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The Joy Luck Club | Study Guide

Amy Tan

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The Joy Luck Club | Part 4, Chapter 4 : A Pair of Tickets (Jing-mei Woo) | Summary



Jing-mei Woo and her father, Canning Woo, are on their way to Guangzhou, China, to visit Canning's family before flying to Shanghai to meet Jing-mei's two half-sisters. Jing-mei is nervous about the visit, worried her sisters will think she didn't appreciate her mother enough when she was alive. The members of the Joy Luck Club write a warm letter to the twins in China, pretending to be Suyuan. But Jin-mei begs Lindo to write and tell them that Suyuan is dead before she arrives, and Lindo agrees.

Once she and her father cross the Chinese border, her guilt is accompanied by new and unfamiliar feelings: "[her] blood rushing through a new course, [her] bones aching with a familiar old pain." For the first time in her life Jing-mei feels like she is becoming Chinese.

Yet she is still an outsider, as evidenced in Guangzhou when she feels "as if she [were] in the United Nations and the translators had run amok" as she listens to the different Chinese dialects spoken by her father and his family. The group is led by his aunt, Aiyi (the Chinese word for "Auntie"), who is accompanied by her son and his family. They want to spend as much time with Canning and Jing-mei as possible, so they all go back to the hotel, which Jing-mei is shocked to learn is both luxurious and inexpensive. She's further surprised when the family forgoes a "traditional" Chinese meal in favor of hamburgers and french fries.

They talk all night. Jing-mei overhears her father tell Aiyi the story of Suyuan's daughters, how they survived, and how Suyuan tried to reach them for years, even after she and Canning moved to the United States. Aiyi falls asleep, and Jing-mei implores her father to continue. He begins to tell her in English, but she tells him to speak in Chinese. "Really, I can understand," she insists. Canning relates how Suyuan was forced to leave the twin babies behind after fleeing from Japanese invaders when she became too ill and exhausted to continue. She left them with a note about where to take the babies when it was safe again, along with some money and jewelry for their support. They are found and raised by two peasants who are illiterate and cannot read Suyuan's note. Suyuan and Canning try to find them two years later but without success. Even Canning did not know that Suyuan continued to write to people in China for years, trying to find any information about her twin daughters.

The next day Jing-mei gets off the airplane in Shanghai and immediately spots one of her half-sisters, then the other. They don't look much like Suyuan, but they have her mannerisms. The three sisters hug, whispering "Mama, Mama" as if Suyuan is there with them. Jing-mei finally realizes the part of her that is Chinese is her family. Her father takes a Polaroid picture of the three of them. When it develops Jing-mei notes, "Together, we look like our mother." Suyuan's "long-cherished wish" has finally come true.


It isn't until Jing-mei reaches China that she realizes she's "never really known what it means to be Chinese." Suyuan said "Once you are born Chinese, you cannot help but feel and think Chinese," but Jing-mei hadn't anticipated the power of American culture to inhibit centuries of Chinese genes. Even when she was young Jing-mei identified more with her American schoolmates than her Chinese parents and their friends. In fact Jing-mei preferred to avoid what she considered typical Chinese behaviors. It takes a physical trip halfway around the world to stand on Chinese soil for Jing-mei to truly feel she can call herself Chinese.

Communist China isn't anything like Jing-mei expected. The cities look just like the cities at home, and American-style food and hotels are plentiful. She is at first embarrassed by the grandiosity of their hotel, which she had been assured would be less than $40 per night. She doesn't want her relatives to think "we rich Americans cannot be without our luxuries for even one night." Again she is wrong. Her relatives are "delighted by [their] temporary surroundings." They do not seem to have the same preconceived notions of Jing-mei that she has of them. Perhaps negative assumptions about people one has never met is an American trait, or maybe they are more forgiving because Canning and Jing-mei are family. In either case Jing-mei's realization that China isn't as foreign as she had imagined it is symbolic of her revelation that she is more Chinese than she thought.

By hearing her mother's history in greater detail, Jing-mei, who realized how little she knew about her mother, discovers a great deal about Suyuan's bravery, suffering, and heartbreak. Even Canning did not know that Suyuan continued searching for her lost daughters even after she and Canning had moved to America. A common theme of the mother-daughter relationships in The Joy Luck Club is the daughters' failure to know enough about their mothers' history (especially in China). Discovering what their mothers have gone through, especially the traumas they have endured, has multiple results. The daughters see that their mothers are more three-dimensional, and less predictable, than they thought.

The last section of Part 4, Chapter 4 of The Joy Luck Club brings closure to Suyuan's wish to be reunited with the twin daughters she left in China. Though she can't be there in person, her spirit is evident in all three of her daughters, and together they seem to conjure her presence. In her sisters' arms Jing-mei feels more complete and more Chinese than ever. She also has a far greater understanding of her mother, both of the pain that marked her early adulthood and her desire for Jing-mei to understand the importance of her heritage. Jing-mei no longer has to wonder who she is or where she belongs. That, too, was one of her mother's greatest wishes.

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