How is the external setting of Amy Tan's "A Pair of Tickets" essential to what happens internally to the narrator in the course of this story?
In Amy Tan's short story, "A Pair of Tickets," a part of her The Joy Luck Club collection, the setting of China for a good portion of the story has an enormous impact on what occurs internally to the narrator, Jing-Mei.
When Jing-Mei is young, she insists that beneath the surface, she is not Chinese at all, even though her parents are both Chinese immigrants.
Jing-Mei remembers being fifteen and speaking with her mother, insisting she is not Chinese:
'Cannot be helped,' my mother said when I was fifteen and had vigorously denied that I had any Chinese whatsoever below my skin...and my Caucasian friends agreed: I was about as Chinese as they were.
'Someday you will see,' said my mother. 'It is in your blood, waiting to be let go.'
When Jing-Mei is at home in the US, it is easy for her to feel comfortable with the land of her birth. However, when she travels to China with her father, in memory of her mother, Jing-Mei's surroundings begin to have an impact on her. As her mother had intimated, there is a part of her that is Chinese that has nothing to do with how she looks, but is tied to who she is within.
As she travels with her father, and he grows nostalgic, Jing-Mei experiences a similar response, though she has never visited China before:
For the first time I can ever remember, my father has tears in his eyes, and all he is seeing out the train window is a sectioned field of yellow, green, and brown, a narrow canal flanking the tracks, low rising hills...on this early October morning. And I can't help myself. I also have misty eyes, as if I had seen this a long, long time ago, and had almost forgotten.
The part of Jing-Mei that had felt so comfortable in America feels strangely out of place when she first arrives at Guangzhou:
I take out the declaration forms and my passport. 'Woo' it says at the top, and below that, 'June May,' who was born in 'California, U.S.A.,' in 1951. I wonder if the customs people will question whether I'm the same person as in the passport photo...I had not expected the heat in October. And now my hair hangs limp with humidity...So today my face is plain...
Symbolically, it seems that the person Jing-Mei saw herself to be is now, for some reason, not a comfort to her now that she is in China.
Being out of her element, Jing-Mei sees her father and herself in a different light. Unfamiliar with the landscape, the people, and even her own relatives, she begins to perceive her ideas and the truths of this other culture in terms of how she is connected to them, though she has resisted this for many years.
Jing-Mei's father begins to tell her the story of her mother's tragic life before escaping from China, but now Jing-Mei wants the story to be told to her in Chinese: she wants to hear the authentic tale in her mother's authentic language, determined to understand it with those words rather than English. And in China, hearing the story in that language is appropriate.
When Jing-Mei meets her half-sisters for the first time, she is afraid it will be awkward, but...
And now I see [my mother] again, two of her, waving...As soon as I get beyond the gate, we run toward each other, all three of us embracing, all hesitations and expectations forgotten.
Being immersed in this Chinese culture allows Jing-Mei to willingly embrace her heritage as she could not before. As her mother had said, "It is in your blood, waiting to be let go," and on her trip, Jing-Mei does so.