Change is one of the most important and pervasive themes in Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club. Many specific examples of change – all of them relevant to the novel as a whole – can be seen in the final pages of the book.
In the very final section of the novel, Jing-Mei mentions her experiences at an “airport” in China. The references to the airport are significant in several ways, including the following:
- Jing-Mei’s mere presence at the Chinese airport symbolizes the thaw in diplomatic relations between the United States and China during the later 1980s. This important historical change in relations between the two countries after decades of hostility helps make possible the reunion that Jing-Mei experiences with her Chinese half-sisters at the end of the novel. Without the thawing of relations between the United States and China, the reunion between the sisters might never have occurred.
- The references to the “airport” also symbolize the massive economic change China was undergoing in the 1980s as it began to move away from doctrinaire Marxism. The airport” is thus a symbol of China’s economic progress, of its new connections with a much larger part of the world, and of its abandonment of much of the insularity it had exhibited from the late 1940s until the 1980s.
When Jing-Mei finally is able to meet her long-lost half-sisters at the airport, all three women are extremely happy to see each other. Jing-Mei describes the reunion as follows:
My sisters look at me, proudly. “Meimei jandale,” says one sister proudly to the other. “Little sister has grown up.”
This is a significant moment and symbolizes change in a number of ways, including the following:
- The sisters finally do get to meet each other after years of separation (a highly meaningful change for all of them).
- Jing-Mei has indeed grown up physically, as have the half-sisters. All of them have changed in the simple sense of having become chronologically older.
- Most important is that Jing-Mei has “grown up” in symbolic ways as well: she is far more mature than she was as a child. She has changed in ways that allow her to more fully embrace and appreciate her deceased mother and her own Chinese identity. She has changed in ways that allow her to feel far more self-fulfilled than she had felt before. She has grown in confidence, in understanding, and even in compassion. She now has a much fuller appreciation of her mother (in every sense of the word “appreciation”) and of her own cultural past than she has ever possessed before.