Illustration of the profiles of a young woman and an older woman facting away from each other

The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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Jing-mei Woo looks back to five months ago when her mother gave her a jade pendant, her “life’s importance.” The pendant is not something Jing-mei would have chosen, and she does not fully understand it, but since her mother died, she has worn it every day. She knows that she has to discover its meaning for herself.

It was the Chinese New Year, and Jing-mei and her mother were shopping for crabs for their celebration dinner. Her mother complained about the upstairs tenants that she was stuck with and their accusation that she had poisoned their cat.

At the fish store, Jing-mei’s mother warned her not to get a dead crab because even a beggar would not eat it. The owner made them take one extra crab along with its detached leg. Back at the house, Jing-mei’s mother prepared the meal, and Jing-mei remembered her horror when she had first realized that crabs were boiled alive. She hoped they didn’t “have enough brains to know the difference between a hot bath and a slow death.”

The Woos had invited Lindo and Tin Jong, Vincent Jong and his girlfriend, and Waverly, Rich, and Shoshana to the meal along with Mr. Chong, Jing-mei’s former piano teacher. Waverly chose the best crabs for Shoshana, Rich, and herself. By the time the platter got to Jing-mei, there was only the crab with the missing leg and one other left. Her mother insisted she take the crab with the missing leg. She took her own crab into the kitchen uneaten.

As the meal proceeded, the conversation ranged from Jing-mei’s mother’s sweater to the proper way to eat crab to Jing-mei’s hair. Jing-mei felt like screaming at Waverly’s taunts. She fired back that she had not gotten paid from Waverly’s company for the writing she did for them. Waverly told her that the firm had rejected her pieces. Jing-mei was shocked, and Waverly said her writing just wasn’t the right style. Auntie Lindo told Waverly to give Jing-mei another try.

Later in the kitchen, Jing-mei tried to analyze her own limitations and talents. She asked her mother why she did not eat the crab, and her mother told her that the crab was already dead. Then she gave Jing-mei the jade pendant.

Back in the present, Jing-mei is fixing a meal for her father, who has not been eating well since her mother’s death. The upstairs neighbors’ cat comes to the window, and Jing-mei is relieved that her mother did not actually poison the animal, who hisses at her.

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