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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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How does the external setting of "A Pair of Tickets" impact the narrator's internal changes in The Joy Luck Club?

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The narrator physically going to China in "A Pair of Tickets" represents her internal change as she begins to accept her Chinese heritage and that side of herself in contrast to her American upbringing in California.

When Jing-mei goes to Guangzhou, she's planning to visit her father's family. Next, she'll fly to Shanghai and meet the twin half-sisters she's never met before. Throughout her part of The Joy Luck Club, Jing-mei fights with her mother Suyuan as they try to bridge the cultural and experiential gap between them.

Amy Tan writes:

The minute our train leaves the Hong Kong border and enters Shenzhen, China, I feel different. I can feel the skin on my forehead tingling, my blood rushing through a new course, my bones aching with a familiar old pain. And I think, My mother was right. I am becoming Chinese.

Though her mother is dead, her visit to China and to meet her half-sisters is what finally bridges the gap between Jing-mei and her mother. She's able to put her mother's life, losses, and choices into perspective in a way she wasn't before. She also is able to help her now-deceased mother fulfill her dream of seeing her twin daughters again by traveling to Shanghai to meet them. Jing-mei says:

I look at their faces again and I see no trace of my mother in them, Yet they still look familiar. And now I also see what part of me is Chinese: It is so obvious. It is my family. It is in our blood. After all these years, it can finally be let go.

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Jing-Mei is Chinese American, but having never experienced China firsthand, she has been effectively cut off from her cultural heritage. That all changes when she travels to China for the first time. Although she can understand Mandarin, she can't speak it all that well, which further separates Jing-Mei from the land of her ancestors.

Nevertheless, Jing-Mei experiences a considerable change over the course of her journey. At an obvious level, this journey is both literal and metaphorical. At the outset, Jing-Mei doesn't really know what it means to be Chinese, and she is worried that she won't be able to connect with her Chinese relatives. Yet thanks to her father—who takes up the narration at various key points in the story—Jing-Mei is able to establish a bond with her wider family, gaining an understanding of her mother's many struggles and their wider historical context.

Tan's skillful shift of narrative voice allows the reader, as well as Jing-Mei herself, to develop an appropriately broad perspective of her family's history. By the time she finally meets up with her long-lost sisters, Jing-Mei is a woman transformed; she is completely at home with her cultural heritage:

Together we look like our mother. Her same eyes, her same mouth, open in surprise to see, at last, her long-cherished wish.

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