National Endowment for the Arts TEACHER'S GUIDE •••>;: ..INSTITUTE of , ., ".*.$• Museum^ Library * .•*.•• SERVICES AMY TAN'S The Joy Luck Club I NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS y UJ READ AMY TAN'S The Joy Luck Club TEACHER'S GUIDE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS A great nation deserves great art. .INSTITUTE ol S. MuseurrUndLibrary •V* SERVICES AM MIDWEST The National Endowment for the Arts is a public agency dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts — both new and established — bringing the arts to all Americans, and providing leadership in arts education. Established by Congress in 1965 as an independent agency of the federal government, the Endowment is the nation's largest annual funder of the arts, bringing great art to all 50 states, including rural areas, inner cities, and military bases. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is the primary source of federal support for the nation's 122,000 libraries and 17,500 museums. The Institute's mission is to create strong libraries and museums that connect people to information and ideas. The Institute works at the national level and in coordination with state and local organizations to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development. Arts Midwest connects people throughout the Midwest and the world to meaningful arts opportunities, sharing creativity, knowledge, and understanding across boundaries. Based in Minneapolis, Arts Midwest connects the arts to audiences throughout the nine-state region of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. One of six non-profit regional arts organizations in the United States, Arts Midwest's history spans more than 25 years. Additional support for The Big Read has also been provided by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Published by National Endowment for the Arts 1 100 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W. Washington, DC 20506-0001 (202) 682-5400 www.nea.gov Sources Excerpts from THE JOY LUCK CLUB by Amy Tan, copyright ©1989 by Amy Tan. Used by permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Acknowledgments David Kipen, NEA Director of Literature, National Reading Initiatives Sarah Bainter Cunningham, PhD, NEA Director of Arts Education Writers: Philip Burnham and Sarah Bainter Cunningham, for the National Endowment for the Arts, with a preface by Dana Gioia Series Editor: Molly Thomas-Hicks for the National Endowment for the Arts Graphic Design: Fletcher Design/Washington, DC Image Credits Cover Portrait: John Sherffius for The Big Read. Page iv: Book cover used by permission of G.P. Putnam's Sons, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Swan feather, Geoff Brightling/ Getty Images. Page 1: Caricature of Dana Gioia by John Sherffius. Inside back cover: © Robert Foothorap. Table of Contents ■ j* sj"» tM Introduction 1 Suggested Teaching Schedule 2 Lesson One: Biography 4 Lesson Two: Culture and History 5 Lesson Three: Narrative and Point of View 6 Lesson Four: Characters 7 Lesson Five: Figurative Language 8 Lesson Six: Symbols 9 Lesson Seven: Character Development 10 Lesson Eight: The Plot Unfolds 11 Lesson Nine: Themes of the Novel 1 2 Lesson Ten: What Makes a Book Great? 13 1 ss.iv Topics 14 Capstone Projects 1> Handout ( )ne: From China to ( .old Mountain Id 1 [andout I\\<>: \ ( Chinese ( ilossary 17 Handout Three: C .hosts IS leaching Resources N NCTT Standaids 20 V ow cne woman w she had a daughter who grew up speaking only English and swallowing more Coca-Cola than sorrow. For a long time now the woman had wanted to give her daughter the single swan feather and tell her, This feather may look worthless, but it comes from afar and carries with it all my good intentions.' And she waited, year after year, until she could tell her daughter this in perfect American English." —from The Joy Luck Club tl «* 8 "HE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts Introduction Welcome to The Big Read, a major initiative from the National Endowment for the Arts designed to revitalize the role of literary reading in American culture. The Big Read hopes to unite communities through great literature, as well as inspire students to become life-long readers. This Big Read Teacher's Guide contains ten lessons to lead you through Amy Tan's classic novel, The Joy Luck Club. Each lesson has four sections: focus topic, discussion activities, writing exercises, and homework assignments. In addition, we have provided capstone projects and suggested essay topics, as well as handouts with more background information about the novel, the historical period, and the author. All lessons dovetail with the state language arts standards required in the fiction genre. The Big Read teaching materials also include a CD. Packed with interviews, commentaries, and excerpts from the novel. The Big Read CD presents first-hand accounts of why Tan's novel remains so compelling two decades after its initial publication. Some of America's most celebrated writers, scholars, and actors have volunteered their time to make Big Read CDs exciting additions to the classroom. Finally, The Big Read Reader's Guide deepens your exploration with interviews, booklists, time lines, and historical information. We hope this guide and syllabus allow you to have fun with your students while introducing them to the work of a great American author. From the NEA. we wish you an exciting and productive school year. ^£uau t~\l &\ i<. Dana Gioia Chairman. National Endowment for the Arts National Endowment tor the \rts THE BIG READ ' I U£ rcr ei Tft ■T "e< iC hin i I] e d ul ■ ^m& ^m ^V^MP ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ h.^ m e , •'*"'" 1 Day One FOCUS: Biography Activities: Listen to The Big Read CD. Read Reader's Guide essays "Introduction," "Amy Tan," and "World War II and San Francisco's Chinatown," and Handouts One and Two. Write a short story. Homework: Read first two chapters (pp. 17-48).