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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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Early in the story, Jing-mei insists, “I could never pass for true Chinese.” What does she mean by this claim? What does the phrase “true Chinese” seem to mean to her? Do her ideas about what is and is not Chinese change over the course of the story?

Jing-mei's identity as a Chinese American is tested and strengthened over the course of the novel. She starts out anxious about her heritage and whether she can "pass for Chinese," but ultimately feels more closely connected to her Chinese background than she had anticipated.

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Throughout all of the chapters of The Joy LuckClub that she narrates, Jing-mei Woo reflects on her identity as a second-generation Chinese American. Her mother, Suyuan, is from China, but Jing-mei was born in the United States. This difference is a cause of some conflict and misunderstanding between mother...

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Throughout all of the chapters of The Joy Luck Club that she narrates, Jing-mei Woo reflects on her identity as a second-generation Chinese American. Her mother, Suyuan, is from China, but Jing-mei was born in the United States. This difference is a cause of some conflict and misunderstanding between mother and daughter over the years. Jing-mei struggles to decide how to define herself and often does not feel connected to her Chinese heritage.

When the novel opens, we learn Suyuan has recently died, so Jing-mei narrates her mother's stories as well as her own. We learn of Suyuan's life before she moved to the United States—she had a family in China, a husband and two girls. She was forced to abandon them on a roadside for their safety when she had to leave her town during a war. We learn that the twins survived, though Suyuan dies before she finds this out.

To fulfill Suyuan's wishes, her friends and daughter plan to have Jing-mei fly to China to meet her half-sisters for the first time. In the novel's final chapter, Jing-mei thinks often about her Chinese identity and her relationship with her mother, worrying that she will not feel connected to her sisters or that she will realize she and her mother did not have much of a bond.

At the start of "A Pair of Tickets," when Jing-mei is in China, she feels her "bones aching with a familiar pain" and realizes, "My mother was right. I am becoming Chinese." In the country of her parents' origin, Jing-mei feels connected to her heritage and to her parents. When she feels she cannot "pass for true Chinese," she means that her life in America disconnected her from her Chinese roots. That part of her identity was sublimated as she assimilated into American culture, went to American schools, and spoke English all her life. However, when she is in China and she meets her sisters, she feels her mother's prophecy coming true: "Someday you will see . . . It is in your blood, waiting to be let go." When she meets her half-sisters at the end of the novel, Jing-mei "see[s] what part of [her] is Chinese . . . It is in [their] blood." Their natural bond is based on shared background and a shared mother. The connection is portrayed as automatic. By the end of The Joy Luck Club, Jing-mei no longer worries that she cannot "pass for Chinese."

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