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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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There are many images that reflect change in "A Pair of Tickets," by Amy Tan, from her book The Joy Luck Club. How does Tan use these images of change as a way of developing the idea of "becoming Chinese"? There are many images of change in the story. For example the images that Jing-Mei has of her sisters and her physical image of herself. Another recurring pattern is that of photography, especially Polaroid pictures. Polariod pictures at the time were instantly ejected from the camera, but it took several minutes for the chemicals to develop the picture fully. How does Tan use this fact as a away of developing the idea of "becoming Chinese"?

Change is a theme in "A Pair of Tickets" by Amy Tan. Images used in the story indicate change, such as Jing-Mei's passport picture and the Polaroid pictures she takes.

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In "A Pair of Tickets" from Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, images used in the story indicate change, a central theme in this story.

Upon arriving in China, Jing-Mei reports that she feels like she is changing:

The minute our train...enters...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.

In the beginning of this "chapter," Jing-Mei remembers that she had once told her mother that she (Jing-Mei) wasn't really Chinese at all, but her mother assured her that it is buried deep within—it would stay there until she was ready to let it out:

Cannot be helped...someday you will is in your blood, waiting to be let go.

When this occurs, Jing-Mei will have accepted her Chinese "side:" her mother is sure it will happen.

There are several images that support the theme of change in the story. Food may be one of these images. When Jing-Mei goes to China and she and her father check in to their hotel, their Chinese relatives want burgers and fries. However, Jing-Mei had been looking forward to her first Chinese meal. This could support the theme of change: had she come to China under different circumstances, Jing-Mei might also have preferred an American meal. Perhaps her desire for a "real" Chinese meal also indicates that she is going through a change.

Another image presented several times includes pictures. The first is the one in Jing-Mei's passport. When the picture was taken, Jing-Mei had a chic haircut and a good deal of make-up which altered her appearance. Now, because of the heat, her face is "bare;" this change may indicate that as she enters China, the people will see who she truly is and she will not be hiding behind a "mask," showing a changed Jing-Mei.

The fact that many things in China seem the same as they are in America make Jing-Mei comment twice (upon arriving at the hotel), "This is communist China?" These images of sameness may indicate that Jing-Mei is finding herself at home with the Chinese culture: it is not as "foreign" to her as she had thought.

Dreams are a recurring image in the story: her dreams and her mother's dreams. Before Jing-Mei leaves for China, she repeatedly dreams of her half-sisters rejecting her. The image she has of them and herself in the dream are very different than their images when they meet. At first glance, the twins look just like Jing-Mei's mother. In a moment, that image changes. They are her family—they embrace each other and see their mother within each other. This shows a transformation in how Jing-Mei sees herself, her sisters, and her vision of how they all "connect" to their mother.

Jing-Mei's mother had a dream of returning home. That cannot be, but her daughter does so instead. Jing-Mei's mother also...

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dreamed that her children would be united—her "long-cherished wish:" this occurs (joyously) because Jing-Mei sees herself and her heritage differently, and has "embraced her mother's dream as her own."

There are also the images of the Polaroid pictures Jing-Mei takes. They change gradually, mimicking the passage of time needed for Jing-Mei to find herself. As with life, the picture gives only a shadow of what may come—it is not until the reaction of the chemicals is complete that one can fully see the final, finished image: three sisters very much like their mother, and Jing-Mei—her mother's daughter at last.

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In "A Pair of Tickets," how does Tan use this fact as a way of developing the idea of "becoming Chinese?"There are many changing images in the story. Look, for instance, at the images that Jing-Mei has of her sisters and her physical image of herself. Another recurring pattern is that of photography, especially the Polaroid pictures. Polaroid pictures at the time were instantly ejected from the camera, but it took several minutes for the chemicals to develop the picture fully.

The primary focus of Amy Tan's short story, "A Pair of Tickets," is Jing-Mei's journey in coming to terms with her Chinese heritage.

At the beginning, there is a "great divide" between Jing-Mei's perceptions of self (an American) and her true heritage (as she comes face-to-face with the half-sisters she has never met) as a woman of Chinese descent.

Of the images presented, the idea of a camera is particularly effective as Jing-Mei records mental images of what she sees as she and her father travel to China after her mother's death. The "pair of tickets" have been paid for and sent so that Jing-Mei and her father can make the trip. All Jing-Mei has to do is be willing to begin her journey.

As they travel, the landscape is very different, though somehow Jing-Mei is nostalgic for this land she has never seen before. All she knows and has left behind in the States to make this trip is at odds with what she sees. Trying to come to terms with these changes is one thing, but finding where she fits into this mysterious and alien landscape presents an even stronger challenge.

Jing-Mei recalls her conversation (at age fifteen) with her mother, when Jing-Mei insisted she was 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.'

Before Jing-Mei arrives in China, the change has begun. In her heart she realizes that perhaps while she had her mother, she did not appreciate her in the way she should have.

When Jing-Mei and her father arrive in Guangzhou, and her father and his great-aunt meet, Jing-Mei observes their delight at being reunited, but she fights the change coming to her:

They are both crying openly, laughing at the same time, and I bite my lip, trying not to cry. I'm afraid to feel their joy.

Jing-Mei starts to use her camera, capturing the images of her experiences in China—the meeting of unknown family members. It is the camera, too, that builds a bridge between the two worlds—where common language may not be found, the images Jing-Mei captures speak instead.

Perhaps the most poignant moment of Jing-Mei's "journey" is when she learns the story of why her mother had to leave her twin baby girls behind in China: as her father starts to recall the details, Jing-Mei insists that he tell her in Chinese.

The use of pictures connects Jing-Mei finally to her sisters. In their faces is captured the image of her mother's face, and in their hands, the picture Jing-Mei had sent them. They hug, with the spirit of their dead mother in their midst, and at this moment, Jing-Mei finally feels Chinese, stating: "After all these years, it can finally be let go."

The reason that the Polaroid picture is so important to the theme of change in the story is that the picture is exposed to the light, but must take time to develop: to become sharp, focused and life-like. The parallel is obvious. Stories of China, even her mother's memories, are pale reminders of the land from which Jing-Mei's parents are from. Being a part of that world and allowing the essence of that land and her people wash over her allows Jing-Mei to fully develop, finding her own sharp focus of her place in the world as a Chinese daughter, and woman.

The tickets are symbolic of Jing-Mei's passage to an unknown aspect of herself.

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