* 2 Day Two FOCUS: Culture and History Activities: Create a virtual tour of San Francisco. Analyze "Swan Story." Homework: Read "Amy Tan's Style and Her Other Works" in Reader's Guide. Finish section "Feathers from a Thousand Li Away" (pp. 49-83). 3 Day Three FOCUS: Narrative and Point of View Activities: Explore Tan's use of interlocking narration. Describe and evaluate one character's perspective. Homework: Read next two chapters (pp. 87-115). 4 Day Four FOCUS: Characters Activities: Explain protagonist and antagonist. Introduce foil. Write a story that captures a family member. Homework: Finish section "The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates" (pp. 116-144). 5 Day Five FOCUS: Figurative Language Activities: Document figurative language in assigned chapters. Create metaphors and similes. Homework: Read next two chapters (pp. 147-184). Page numbers refer to the 2006 Penguin edition of The Joy Luck Club. 2 • THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 6 Day Six FOCUS: Symbols Activities: Explore symbols of book, section, and chapter titles. Explore Chinese concept of "ghost." Homework: Finish section "American Translation" (pp. 185-209). 7 Day Seven FOCUS: Character Development Activities: Role-play mothers and daughters. Explore cultural values through profession and marriage. Homework: Read next two chapters (pp. 213-252). 8 Day Eight FOCUS: The Plot Unfolds Activities: Chart a timeline of the novel. Explore plot through Tan's choice of self- contained stories. Homework: Finish the novel. 9 Day Nine FOCUS: Themes of the Novel Activities: Develop an interpretation based on a theme: fate, memory, or transformation. Homework: Write outlines and begin essays. 10 Day Ten FOCUS: What Makes a Book Great 7 Activities: Explore the qualities of a great novel and the voice of a generation. Examine qualities that make Tan's novel successful. Have students review each other's paper outlines or drafts. Homework: Essay due next class period. N inon.il 1 ndowmeni tor the Vrts the big read • 3 Lesson One FOCUS: Biography Examining an authors life can inform and expand the readers understanding of a novel. Biographical criticism is the practice of analyzing a literary work through the lens of an authors experience. In this lesson, explore the author's life to understand the novel more fully. Amy Tan is the daughter of immigrants who fled to America during the Chinese civil war of the 1940s. She grew up negotiating the difference between the world her parents knew in China — hierarchical, fatalistic — and the brash, opportunistic ways of their adopted land. Discussion Activities Listen to The Big Read CD. Have students take notes as they listen. Ask them to present the three most important points they learned from the CD. To go more in depth, you might focus on the reflections of one of the commentators. Copy the following: "Introduction," 'Amy Tan," and "World War II and San Francisco's Chinatown" from the Reader's Guide; and Handouts One and Two from this guide. Divide the class into groups. Assign one essay to each group. After reading and discussing the essays, each group will present what they learned. Ask students to add creative twists to make their presentations memorable. Also, ask them to develop one question about the topic not covered in the essay and a suggestion of where a reader might go to find an answer. Writing Exercise Have students write a short story that includes factual details from their parents' or their own lives, as well as elements from their own imaginations. Have students share their writing with a classmate. \Z] Homework Read the first two chapters (pp. 17-48). Using the writing exercise, have students collect stories from their mothers, grandmothers, and/or aunts. J • THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts FOCUS: Culture and History Cultural and historical contexts give birth to the dilemmas and themes at the center of the novel. Studying these contexts and appreciating intricate details of the time and place help readers understand the motivations of the characters. The novel spans from the 1920s through the 1980s, following two generations of women. Mothers, born and raised in China, find themselves in San Francisco raising their own daughters. Both must navigate two worlds, with different languages, cultures, and habits. Through the mothers, members of the Joy Luck Club, we view Chinese coming-of-age stories. Through the daughters, we follow a struggle to understand ones Chinese heritage while coming-of-age in the United States as Asian Americans. Jing-Mei "June" Woo explains at the end of the novel, "I am becoming Chinese." While significant historical events would mark the lives of these women, nothing permeated their lives as deeply as their role in family and marriage. In China, strength of character was built through respect for elders: "How to obey parents and listen to your mothers mind. How not to show your own thoughts, to put your feelings behind your face . . . Why easy things are not worth pursuing. In America, young women can become a force of change within their own lives, "learning to shout. Ying-ying St. ( lair declares at the end of the novel, " low could I know these two things do not mix?" (p. 254). San Francisco provides the setting in which this conflict unfolds in the lives of eight women. Discussion Activities Using Internet research, have students create a virtual tour of San Francisco's Chinatown to present to the class. What kind of food is available? What sorts of cultural events are taking place? What are the contemporary social issues of this Asian and Asian American community' Using a map of San Francisco, map some of the locations that will be encountered