How can she think she can blend in? Only her skin and her hair are Chinese. Inside—she is all American-made.
Lindo Jong discusses her daughter Waverly, who is planning her wedding and honeymoon to China with Rich. To Lindo, Waverly has expressed her fear that she will blend in so well with the Chinese that she won’t be allowed to return to America. When Lindo replies that the Chinese will know Waverly is American before she even opens her mouth, Waverly is disappointed. Lindo reproaches herself for having tried to make her daughter half Chinese and half American, when such a combination is impossible. She regrets not having taught Waverly enough about her Chinese heritage.
Before her wedding, Waverly takes Lindo to her fashionable hair stylist, Mr. Rory. Lindo believes that Waverly does so because she is ashamed of her mother. While Mr. Rory and Waverly discuss her as though she were not there, Lindo wears her “American face”—the face the Americans think is Chinese. But inside she is ashamed, because she is proud of Waverly, but Waverly is not proud of her. When Mr. Rory notes that Lindo and Waverly resemble one another, Lindo smiles her true smile, wearing her “Chinese face.” When Mr. Rory hurries away, Lindo ponders the resemblance in the mirror, thinking about the internal qualities that both women also share. She remembers seeing herself and her own mother back in China, comparing their features then. Her mother told her that she could read her fortune in her face. She had told Lindo that she was fortunate to have a straight nose, because a girl with a bent nose is “bound for misfortune . . . always following the wrong things, the wrong people, the worst luck.”
Lindo talks about the difficulties of keeping one’s “Chinese face” in America. When she first came to San Francisco, she worked in a fortune-cookie factory, where she met An-mei Hsu. An-mei introduced her to Tin Jong, who would become Lindo’s husband. While pregnant with Waverly, Lindo bumped her nose on the bus, making it crooked. She suspects that the crooked nose damaged her thinking, for when Waverly was born, Lindo saw how closely she resembled her and suddenly feared that Waverly’s life path would resemble her own. She thus named her Waverly, after the street they lived on, to let her know that America, San Francisco in particular, was where she belonged. She knew that by naming her daughter after their street, she was taking the first step in making her wholly American, and thus alienating her daughter from herself.
In the beauty parlor mirror, Lindo notices that Waverly’s nose is crooked like her own, even though Lindo’s nose is crooked due to an accident, not her genes. Lindo urges her daughter to get cosmetic surgery, but Waverly laughs because she is pleased to share this feature with Lindo. She says she thinks it makes them look “devious”: people know they are two-faced, but they cannot always tell what they are thinking. Lindo thinks about the two faces both women share, and wonders which is American and which is Chinese. When Lindo visited China, she wore Chinese clothing and used local currency, but people still knew that she was an American—she wonders what she has lost.
In the final story of The Joy Luck Club, Jing-mei discusses her trip to China to meet her half-sisters, and she finishes the story of her mother’s life. When Jing-mei was a teenager, although she knew she looked Chinese, she denied that she possessed any inner, essential Chinese nature below the surface. Suyuan had insisted that once one is born Chinese, one cannot help but feel and think Chinese. Now that she is in China for the first time, Jing-mei feels that there was truth in her mother’s assertions—something in her does feel at home in China. Yet, she realizes that she has never known precisely what it means to be Chinese.
Jing-mei now thinks back to the origins of her trip. Not wanting to deceive or disappoint her sisters Chwun Yu and Chwun Hwa, she persuaded Lindo Jong to write to them about their mother’s death. Jing-mei and her sisters are the only known living relatives of Suyuan, as Suyuan’s entire family died when a Japanese bomb landed on their house, killing several generations in an instant.
Arriving at customs, Jing-mei and her father, Canning Woo, are greeted by her father’s aunt, to whom they had previously sent photographs of themselves. Other relatives soon appear to greet the American visitors. Driving to the hotel in a taxi, Jing-mei marvels at the differences between China and America, and she is amazed that the luxurious Hyatt they are staying in costs only thirty-four dollars a night. Although Jing-mei has been envisioning her first real Chinese meal to be a several-course banquet, the relatives wish to stay with them in their hotel for the night and decide to order room service: hamburgers, french fries, and apple pie.
During the night, Jing-mei awakes to hear her father and great-aunt talking: her father is telling his aunt the story of Suyuan and her twin daughters. The aunt then falls asleep, and Jing-mei asks her father about the meanings of the names of her sisters, her mother, and herself. She then asks her father why Suyuan abandoned the twins so long ago. Canning begins to tell her mother’s story in English, but Jing-mei interrupts him and asks that he speak in Chinese. Her father then begins the story.
Suyuan had walked to the point of exhaustion, feeling the beginning of dysentery in her stomach. Lying down by the side of the road with the twins, she knew she could not watch them die with her. She begged other passing refugees to take her babies, but to no avail. Finally, she tore open the lining of her dress, where she had stashed her mother’s ancient jewels, and stuffed the jewelry into the shirt of one baby, slipping money under the shirt of the other. Taking out photographs of her family and herself, she wrote on the back of each the names of the twins and requested that the rescuer care for the babies with the valuables provided, and, once it was safe to travel, bring them to her address in Shanghai. She stumbled away crying, but soon collapsed. When she regained consciousness, she was in a truck with other sick people and an American missionary. Arriving in Chungking, she learned that her husband had died two weeks before. She and Jing-mei’s father met in the hospital, where he had come to be treated for an injury sustained in the Japanese invasions.
