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All four mothers and daughters are really the protagonists of their own stories. Each has an individual struggle to overcome within the novel. Suyuan and Jing-Mei, however, seem to be the central figures whose story most closely unifies the plot. Suyuan is the founder of the Joy Luck Club, the tie that binds the stories, and Jing-Mei is the new representative of her family and her generation.
On a secondary level, the protagonist is the Chinese culture and heritage, which struggles to survive and prosper in the American culture. Each of the stories of the mothers and daughters clearly depicts this struggle.
Suyuanís antagonists are the war and other obstacles that prevent her from achieving her dream of finding her lost twin daughters. When the Japanese invaded China, Suyuan was forced to leave her daughters behind and travel to safety in America. When she has another daughter, she names her Jing-Mei and endows her with a legacy of purity and a memory of her sisters who came before her. Upon Suyuanís death, the many friends she has brought together in the Joy Luck Club impress upon Jing-Mei the importance of carrying on her motherís dreams. In the end, Jing-Mei travels to China and finds her lost twin sisters.
The other women also struggle against opponents. Rose must fight Ted to retain the house even though he is divorcing her. Lena struggles with Harold and considers divorcing him. Waverly must fight her mother about getting remarried.
The Chinese culture fights for survival throughout the novel. The Americanized daughters of the Joy Luck Club resist their mothers and their histories without even fully understanding or knowing them. They seek to be a part of the American culture and want to be independent and different from their mothers. Most of them try to minimize their Chinese appearance and heritage.
The main climax occurs when Jing-Mei decides to return to China to find her long-lost half-sisters, a trip that will fulfill her motherís dream and introduce her to the true Chinese culture. It is a victory of the old over the new and the mothers over the daughters.
There are additional climaxes for the other women in the book. Waverly finally tells her mother she is going to remarry. Rose refuses to give in to Tedís demands and let him have the house. Lena acknowledges the unhappiness in her marriage and tells Harold that their married life is dull and mechanized.
The plot ends in comedy, with the protagonist overcoming the antagonist in every case. During her trip to China, Jing- Mei fulfills her motherís dream and accepts her Chinese heritage as an important part of her true identity; she also accepts that her motherís proud Chinese spirit lives on in her sisters and herself.
Waverly begins to reconcile with her mother and reflect more on the culture from which she comes. Rose stands up for herself, gaining the strength to do so from her mother. Lena voices her disappointment with Harold and her marriage for the first time, realizing that her motherís insight is truthful. In essence, each of the four young women begins to feel connected with her Chinese heritage, realizing that her motherís spirit lives on in her life.