in the novel: Golden Gate Park. Angel Island. Chinatown. Oakland Chinatown. Stockton Street, North Beach, and University of California. Berkeley. %A Writing Exercise In the first chapter, analyze the prologue "swan story" How might this story set the stage for the entire novel? P] Homework Have students read "Amy Tan's Style and Her Other Works" in the Reader's Guide. Have them finish the section "Feathers from a Thousand Li Away" (pp. 49-83). Ask them to think about who is telling the story so far. and whether the voices seem in any way connected. National 1 ndowmeni tot tlu THE BIG READ " 5 FOCUS: Narrative and Point of View The narrator tells the story with a specific perspective informed by his or her beliefs and experiences. Narrators can be major or minor characters, or exist outside the story altogether. The narrator weaves her or his point of view, including ignorance and bias, into telling the tale. A first-person narrator participates in the events of the novel, using "I." A distanced narrator, often not a character, is removed from the action of the story and uses the third-person (he, she, and they). The distanced narrator may be omniscient, able to read the minds of all the characters, or limited, describing only certain characters' thoughts and feelings. Ultimately, the type of narrator determines the point of view from which the story is told. Amy Tan achieves a studied portrait of Chinese American life through interlocking points of view. The Joy Luck Club is a serial first-person narration, recounted by eight narrators rather than one. Each narrator provides her own point of view, as she recounts her experiences. Tan designs this serial narration like a hand of mahjong, as it moves from player to player according to the "Prevailing Wind." Further, each narrator sheds light on the life of another narrator, as the narrators are friends and family members. Suyuan Woo's death precipitates this storytelling, as the daughter inherits her seat at the mahjong table. As June Woo begins and closes the novel, her point of view dominates the text. Discussion Activities Why does Tan title the first section "Feathers from a Thousand Li Away?" Look at the first paragraph from each of the first four stories. How do these introductions depict the point of view of the narrator? Writing Exercise Ask students to choose one character that has appeared so far: June Woo, An-mei Hsu, Undo Jong, or Ying-ying St. Clair. Have them imagine that the novel is going to be told entirely from the perspective of this character. Ask them to write a paragraph describing the virtues of the character and another describing her weaknesses. What qualities should the author focus on to make this version of the novel work? What advantages does Tan gain by creating a series of narrators rather than a single one? El Homework Have students read the next two chapters (pp. 87-1 15). Several characters have been introduced so far: Lena and Ying-ying St. Clair, Waverly and Lindo Jong, An-mei Hsu, and June Woo. What are the primary motivations of each of these characters? 6 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts FOCUS: Characters The central character in a work of literature is called the protagonist. The protagonist usually initiates the main action of the story and often overcomes a flaw, such as weakness or ignorance, to achieve a new understanding by the works end. A protagonist who acts with great honor or courage may be called a hero. An antihero is a protagonist lacking these qualities. Instead of being dignified, brave, idealistic, or purposeful, the antihero may be cowardly, self-interested, or weak. The protagonists journey is enriched by encounters with characters who hold differing beliefs. One such character type, a foil, has traits that contrast with the protagonist's and highlight important features of the main characters personality. The most important foil, the antagonist, opposes the protagonist, barring or complicating his or her success. The narrative structure of the novel unfolds, as the daughters' voices follow the mothers' China stories. Mothers and daughters, thousih often in conflict, remain the protagonists in their own stories. June Woo is present in each of the four sections, and joins the mothers as a peer at the game table. In the first book, antagonists vary from mothers to ( Chinese conventions. In the second book, the mothers provide the antagonist for the daughters, guiding and shaping their actions. Discussion Activities The Joy Luck Club has many villains or antagonists, but they are not obvious. Rather, all the narrators are faced with obstacles. What kinds of antagonistic forces do they encounter? Cultural traditions? Social prejudice? War? Racial or gender discrimination? As the stories progress, is there any sense that the various characters are fighting against the same thing? Wa Writing Exercise Have each student choose a member of his or her family. Using the vignettes of "Swan Story" and the "Twenty-Six Malignant Gates" as your model, write a brief story to capture the character of this family member. How does one best capture another's character through storytelling? C3 Homework Have students finish the section "The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates" (pp. 1 16- 1 44 1 What does June learn about the musical compositions "Perfectly Contented" and "Pleading Child?" National I nilownu-nt tor the \tts THE BIG READ ■ 7 Lesson Five FOCUS: Figurative Language Writers use figurative language such as imagery, similes, and metaphors to help the reader visualize and experience events and emotions in a story. Imagery — a word or phrase that refers to sensory experience (sight, sound, smell, touch, or taste) — helps create a physical experience for the reader and adds immediacy to literary language. Some figurative language asks us to stretch