo. Waverly is assured that her mother attempts to spoil her life by excessive criticism and lack of positivity. She is trying to depart from the mother’s judgment, fearing that there is a part of truth in her words. Lindo is firm in the belief that her sayings are for Waverly’s good. For instance, when she shows off Richard’s gift, a fur coat, Lindo coldly replies that it is not of the best quality. Mother tries to teach the values of striving for the maximum, whereas Waverly perceives them as an effort to destroy everything she loves. However, her mother only thinks Waverly deserves the finest things in the world and conveys it in her own way. The environmental conflict is resolved when Waverly takes the courage to state her concerns about Richard and the wedding. Lindo sacrifices her pride by how she feels uninvolved in her daughter’s life and wishes to be part of it. As a result, their relationship begins to flourish and become only stronger.

Personal Bias

There is some partiality that may appear when viewing the film. Watching June’s story, I happened to grow defensive of her when Suyuan was ashamed of the piano fiasco. Instead of trying to have a conversation with her daughter, she only grew more aggressive in nurturing the best girl. New Year evening also did not help to change my mind about this character. When Waverly humiliated June in front of everyone, Suyuan only confirmed that by giving the last strike. Therefore, the film brought some controversy in the perception of the lead heroes.

In conclusion, it can be noted that The Joy Luck Club is the novel about pain, love, hatred, and strugglings eight women endure in their burdensome ways. Bronfenbrenner’s ecological perspective helped to analyze and investigate the piece by considering all five systems of human development. Moreover, mother-daughter relationships, confidence issues, rivalry, and cultural values are the pivotal foundation for the arising conflicts and character complexes.


Jaeger, E. L. (2016). Negotiating complexity: a bioecological systems perspective on literacy development. Human Development, 59(4), 163-187. Web.

Jegatheesan, B., Enders-Slegers, M. J., Ormerod, E., & Boyden, P. (2020). Understanding the link between animal cruelty and family violence: the bioecological systems model. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 17(9), 1-22. Web.

Mulisa, F. (2019). Application of bioecological systems theory to higher education: Best evidence review. Journal of Pedagogical Sociology and Psychology, 1(2), 104-115. Web.

Velez-Agosto, N. M., Soto-Crespo, J. G., Vizcarrondo-Oppenheimer, M., Vega-Molina, S., & García Coll, C. (2017). Bronfenbrenner’s bioecological theory revision: moving culture from the macro into the micro. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 12(5), 900-910. Web.

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