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The Joy Luck Club | Part 3, Chapter 4 : Best Quality (Jing-mei Woo) | Summary

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Summary

Suyuan hosts a dinner for her own family and the Jongs. She buys enough crabs for the adults in the group, and the fishmonger gives her a deal on an extra crab that's missing a leg. At dinner, however, Waverly gives four-year-old Shoshana the biggest and best crab, then takes the next best for herself and Rich, her fiancé. Lindo follows suit, and by the time the platter reaches Jing-mei and Suyuan, only a faded crab and the legless crab are left. Jing-mei volunteers to take the legless crab, but Suyuan insists Jing-mei take the faded one. Jing-mei sees her mother sniff the legless crab before taking it to the kitchen and returning without it.

Just as she did when they were children, Waverly gives Jing-mei backhanded compliments. This time it's about Jing-mei's new haircut. Jing-mei tries to embarrass Waverly in turn by bringing up the work she did for Waverly's tax firm, for which she has still not been paid. Waverly clearly doesn't want to talk about it, but Jing-mei won't let the subject go. Waverly then says the work wasn't good enough and the powers-that-be don't want to pay Jing-mei. Jing-mei is humiliated, especially when her mother agrees, stating Jing-mei isn't as sophisticated as Waverly. Later Jing-mei's anger fades as she realizes she is who she is, and that there's no reason to wish to be like someone else.

As they're cleaning up after the party, Jing-mei asks Suyuan what was wrong with the legless crab. Suyuan says it was dead before it was cooked, and therefore not good ("even a beggar won't eat a dead one"). Jing-mei wonders what Suyuan would have done if somebody else wanted that crab, and Suyuan points out nobody wanted it except Jing-mei. "Everybody else want best quality. You thinking different," she says proudly. Later she gives Jing-mei the jade necklace from around her own neck. "This is your life's importance," she says. Jing-mei doesn't wear the necklace until after her mother's death a few months later. She is still trying to figure out what her mother meant by her "life's importance." She could ask the aunties in the Joy Luck Club, but everyone's interpretation would be different. She realizes that only Suyuan knew the real meaning of it, and she is gone.

Analysis

Waverly misses many things about Suyuan after Suyuan's death, but the thing she misses most of all is that, without Suyuan, there is no one around to answer Waverly's questions about their family and about Suyuan's history. The jade necklace, for example, isn't an uncommon gift from mothers to children, but it's one that can be interpreted only by the one who gives it. The bartender she spots wearing a similar pendant says he thinks it was his mother's way of telling him he's "still worth something" after his divorce.

Suyuan gives Jing-mei her necklace in a similar situation, after Jing-mei has been humiliated by Waverly in front of their families. She too wants her child to feel worthwhile. Suyuan had been meaning to give Jing-mei the necklace for a while and that evening seemed the perfect time to do it. It is by no means a consolation prize but instead a reward for Jing-mei's individuality. According to Chinese thinking, Jing-mei should have taken the best crab on the plate, as Waverly did. But Jing-mei doesn't always follow Chinese tradition, reiterating the point that the mothers are not always the ones to blame for the misunderstandings between the generations.

Jing-mei is a naturally empathetic and sympathetic person, as established in Part 1, Chapter 1 when she feels bad for An-mei while Lindo and Ying-ying gossip about topics that hit too close to home. Jing-mei is more concerned with the happiness of others, particularly her mother, than whether she is getting her fair share. She thinks a lot like her mother, who never considered that a child would be given the best crab of the lot. That honor should go to an adult. Suyuan doesn't call out Waverly in front of everyone else because it wouldn't be polite, just as she feels obligated to agree with Waverly that Jing-mei isn't as sophisticated as Waverly is. As seen in Part 3, Chapter 2 Chinese humility dictates guests be honored with the best of everything, including manners. Waverly apparently missed the memo about guests also having manners. Her clash with Jing-mei is reminiscent of Lindo's relationship with Suyuan—they're friends one moment, bitter enemies the next.

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