our imaginations, finding the likeness in seemingly unrelated things. Simile is a comparison of two things that initially seem quite different but are shown to have significant resemblance. Similes employ connective words, usually "like," "as," "than," or a verb such as "resembles." A metaphor is a statement that one thing is something else that, in a literal sense, it is not. By asserting that a thing is something else, a metaphor creates a close association that underscores an important similarity between these two things. Tan utilizes images frequently, as she draws us into a Chinese American life: images of birds, water, imbalance/balance, winds, and colors to gesture beyond literal descriptions. The story of the Moon Lady, "new tiger clothes," a turtle, blood, and a servant bird, provide rich examples of figurative language. In this story, the Moon Lady provides an imaginative figure for a young child. Discussion Activities Return to the eight tales you have read thus far. Divide the class and have groups examine figurative language in each story. Ask students to identify similes and metaphors. In each story, how does figurative language assist in telling the story? Have groups present their findings to the class. Writing Exercise Tan has an uncommon gift for figurative language. Here she describes a storm with a striking metaphor: "I saw that lightning had eyes and searched to strike down little children" (p. 103). Here she uses a simile to describe the emotions of a young child: "My heart felt like crickets scratching to get out of a cage" (p. 45). Here she describes Old Lady Jong: 'And her fingers felt like a dead person's, like an old peach I once found in the back of a refrigerator" (p. 137). Have students write a metaphor or simile for three different things: an aspect of nature (like a storm), a familiar emotion (like love or jealousy), and the description of a person (a friend or family member). H Homework Have students read the next two chapters (pp. 147-184). Lena's mother describes her daughter: "she like a ghost, disappear." Are ghosts symbols of a more complex image? 8 " THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts Lesson Six FOCUS: Symbols Symbols are persons, places, or things in a narrative that have significance beyond a literal understanding. The craft of storytelling depends on symbols to present ideas and point toward new meanings. Most frequently, a specific object will be used to refer to (or symbolize) a more abstract concept. The repeated appearance of an object suggests a non-literal, or figurative, meaning attached to the object. Symbols are often found in the books title, at the beginning and end of the story, within a profound action, or in the name or personality of a character. The life of a novel is perpetuated by generations of readers interpreting and reinterpreting the main symbols. By identifying and understanding symbols, readers can reveal new interpretations of the novel. The study of a symbol can shed light on an entire story. "Feathers from a Thousand Li Away," for example, refers to a fable at the novels beginning where a beautiful swan is confiscated from a woman when she comes to America. With only one feather remaining, she is forced to remember all those she has left behind. u The Red Candle" of the third chapter refers to a custom whereby a candle is burned at both ends the night of a wedding — a symbol of the permanence of the marriage vow. The book s title. The Joy Luck Club, is a complex symbol: The group of women is linked by rate, but the phrase is also a common Chinese expression that translation into English alters in meaning. Discussion Activities "The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates" — the title of section two — is the name of a Chinese children's book. The book warns of different dangers awaiting unsuspecting children according to their birth dates. The gates do not literally exist. They express the possibility of danger or bad luck in everyday life. Why does Tan use this symbol as the title of a section? Why is the number of gates so precise? Why should we see them as gates rather than, say. pitfalls or traps' ^ Writing Exercise Copy Handout Three, "Ghosts." and have students read it. An-mei Hsu says. "My grandmother told me my mother was a ghost. This did not mean my mother was dead" (p. 42). Later. Lena St. Clair says of the tenors that frightened her mother. "I watched, over the years, as they devoured her. piece by piece, until she disappeared and became a ghost" (p. 103) A ghost, in Chinese culture, is a rich symbol, suggestive of multiple meanings. Returning to the text, write a short essay about Tan's use of ghosts in the story. Does her definition shift from the Chinese mothers to the Asian American daughters' Q Homework Have students read pp. 185 209. What lessons do we learn about translation in the stories that constitute "American Translation"' National 1 ndowment fof the \rt«> the big REAr • 9 r A Lesson Seven FOCUS: Character Development Novels trace the development of characters who encounter a series of challenges. Most characters contain a complex balance of virtues and vices. Internal and external forces require characters to question themselves, overcome fears, or reconsider dreams. The protagonist may undergo profound change. A close study of character development maps, in each character, the evolution of motivation, personality, and belief. The tension between a characters strengths and weaknesses keeps the reader guessing about what might happen next and the protagonist's eventual success or failure. Much of the older generation in The Joy Luck Club has undergone a transformation before they even come to America. Suyuan Woo has had to abandon two daughters during the war with Japan, a loss she never stops mourning. Lindo Jong concocts a clever story to