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In Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, Jing-Mei (June) and her mother are bound in the traditional Chinese fashion, but June cannot see this. She has always denied her Chinese side, but her mother corrected her—being Chinese was deep within her:
Cannot be helped...someday you will see...it is in your blood, waiting to be let go.
A commentary on the novel notes that June and her mother are at odds with each other because the culture in which each was raised has such an enormous effect on how they see themselves. Without understanding the Chinese culture, we cannot appreciate the value of June's mother's perceptions of how she and June should connect. First, a mother and daughter in China would be seen as a continuation of one generation to the next—like "stairs." Second, communication is different in China—children are trained not by being told as much as being shown, so a child would learn what was expected without words. In the U.S., verbal communication is essential, whereas non-verbal cues play a far less important role.
So while June is waiting for her mother to tell her things, her mother expects her to pick up on them non-verbally. Within this gap, June grows up filling the space with what she thinks, rather than what is true—in doing so, she feels inferior and sees herself as a great disappointment to her mother. She also sees the old Chinese ways as a form of personal embarrassment to her.
With this obvious breakdown in communication, June struggles in finding her identity. June rejects her Chinese heritage, but her mother cannot understand her need for an American identity—as her mother doesn't understand this new culture any more than June understands her mother's.
Aware of her life-long rejection of all things Chinese, June suddenly finds herself awakening to her mother's world when she and her father travel to China after June's mother has died. As soon as they arrive, June notes:
The minute our train...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.
Our character now becomes, in a sense, Jing-Mei. Traveling she realizes:
I've never really known what it means to be Chinese...My mother is dead and I am on a train, carrying with me her dreams of coming home.
This implies a sense of connection between the two women, on June's part. On the train, her father becomes teary-eyed seeing his homeland. But June, never in China, also becomes emotional. June learns that her mother's name, as she chose to write it, means "Long Cherished Wish," reflecting her desire to find again in June what she had lost in losing her twins: a daughter.
June meets her half-sisters; at first they look like her mother. When they embrace, they all murmur:
"Mama, Mama"...as if she is among us...And now I also see what part of me is Chinese...It is my family. It is in our blood. After all these years, it can finally be let go.
As the girls stand watching to see a Polaroid picture of them develop...
I know we all see it: Together we look like our mother. Her same eyes, her same mouth, open in surprise to see, at last, her long-cherished wish.
In this way, June realizes that her identity was always there, as her mother had said, waiting to emerge when she could finally make the connection with her mother, her heritage, and (as her mother wished) her family...like "stairs."
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