What is the main idea of "A Pair of Tickets" by Amy Tan?

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"A Pair of Tickets" is the final story in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, and it focuses on Jing-mei Woo's trip to China to meet her mother's twin daughters. When Suyuan Woo was a young woman in China, she had to flee her village with her baby twin daughters due to the Japanese invasion. Suyuan does her best to carry her most valuable possessions and both daughters, but eventually she thinks she will die, and so she leaves her twins on the side of the road with a note. Much later, she learns they were adopted and survived. However, Suyuan passes away before she can reunite with her daughters; therefore, Jing-mei goes to China in her place, in the same way she sits in her mother's seat at the mah-jong table with her aunties.

When Jing-mei goes to China, she is visiting her parents's homeland for the first time. She meets relatives she's never seen in person, including, of course, her half-sisters. Jing-mei is worried that she will not be able to substitute for her mother and will be a disappointment to her sisters. However, Jing-mei feels an immediate connection to the twins and says that "Together we look like our mother." She understands that her union with the twins fulfills her mother's "long-cherished wish." It is also significant that when Jing-mei gets to China, she feels herself "becoming Chinese," as her mother said she would.

This final story of the novel brings its themes full circle. The Joy Luck Club as a whole emphasizes the tensions between mothers and daughters, especially those who grow up in different cultures. "A Pair of Tickets" suggests that the connection between mother and daughter is inherent and that they have more in common than they might expect based on their daily interactions. Jing-mei feels a profound bond to her mother while in China and with her mother's twin daughters.

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The main ideas in Amy Tan's short story "A Pair of Tickets," the last story in her novel The Joy Luck Club, are related to the synthesis of cultural identity: Jing-Mei, her mother, her motherland (China), and her half-sisters (the twins) are all connected by the end.  Not only is blood thicker than water, but it is not bound by time or space: it travels a thousand li to reveal itself.

"A Pair of Tickets" chronicles Tan's real-life trip to China with her ailing mother in 1987, a trip that was not only a cultural revelation, but a stylistic one as well.  The title, "A Pair of Tickets," emphasizes a journey. Amy Tan juxtaposes the old world Chinese values with the new world "American Dream."  So says Enotes:

Jing-mei’s trip to China serves as a metaphor for a journey into her perceptions about herself. She considers how she has viewed her sisters, China itself, her mother, and herself as Chinese.

The focus is on cultural synthesis: Jing-Mei assimilates her American and Chinese identities into a hybrid identity.  The story is filled with transformation: Jing-Mei Woo imagines her older "identical sisters transforming from little babies into six-year-old girls" (269), half expecting them to arrive in rickshaw wearing peasant pineapple hats.  When her aunt says, "Once you are born Chinese, you cannot help but feel and think Chinese," Jing-Mei responds with, "I saw myself transforming like a werewolf, a mutant tag of DNA suddenly triggered" (267).  Just as she never learns to play Mah-Jong or chess using Chinese strategy, Jing-Mei never feels or thinks Chinese until the novel's end.

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