In The Joy Luck Club, Jing-mei fears that she doesn't know her mother well enough to tell her story. What clues are there that show that she is wrong?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, tells the stories of the women in the "Joy Luck Club."

Jing-Mei's mother used to tell her the same story over and over, but the story changed so much, that Jing-Mei felt she was listening to a fairytale where things grew (like a magic beanstalk) with each telling. One day the story changes dramatically to a tale Jing-Mei has never heard before. It is about her mother's escape from the Japanese invasion into China—alone, with infant twins, several bags of possessions, and a wheelbarrow. Suyuan finishes the story by saying that she makes her way to Chungking with nothing but the three dresses she is wearing. It was in this way that Jing-Mei learns she is not one of those babies and that her mother has been married before. Jing-Mei realizes that she really does know nothing of her mother's story—but it doesn't mean, as Jing-Mei believes—that she doesn't know her mother.

One time, when Jing-Mei reports that others felt she is like her mother, Suyuan retorts:

You don't even know little percent of me! How can you be me?"

This is a feeling that Jing-Mei heartily agrees with. After her mother's death, when Jing-Mei learns that her sisters want to meet her, and that she will travel to China, Jing-Mei wonders what she can tell of her mother, who she feels she does not know. The other women in the Joy Luck Club list all the things Jing-Mei does know, and Jing-Mei promises she will tell her sisters everything.

As Jing-Mei tells her four "stories" in the novel, we see that she does know her mother. "The Joy Luck Club" introduces her mother's friends, their connection, and Jing-Mei's sense of loss over her mother's death. We learn that almost all of what Jing-Mei knows of Suyuan comes from the times they spent together, even when they disagreed. To disagree not only shows what is important to you, but what is important to the other person.

Jing-Mei knows that her mother believed all things in America were possible. Early in Jing-Mei's life, her mother wants to make her daughter into a child prodigy. Jing-Mei hasn't the talent for it or any interest. Their battle takes on epic proportions until Jing-Mei's refusal to cooperate becomes embarrassing at her piano recital. All the while, Jing-Mei recalls how hard her mother worked to make something possible for her child.

In "Best Quality," Suyuan has just died, and Jing-Mei is searching for her own "life's importance." Her mother could have told her, but she is dead, so Jing-Mei must find it alone. This shows the strong connection between mother and daughter, and Jing-Mei's love for a mother she often fought with. Suyuan told Jing-Mei that the jade necklace she gave her daughter would tell her her life's importance because it had touched Suyuan's skin: they were connected.

In "A Pair of Tickets," Jing-Mei returns to the land of her mother's birth, to connect with the babies Suyuan had to abandon while fleeing the Chinese, when she believed she was dying. Things here come full circle as Jing-Mei recognizes things about her mother that offer clarity, and also provide her with knowledge of herself. Canning Woo (Jing-Mei's dad) reunites with his aunt, and their joy more deeply shows Jing-Mei how important family is: that the connection is not broken even over many years. When Jing-Mei meets her sisters, they all realize that between them, they recognize their mother—and she lives on in them.

In knowing this, Jing-Mei realizes all she knew of her mother.

Read the study guide:
The Joy Luck Club

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