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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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Student Question

What are four examples of situational irony in "A Pair of Tickets" from The Joy Luck Club?

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In "A Pair of Tickets" from The Joy Luck Club, Jing-Mei's trip to China to meet her half-sisters presents us with examples of situational irony because her expectations are upended in a positive way. Situational irony occurs when something occurs at the plot level that is the opposite of what was expected.

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Situational irony is a type of irony that depends on plot events and circumstances. In a literary work, situational irony occurs when something happens that is the opposite of what is intended or expected to happen.

In the case of Tan's The Joy Luck Club, namely its final story "A Pair of Tickets," the situational irony stems from Jing-Mei's expectations and how they are not fulfilled. It might be more accurate to say that her anxieties about her trip to China are not realized; instead, she ends up with a very positive and enlightening experience.

From the beginning of the novel, we know that Jing-Mei's mother, Suyuan, has recently died, and that she abandoned twin baby girls in China before moving to the United States. Suyuan's friends in the Joy Luck Club tell Jing-Mei that, after decades of trying to contact the twins, Suyuan's wish has finally been fulfilled. They have been found and have written to Suyuan. In another example of irony, of course, it's only after Suyuan's death that the news arrives. Therefore, Jing-Mei's "aunts" decide it is her duty to travel to China, meet her half-sisters, and tell them all about their mother. In that first chapter, Jing-Mei is extremely nervous about her mission, and when we return to her narration in "A Pair of Tickets," her anxiety remains with her as she embarks on her journey. In discussing this chaper, I'll list and explain some of the examples of situational irony:

1. Early on, Jing-Mei comments,

I am thirty-six years old. My mother is dead and I am on a train, carrying with me her dreams of coming home. I am going to China.

The narrator realizes that it is ironic that she is the one who is fulfilling her mother's "dreams" of going back to China, and of course, of connecting with the twins. This is especially ironic because Jing-Mei has never felt a connection with her Chinese heritage; she says, "I've never really known what it means to be Chinese." She expects that her disconnection from her heritage will make her unsuited for this trip, but the journey actually helps her understand her "Chinese side."

2. At one point in the story, Canning Woo, Jing-Mei's father and Suyuan's second husband, revises and extends the story Jing-Mei knows about her mother leaving the twins by the side of the road. Previously, Suyuan implies that she knows she would not be able to carry them, or anything, if she wants to survive, so she leaves them. The more elaborate version of the story in "A Pair of Tickets" reveals that Suyuan actually believed she would die herself, so she left the twins in the desperate hope that someone would save them.

Canning relates,

She knew she would die of her sickness, or perhaps from thirst, from starvation, or from the Japanese. . .she could not bear to watch her babies die with her.

As it turns out, Suyuan is rescued after she passes out on the road, "saved for no good reason, and it was now too late to go back and save her babies." The irony here is that Suyuan acts fully expecting that she will die; she intends to save her babies from the death she is sure will come for her. Unexpectedly, she wakes up and cannot save them.

3. When Jing-Mei finally reaches the airport where she will meet the twins, she finds that her expectations—her anxiety, especially—were completely wrong. Instead of disappointing her half-sisters, she finds that she brings them great joy. All of Jing-Mei's anxieties wash away when she embraces her sisters:

As soon as I get beyond the gate, we run toward each other, all three of us embracing, all hesitations and expectations forgotten.

Her union with the twins is much more positive and uplifting than Jing-Mei expected. She thought they'd be heartbroken and upset, or that they'd see her as a poor substitute for Suyuan. On the contrary, all three sisters immediately bond and experience a deep connection.

4. Finally, Jing-Mei's understanding of her mother comes only at this point, after her mother's death, through meeting the twins. This is an example of situation irony; we would think that a person would get to know and relate more with a person with whom they were spending time and feeling connected. On the other hand, Jing-Mei is alarmed at first when the aunts tell her she must relay Suyuan's life to the twins because she feels like she doesn't really know her mother. Instead of learning about her through physical experience and conversation, Jing-Mei here feels a connection to Suyuan through being in her homeland and meeting her twin daughters. It is also ironic that Suyuan's "long-cherished wish" is only fulfilled after her death, in this moment when the daughters all unite.

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