extricate herself from an arranged and unhappy marriage. An-mei Hsu's mother has committed suicide, thereby allowing her daughter to learn how to speak for herself. They all attempt to redeem their lives through their daughters in America. We see most of the characters advance from childhood to adulthood, each trying to incorporate the wisdom and experience of her mother. No character is more thoroughly changed than June Woo, who learns a lesson in Chinese humility — accepting the gift of her mother's jade necklace — and, by novel's end, undertakes a journey to China to find the missing part of her mother's story. Discussion Activities Ask students to work with a partner. Assign a mother-daughter duo to each pair. One student will role-play the mother and the other student will role-play the daughter. For discussion, students should review the stories that "they" have told in the novel. Pairs should discuss their characters primary motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. Have they undergone change? In what way? Do they have characteristics they are unable to change? What are they and why? Have each pair report its findings to the class. Writing Exercise In 'American Translation," we encounter the daughters as adults. Write an argument, supported by quotations from the novel, to defend the following statement: Each daughter struggles to find balance between Chinese heritage and American values through marriage and professional careers. E3 Homework Have students read the next two chapters (pp. 213-252). Students should come to class with what they perceive to be the two most important turning points thus far in the novel. I * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts FOCUS: The Plot Unfolds The author crafts a plot structure to create expectations, increase suspense, and develop characters. The pacing of events can make a novel either predictable or riveting. Foreshadowing and flashbacks allow the author to defy the constraints of time. Sometimes an author can confound a simple plot by telling stories within stories. In a conventional work of fiction, the peak of the story's conflict — the climax — is followed by the resolution, or denouement, in which the effects of that climactic action are presented. In The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan makes deliberate choices about how to structure and pace events while exploring how tradition, fate, memory, and change define the human condition. In this lesson, map the events of the narrative to assess the artistry of the storytelling. There are many turning points in The Joy Luck Club, but they do not always happen in the order we read them. Suyuan Woo leaves her babies on the road to Chungking. Lindo Jong escapes a dubious marriage. Rose 1 Isu Jordan learns to stand up to her husband. Ying-ying St. ( -lair aborts a child out of vengeance. And June Woo will go back to China to meet her sisters and discover the part of her that is truly Chinese. Discussion Activities Use the homework assignment from the last lesson to have students present the most important turning points in the novel. Ask them to refer to key passages from the story, explaining why these events are the most significant. Use this information for the next activity. In small groups, have students map a timeline that depicts the development of the story and the building of drama. This timeline should include the most significant turning points, but also examine lesser events that build tension. As students develop their timelines, they should define what they perceive to be the beginning, middle, and the end of the novel. Groups should present their timelines to the class. Ei Writing Exercise The novel is comprised of a series of self-contained stories. How does Tan integrate these varied stones? What devices does she use' Does the use of multiple narrators fail in any way? If so. how? If not. why not' C Homework Have students finish the novel. Ask them to consider what arc the most important forces guiding the lives of the characters National I ndowmeni tot tin \n> THE BIG READ ■ I I t Lesson Nine FOCUS: Themes of the Novel Themes are the central, recurring subjects of a novel. As characters grapple with circumstances such as racism, class, or unrequited love, profound questions will arise in the reader's mind about human life, social pressures, and societal expectations. Classic themes include intellectual freedom versus censorship, the relationship between one's personal moral code and larger political justice, and spiritual faith versus rational considerations. A novel often reconsiders these age-old debates by presenting them in new contexts or from new points of view. Discussion Activities and Writing Exercises Use the following questions to stimulate discussion or provide writing exercises in order to interpret the novel in specific ways. Using historical references to support ideas, explore the statements The Joy Luck Club makes about the following: Fate and Memory: While fate looks forward toward our future or destiny, memory looks back to the past. Lena St. Clair's mother looks forward: "I believe my mother has the mysterious ability to see things before they happen" (p. 149). June speculates on her mother's past: "Together we look like our mother." "Her same eyes, her same mouth, open in surprise to see, at last, her long-cherished wish" (p. 288). Are the daughters "fated" to face the same struggles as their mothers? Does this fate hinge on their ability to remember their mothers' pasts? Is the novel a memorial to June's mother to allow June to "become Chinese"? Transformation: In Chinese, nengkan means the ability to do anything one seriously undertakes. "It was this belief in their nengkan that had brought my parents to America," says Rose Hsu Jordan (p. 121). Do the mothers of the Joy Luck Club transform