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The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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What is Jing-Mei's attitude towards speaking Chinese in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club?

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In The Joy Luck Club, the question of identity is one of the most important themes. Jing-Mei finds her identity through her heritage.

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In Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, Jing-Mei (June) has done all she can to reject everything Chinese. She sees herself only as she is able: as an American, and this causes a great deal of strife between her and her mother because her mother is only able to see life and her daughter from a Chinese perspective. This may seem to be a "no-brainer," but where Jing-Mei's mother sees a connection between herself and her daughter as a continuation of the same person—a perception passed through generations of Chinese mothers and daughters—Jing-Mei perceives her mother as trying to control and change her.

Early in her life, Jing-Mei finds ways to empower herself while forcing her mother to relinquish her "hold" on her daughter. Jing-Mei tries to tell her mother that she is not Chinese. Her mother explains that being Chinese goes as deep as her DNA. Jing-Mei resists her mother's attempts to make her a child prodigy, finally hitting her mother's innermost heart by screaming that she wishes she were dead like her half-sisters, left in China during the war.

As Jing-Mei grows, she does not speak the language, so as an adult, she can understand it only with difficulty, and she cannot really speak it at all. When she and her father arrive in China, going to see her mother's twins who have been found alive many years later—and sadly after her mother died—Jing-Mei asks her father about the names of her sisters, her mother's name, and her own. Knowing what each name means provides an insight into the person her mother was. While this makes Jin-Mei sad—for the woman she never knew—it helps her to better understand the mother she has lost.

The names are symbolic to the story: the twins' names mean "Spring Rain" and Spring Flower," names of hope and beauty. Her mother's name means "Forever Never Forgotten." However, as her mother wrote it, it meant "Long Cherished Wish." In that she chooses to write it this way, we can infer that this form of her name reflects who she became after losing her twins. Jing-Mei's name means "pure essence" and "younger sister." Tan writes:

I think about this. My mother's long-cherished wish. Me, the younger sister who was supposed to be the essence of the others.

Jing-Mei believes that her mother must have been incredibly disappointed in her, as she rejected everything about her mother: her culture, her language and her wishes for her daughter.

As she arrives in China, Jing-Mei notes:

...I realize I've never really known what it means to be Chinese.

Seeing the landscape with new eyes, she feels a kinship for this place, which she has actually never seen before. And when she asks her father to tell her the story of her mother's life and losing her twins, her father begins the story in English, but she stops him:

"No, tell me in Chinese," I interrupt. "Really, I can understand."

What she is saying her is not that it's all right for him to speak in Chinese, which is his native tongue. She is connecting with her culture. "I can understand" means literally that she can comprehend, but I think it also means that she is beginning to know her mother better—and what she meant about their Chinese connection.

Jing-Mei rejects the Chinese language (and other things) in America, but she is "awakened" to her heritage and her mother's character in China, finally embracing that which she rejected for so many years. Only in looking to the language, can she understand who her mother was, and therefore, who she is.

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In Amy Tan's "A Pair of Tickets," language plays a key role to Jing-Mei "becoming Chinese." How does Jing-Mei feel about speaking Chinese?Look through the story for references to language, especially the names of the three sisters.

Language does, indeed, play an enormous role in Amy Tan's short story, "A Pair of Tickets," from her collection The Joy Luck Club.

When Jing-Mei meets their family in China, they are separated to some extent by language. While her father and his great-aunt, Aiyi, can speak Mandarin, the rest of the family speaks Cantonese. Jing-Mei herself cannot speak either language, though she understands Mandarin moderately well. With this first meeting, the exchange of information takes place using Mandarin, Cantonese and English.

Because of Jing-Mei youthful resistance to all things Chinese in terms of her own life, it is not surprising that she did not try harder to learn the language of her parents, of her "people," and her heritage.

When Jing-Mei begins to talk about her mother's experience in China in 1944—when she was forced to leave her twin baby girls, and almost died herself—questions come to this daughter that she had never thought to ask her mother while she was alive. Jing-Mei asks about the names of her half-sisters, her mother and herself, and the translations are beautiful, not only showing the loveliness of the language, but also an elegance she may not have associated with her mother, the knowledge of her mother's love for her twins, and a connection her mother felt between her twins and Jing-Mei, who was born later.

The twins' names mean "Spring Rain" and "Spring Flower" (the first twin to arrive, the "rain," and the second twin, the "flower," which follows the "rain"). Jing-Mei's mother's name, given to her by her mother, means "Long Cherished Wish" or "Forever Never Forgotten." The meanings of these names provide a deeper dimension for Jing-Mei's consideration as she seeks understanding of this new world she is in.

When her father translates her own name, he tells Jing-Mei that it, too, is special. "Jing" means something more than just good: "something pure, essential, the best quality." "Mei" means younger sister. Jing-Mei thinks on this:

My mother's long-cherished wish. Me, the younger sister who was supposed to be the essence of the others."

Her own self-doubt makes her believe her mother must have been disappointed with her.

The most striking reference to language is the pivotal moment when Jing-Mei asks her father to tell her her mother's entire story, of her running away. However, when he begins in English, Jing-Mei insists:

'No, tell me in Chinese,' I interrupt. 'Really, I can understand.'

Somehow, it is at this point, that Jing-Mei's resistance to her own connection to her Chinese heritage melts. Now it is not a chore to listen to the Mandarin Chinese, but her wish, and it is worth the extra effort to hear it and understand it in her parents' native tongue.

When Jing-Mei and her sisters meet, the awkwardness Jing-Mei had feared does not exist at all, and they embrace with love, while Jing-Mei not only sees her mother's face in her daughters' faces, but senses her mother's presence there as well.

Jing-Mei's father takes the Polaroid picture of the three girls—as they study it, their faces appear before their eyes, similar to their mother's. Perhaps this is when Jing-Mei's sense of being a disappointment to her mom disappears as she finally sees the three of them through her mother's eyes:

I know we all see it: Together we look like our mother. Her same eyes, her same mouth, open in surprise, to see, at last, her long-cherished wish.

That wish, of course, was the three of her daughters reunited.

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