In the first chapter of the book, Jing-mei is describing joining the Joy Luck Club. The first thing she says is that she is never on time. Her father announces her this way, and she acknowledges it.
And it’s true. Everybody’s already here, seven family friends in there sixties and seventies. They look up and laugh at me, always tardy, a child still at thirty-six. (Ch. 1)
Many of the things Jing-mei acknowledges about herself are negative. She has a difficult time finding the good things about herself, because her childhood has been one of struggle to find her identity.
Another trait Jing-mei tells us about herself is that she has trouble finding direction in her life. Her mother called it having too much of the water element in her life.
Too much water and you flowed in too many directions, like myself, for having started half a degree in biology, then half a degree in art, and then finishing neither when I went off to work for a small ad agency as a secretary, later becoming a copywriter. (Ch. 1)
Her mother called her lazy, but Jing-mei was having trouble finding herself. She could not “rise to expectations” as her mother put it. Jing-mei struggled as a child with those expectations that her mother had for her, which were often so high that she had trouble meeting them. This led to increased insecurity as an adult.
She is also trapped between two worlds, not really feeling connected to either. Using an American name, June, makes her feel somewhat connected to American culture, she also feels somewhat connected to Chinese culture when she is there, but not completely. Her greatest concern, however, is the disconnect she feels with her mother.
My mother and I never really understood one another. We translated each other’s meanings and I seemed to hear less than what was said, while my mother heard more. (Ch. 1)
Jing-mei lost her mother before she got to come to a full understanding with her. The Joy Luck Club is her way to try to get that understanding back. All of us are a collection of faults and strengths, and while we may disagree with our parents, what they see in us is often how we see ourselves.