themselves in America — or only before they arrive? In what ways are the women changed by America? In what ways are they shaped by their own daughters? Do the adult daughters come to understand "joy luck," or does it not exist? H Homework Ask students to begin their essays, using the essay topics found in this guide. Outlines are due for the next class. I 2 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts Lesson Ten FOCUS: What Makes a Book Great? Novels illustrate the connections between individuals and questions of humanity. Great stories articulate and explore the mysteries of our daily lives, while painting those conflicts in the larger picture of human struggle. Readers forge bonds with the story as the writers voice, style, and sense of poetry inform the plot, characters, and themes. By creating opportunities for learning, imagining, and reflecting, a great novel is a work of art that affects many generations of readers, changing lives, challenging assumptions, and breaking new ground. Discussion Activities Ask students to make a list of the characteristics of a great book. Put these on the board. What elevates a novel to greatness? Then ask them to discuss, within groups, other books they know that include some of the same characteristics. Do any of these books remind them of The Joy Luck Club 7 . How is it different? A great writer can be the voice of a generation. How does Tan's novel provide a voice of a generation? How does the structure of the narrative, including eight voices with multiple stories, reflect an innovative approach to the novel? How might this lead the way for the next generation? Divide students into groups and have each one choose the single most important theme of the novel. Have a spokesperson from each group explain the group's decision. Write these themes on the board. Do all the groups agree? B Writing Exercise Have students re-read the vignettes that introduce each of the four books. Write two pages explaining how these vignettes inform the structure of the novel. Do they assist in teaching the daughters (and us) "how to lose your innocence but not your hope. How to laugh forever." C3 Homework Students should work on their essays. See "Essay Topics" in the next section. For additional questions, see the Reader's Guide "Discussion Questions." Students will turn in outlines and/or rough drafts during the next class. National I ndowmeni tor the \rts THE BIG READ ■ 13 The discussion activities and writing exercises in this guide provide you with possible essay topics, as do the Discussion Questions in the Readers Guide. Advanced students can come up with their own essay topics, as long as they are specific and compelling. Other ideas for essays are provided here. For essays, students should organize their ideas around a thesis about the novel. This statement or thesis should be focused, with clear reasons supporting its conclusion. The thesis and supporting reasons should be backed by references to the text. 1. June Woo begins the novel by explaining the "Joy Luck Club." She watches the mothers and explains, "They see that joy and luck do not mean the same to their daughters, that to these closed American-born minds 'joy luck' is not a word, it does not exist." Does the novel argue that certain cultural concepts, like "joy luck," cannot be translated? If so, why? If not, why not? Or, could the failure to translate provide the momentum of the novel? Explain the role of language and/or translation in the novel. 2. Research the details and circumstances of women's life in China in the 1930s, examining both poor and wealthy families. Bring this research to your reading of the novel. How do the stories of the mothers relate to the actual historical realities? Use your research to explain why Tan chose to portray the mothers and whether this portrayal (historically accurate or fictionalized) enhances the power of the novel. Using the very brief stories that introduce each section of the novel, explain why Tan has chosen each of these tales to characterize the four sections. Do they serve as signposts to foreshadow the plot? Do they capture an Asian aesthetic, where figures like the Moon Lady play an indispensable role in charting human experience? How might mythic stories provide more accurate renderings of the women's experience? Is this a point of contention between the Asian and American cultures depicted in the novel? Waverly Jong and June Woo become competitive when Waverly becomes a child chess prodigy and June struggles to master the piano. How might this rivalry reflect values of success and worth depicted in the novel? How do both cultures navigate the concept of "happiness?" First, define the concept of happiness that you believe dominates the novel, then demonstrate whether it is Asian, American, or both. Should this concept be adjusted or amended? Expand this question by exploring the roles of food, body image, professional life, and marriage. 14 ' THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts Teachers may consider the ways in which these activities may be linked to other Big Read community events. Most of these projects could be shared at a local Library, a student assembly, or a bookstore. 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, or 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. 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. Ask students to perform a scene from the novel, either from China in the 1930s or from America in the 1960s. 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. 