The Joy Luck Club is a series of vignettes, or short sketches, that are related through the theme of mother/daughter conflict and resolution.
The conflicts are not just between generations, but across cultures and languages, because the mothers and daughters have grown up in different countries with widely different traditions and values.
The daughters are not either Chinese or American, but Chinese-American, and are therefore trying to bridge two worlds at once.
The mothers see their daughters' vitality as watered down. The daughters have lost not just their Chinese cultural identity, or heritage, but important psychological survival skills.
Through the stories of their own youth, the mothers try to provide their daughters with wisdom, or lessons of psychological importance.
Often, the daughters only half-understand what their mothers are trying to give them, because their stories and gestures seem to belong to a time and place far from modern day America.
The mothers' stories and gestures are highly symbolic and seem a kind of poetry. Their gestures are accompanied by little explanation and their stories are filled compressed imagery and incomplete expression.
The daughters have grown up with the American view of countless complications and the need for practical solutions.
The mothers consistently convey the need to maintain the integrity of the spirit and the importance of sustaining traditional ties across generations.
The daughters have grown up with the American sensibility for individualism, where the family and tradition carry less weight.
Despite their often-opposing points of view, love is the over-riding bond that draws the mothers and daughters together and transmits the mothers' gifts of wisdom.