In The Joy Luck Club, what prevents Jing-Mei from embracing her identity and how does she overcome this?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Throughout most of the novel, Jing-Mei is the character who struggles most with accepting and incorporating her Chinese identity into who she is as an adult. This is of course mostly due to the unrelenting pressue which her mother caused her to live with. Her mother's idea that Jing-Mei could be a prodigy and the way that she forces her to do things that Jing-Mei herself does not want to do, such as take piano classes, leaves Jing-Mei feeling inadequate and like a failure. In addition, Jing-Mei is constantly being compared by others, unfavourably, to Waverly, who is tremendously successful at everything she turns her hand to. Consider the following account from Jing-Mei about how she failed her mother after her disastrous piano recital:

It was not the only disappointment my mother felt in me. In the years that followed, I failed her so many times, each time asserting my own will, my right to fall short of expectations. I didn't get straight A's. I didn't become class president. I didn't get into Stanford. I dropped out of college.

This sense of being a failure expresses itself in her rejection of her Chinese heritage. In particular, she views the Joy Luck Club as being "a shameful Chinese custom." What changes this view is when Jing-Mei joins the club and replaces her mother. She realises the richness of her Chinese heritage and understands the desperate struggle of the Chinese mothers to ensure that their Chinese heritage is not forgotten, and this suddenly fills her with purpose and finds a new confidence and self-respect for herself. This change in her character, and her ability to embrace her identity, is cemented when she goes back to China to meet her half-sisters for the first time.

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