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 films interpretation of the novel. National 1 ndowmeni Rm the \tta the big read • I 5 HANDOUT ONE From China to Gold Mountain From the U.S. Civil War through the mid- twentieth century, Chinese immigrants in America helped mine the gold fields, lay track for the transcontinental railroad, reclaim swamp land, and perform farm labor — all for meager wages. Early immigrants from China, most of them single men from the rural south, were drawn by the promise of Gam Sann, or "Gold Mountain," as America was called. The California Gold Rush attracted thousands of Chinese between 1848 and 1860. In the late 1860s, when legislation forced them out of mining, they laid track for the Central Pacific Railroad on the transcontinental line. Their willingness to work — and the low wages they received — made them targets of anger and discrimination. In 1882, the Chinese Exclusion Act severely limited immigration from China. This was the first U.S. immigration law aimed at a particular ethnic group. This policy encouraged suffering, bureaucratic delay, and fraud. With immigration of Chinese nationals curtailed, only a small number were allowed in legally each year. Children of fathers from the "exempt" class — such as merchants and clergy who had already obtained U.S. citizenship — were spared these policies. Some who entered with papers were known as "paper sons" and "paper daughters." They purchased documentation identifying themselves as children of U.S. citizens, when in fact they were not. Beginning in 1910, would-be Pacific immigrants, over 70% of them Chinese, were screened at Angel Island in San Francisco Bay (like Ying-ying St. Clair was in The Joy Luck Club). Known as "the Ellis Island of the West," Angel Island functioned as an interrogation center and detention facility for the federal immigration service. Over the course of 30 years, Angel Island processed 175,000 immigrants. Many were turned back. Unlike at Ellis Island, however, many Chinese were detained for weeks and months, and in several cases up to two years, before being permitted to join the American melting pot. The Angel Island facility was closed in 1940; three years later the Chinese Exclusion Act and its corollaries were repealed. By this time, China was an ally in the war against Japan, and legal discrimination was not tolerated. After immigration quotas were abandoned in 1965, the Chinese American population in America nearly doubled over the next decade. The immigrant Chinese, who began as a cloistered community denied basic citizenship rights, had become, within a century, a largely urbanized and professionalized American success story. I 6 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts HANDOUT TWO A Chinese Glossary The Joy Luck Club can be read as a primer on Chinese culture. The narrative is hill of references to ghosts, fengshui, dumplings, tea, and luck. The very idea of the Joy Luck Club melds Chinese and American ideas — the characters are ruled by luck, but they may also invent their own luck. Confucius: a Chinese philosopher of the sixth century B.C. His teachings, broadly known as Confucianism, emphasized ancestor worship, respect for elders and husbands, loyalty, harmony, and order. Though barely mentioned in The Joy Luck Club, his precepts color the traditional beliefs often reflected in the behavior of Tans characters. Fengshui (pronounced fung shway): the Chinese art of unblocking energy flow in a room or a house by careful arrangement of its contents. Placement of buildings is also considered important. Ying-ying St. Clair tells her daughter Lena that a plumbing store opening next to a bank portends ill, and the bank manager is later arrested for embezzlement. Lena herself becomes a designer, but her mother finds her deficient at basic concepts of fengshui. Mahjong: a traditional Chinese game of skill and luck that features four corners, one for each direction of the wind. Using 144 painted tiles with such pictograms as dragons and flowers, the object is to build as mam - suites as possible in groups of three. Mahjong remains popular — the most recent incarnation is mahjong solitaire software. Mandarin: collectively, a set of related dialects spoken in northern and southwestern China. Standard Mandarin is the official Language of the Peoples Republic of China and has close CO a billion speakers. Other major Chinese languages include Cantonese and Wu. Yin/yang: a duality from ancient Chinese philosophy that divides the universe into two opposing forces. I he female principle, vin. is associated with darkness and passivity, represented by moon, winter, and earth. I he male, vang. is luminous and active, and symbolized by sun, summer, and heaven. National I ndowment tor tin THE BIG READ ■ 17 HANDOUT THREE Ghosts Chinese scholar, sociologist, and anthropologist Xiaotong Fei referred to America as the "land without ghosts." For immigrants, the American landscape lacked the layers of past ancestors, households, and journeys woven throughout the Chinese homeland. A sense of the difference between a Chinese ghost and an American ghost can inform how we read The Joy Luck Club. Viewed from a Chinese perspective, American ghosts were shallow, lacked depth, and served primarily as the matter for children's tales. Chinese ghosts and the spirits in Tan's novel are far more than the supernatural presence of the undead. One of the greatest novels of Chinese literature, Dream of the Red Chamber, depicts the story of two Chinese families living in Beijing during the eighteenth century. The hero has been reincarnated from a living stone left behind by a goddess. Other characters are reincarnations from the hero's former life as the stone. The story is framed by the hero's "dream of a red chamber." The dream sheds more light on the tribulations of human life than the hero might surmise on his own. In keeping with Buddhist beliefs, the daily, tangible life of the body is a dream life. As we come closer to enlightenment, we "awaken" from this dream life to see the true world. Ghosts can bring information from true reality into this world. Further, ghosts can provide us