When Jing-Mei meets their family in China, they are separated to some extent by language. While her father and his great-aunt, Aiyi, can speak Mandarin,...
Language does, indeed, play an enormous role in Amy Tan's short story, "A Pair of Tickets," from her collection The Joy Luck Club.
When Jing-Mei meets their family in China, they are separated to some extent by language. While her father and his great-aunt, Aiyi, can speak Mandarin, the rest of the family speaks Cantonese. Jing-Mei herself cannot speak either language, though she understands Mandarin moderately well. With this first meeting, the exchange of information takes place using Mandarin, Cantonese and English.
Because of Jing-Mei youthful resistance to all things Chinese in terms of her own life, it is not surprising that she did not try harder to learn the language of her parents, of her "people," and her heritage.
When Jing-Mei begins to talk about her mother's experience in China in 1944—when she was forced to leave her twin baby girls, and almost died herself—questions come to this daughter that she had never thought to ask her mother while she was alive. Jing-Mei asks about the names of her half-sisters, her mother and herself, and the translations are beautiful, not only showing the loveliness of the language, but also an elegance she may not have associated with her mother, the knowledge of her mother's love for her twins, and a connection her mother felt between her twins and Jing-Mei, who was born later.
The twins' names mean "Spring Rain" and "Spring Flower" (the first twin to arrive, the "rain," and the second twin, the "flower," which follows the "rain"). Jing-Mei's mother's name, given to her by her mother, means "Long Cherished Wish" or "Forever Never Forgotten." The meanings of these names provide a deeper dimension for Jing-Mei's consideration as she seeks understanding of this new world she is in.
When her father translates her own name, he tells Jing-Mei that it, too, is special. "Jing" means something more than just good: "something pure, essential, the best quality." "Mei" means younger sister. Jing-Mei thinks on this:
My mother's long-cherished wish. Me, the younger sister who was supposed to be the essence of the others."
Her own self-doubt makes her believe her mother must have been disappointed with her.
The most striking reference to language is the pivotal moment when Jing-Mei asks her father to tell her her mother's entire story, of her running away. However, when he begins in English, Jing-Mei insists:
'No, tell me in Chinese,' I interrupt. 'Really, I can understand.'
Somehow, it is at this point, that Jing-Mei's resistance to her own connection to her Chinese heritage melts. Now it is not a chore to listen to the Mandarin Chinese, but her wish, and it is worth the extra effort to hear it and understand it in her parents' native tongue.
When Jing-Mei and her sisters meet, the awkwardness Jing-Mei had feared does not exist at all, and they embrace with love, while Jing-Mei not only sees her mother's face in her daughters' faces, but senses her mother's presence there as well.
Jing-Mei's father takes the Polaroid picture of the three girls—as they study it, their faces appear before their eyes, similar to their mother's. Perhaps this is when Jing-Mei's sense of being a disappointment to her mom disappears as she finally sees the three of them through her mother's eyes:
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.
That wish, of course, was the three of her daughters reunited.