with hints as to our former lives and our future fates. In the present, we are often reflecting back on our former lives and contemplating our future reincarnations. As a result, past, present, and future weave tightly together, only artificially separated to make our analysis easier. Fei explains, "Life in its creativity changes the absolute nature of time: it makes past into present — no, it melds past, present, and future into one inextinguishable, multilayered scene, a three-dimensional body. This is what ghosts are." One writer on migration, Adam MacKeown, notes that ghosts represent "an intangible specter of the past that inhabited and affected the present." While Tan explicitly refers to ghosts numerous times, we might also hear the echo of ghosts in repeated symbols. For example, the novel begins as a swan is torn from a woman during immigration processing. She is left with one feather. Birds appear and re-appear throughout the novel. Are they the reincarnation of the former, true bird? Are they ghosts of a true bird? An-mei's mother tells of a turtle that hatches seven magpie birds of joy. Ying-ying St. Clair tells of a bird domesticated to catch fish. When Chinese peasants refuse to suffer, the birds die, falling from the sky. Somehow, Tan's birds are the ghostly indicator of suffering or joy throughout generations. Ying-ying St. Clair remains most connected with the world of ghosts. Her second self enters this realm to meet the Moon Lady. Her musings demonstrate that she has "lost herself to the other world. She worries that she has no spirit to pass on to her daughter and that Lena has also become a ghost. It is Tan's stories, however, that let loose the spirit, a "hard, shiny and clear" link to past, memorialized for the next generation. 18 ' THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts Books Web sites Arkush, R. David, ed. and Leo O. Lee, ed. Land Without Ghosts: Chinese Impression of American Mid-Nineteenth Century to the Present. Berkeley: University of California, 1993. Bennani, Ben. ed. "The World of Amy Tan." Paintbrush: A Journal of Poetry and Translation 22 (Autumn, 1995). Special Edition. memory.loc.gov/learn/collections/chinese/history.html The Library of Congress Web site holds information on the Chinese in America from 1850-1925. www.pbs.org/becomingamerican/ The Web site of the PBS documentary on "Becoming American" includes a timeline and a comprehensive list of Web links. Bloom, Harold, ed. Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club (Bloom's Modern Critical Interpretations). New York: Chelsea House Publications, 2002. Shea, Renee Hausmann and Deborah Wilchek. -Amy Tan in the Classroom: The Art of Invisible Strength (The NCTE High School Literature Series). National Council of Teachers of English, 2005. Snodgrass, Mary Ellen. Amy Tan: A Literary Companion (McFarland Literary Companions). Jefferson, NC: McFarland and Company, 2004. www.chsa.org/ The Chinese Historical Society of America Museum and Learning Center's Web site strives to promote the contributions that Chinese Americans have made to the United States of America. www.c-c-c.org/ The Chinese Cultural Center of San Francisco Web site includes helpful information on the Chinese calendar and zodiac. www.digitalhistory.uh.edu/historyonline/china I .cfm This page on the Digital History Web site tells the story of building the transcontinental railroad. National I ndow merit tor the THE BIG READ • 19 Standards National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) Standards" 1. Students read a wide range of print and non-print texts to build an understanding of texts, of themselves, and of the cultures of the United States and the world; to acquire new information; to respond to the needs and demands of society and the workplace; and for personal fulfillment. Among these texts are fiction and nonfiction, classic and contemporary works. 2. Students read a wide range of literature from many periods in many genres to build an understanding of the many dimensions (e.g., philosophical, ethical, aesthetic) of human experience. 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics). 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes. 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes. 8. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and non-print texts. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and non-print texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge. 9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles. 10. Students whose first language is not English make use of their first language to develop competency in the English language arts and to develop understanding of content across the curriculum. 1 1 . Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literary communities. 12. Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes (e.g., for learning, enjoyment, persuasion, and the exchange of information). This guide was developed with NCTE Standards and State Language Arts Standards in mind. Use these standards to guide and develop your application of the curriculum. 20 * THE BIG READ National Endowment for the Arts 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." —AMY TAN NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS 'When you read about the life of another person, you are part of their lives for that moment. This is so vital, especially today, when we have so much misunderstanding across cultures and even within our own communities. 1 ' -AMY TAN The Big Read is an initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts designed to restore reading to the center of American culture. The NEA presents The Big Read in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services and in cooperation with Arts Midwest. ••>;! ..INSTITUTED _ y.v Museum Library '.•V; SERVICES A great nation deserves great art.