Jing-mei’s father has since learned that the twins were found by two Muslim peasants, Mei Ching and Mei Han, who lived in a stone cave, hidden from the ravages of the war. By the time they found an educated person to decipher Suyuan’s message, they could not bear to part with the twins, whom they had grown to love as their own. Finally, when Mei Han died, Mei Ching decided to take the twins to the address in Shanghai that Suyuan had named. She told her adopted daughters what she knew of their past and their true names, and hoped that she might serve as their nurse in their new home. But the area Suyuan had indicated had been transformed. The year was 1952, five years after Suyuan and Canning had left China, and seven years after the two had visited the address themselves, in hopes of finding the twins there.
For years after coming to America, Suyuan wrote secretly to friends in China in an attempt to find the girls. Only after Suyuan’s death did an old schoolmate of hers happen to sight the twins in a department store, recognizing them as if in a dream, identical and resembling Suyuan in her youth. Canning suspects that Suyuan’s spirit guided her friend.
As Jing-mei and Canning go to the airport to fly to Shanghai, Jing-mei worries about how to tell her sisters her mother’s story, because she feels she hardly knows it herself. She has sent the twins a photo of herself, and when she gets off the airplane in Shanghai they recognize her instantly. The three embrace, murmuring, “Mama,” as if Suyuan were there. At first, Jing-mei doesn’t think she can see her mother’s features in their faces. After Canning takes a Polaroid photo of the three of them, however, Jing-mei looks into the emerging image to find that the combination of the three sisters’ faces clearly evokes Suyuan.
Lindo’s story continues to examine the cyclical nature of inheritance, a theme raised in this section’s opening parable. Comparing her features with Waverly’s in the beauty parlor mirror, Lindo notes that their similar faces bespeak similar joys, pains, fortunes, and faults. Waverly even seems to have inherited the crooked nose that Lindo acquired in an accident; this phenomenon symbolizes the force of legacy between mother and daughter—it transcends mere genetic coding. Yet, at the same time, Lindo laments that she has failed to pass on enough of a Chinese cultural consciousness to her daughter. She thinks to herself how ridiculous it is that her daughter could “blend in” in China; only her skin and her hair are Chinese, she thinks, and “inside—she is all American-made . . . It’s my fault she is this way. I wanted my children to have the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character. How could I know these two things do not mix?” She fears that in allowing her daughter to become too American, she has created a divide between Waverly and herself, allowing her daughter to become ashamed of her own mother.
Waverly rejects her mother’s understanding of the implications of a crooked nose and teaches her mother that some symbols can have multiple interpretations. Lindo was taught that a crooked nose signifies misfortune and bad judgment, but Waverly thinks it is a positive trait. Her comment that both she and her mother are “devious” and “two-faced” forces Lindo to reevaluate the extent to which American culture has been instilled in her. She has noted her “Chinese” face and her “American” face. But while she considers her American face her insincere face, not the face of her real self, she remembers how the people in China instantly identified her as an American during her trip there. Her American face is not just a protective cover for her Chinese face; it has become part of her identity as an immigrant. Wondering what she has lost or gained by this integration, she resolves to ask Waverly her opinion, to seek the wisdom of her daughter and learn from her in this matter.
Like Lindo, Jing-mei learns a lesson about the nature of Chinese American identity. Jing-mei wanted to reject her Chinese identity in her adolescence because she wanted to be absolutely American. Now that she is traveling to China to meet her sisters for the first time, she worries that she is not Chinese enough. It is not only the language barrier she fears, but also the cultural one. She fears that she did not appreciate her mother enough, while her sisters, who will now never know Suyuan as adults, have honored Suyuan in their hearts for all these years.
Yet Jing-mei also goes further than Lindo in contemplating the nature of a double identity. Lindo feels uncomfortable in her recognition that American culture has left an indelible trace on her. She fears that she has lost a certain purity or honesty of self. In contrast, Jing-mei joyfully comes to recognize the Chinese heritage that lies deep within herself; she happily perceives that the American culture she has embraced for so long does not preempt a Chinese consciousness as well. Seeing her sisters for the first time makes her realize that her identity need not be “proven” to anyone, for it is innate.
It is interesting to note an apparent plot discrepancy. In his description of the discovery of the twins, Canning voices his belief that Suyuan’s spirit guided her friend to discover her daughters. However, in the first section of the book, the members of the Joy Luck Club told Jing-mei that Suyuan had located her daughters’ address before she died. They mention that she was trying to work up the courage to tell Canning, so it is possible that she never did tell him. It is nevertheless strange that Canning believes the first news of the twins to have come from one of Suyuan’s schoolmates after her death, when Lindo, An-mei, and Ying-ying had actually written to the daughters with the address Suyuan had obtained.
In the final paragraphs of the book, when Jing-mei sees that the three sisters together resemble Suyuan, the novel comes to its true conclusion. The real challenge for Jing-mei has been not to find these long-lost sisters, but to find her inner Chinese identity, and to use that as a bridge to her mother. In finding her sisters, Jing-mei accomplishes both; and her success serves as a hopeful example for the other characters in the book, as they continue to struggle for closer mother-daughter bonds despite gaps in age, language, and culture.
Is there any symbolism in this short story? I was assigned to analyze it like a "professor" and I am not sure if there is any symbolism. All I know is that when Jing-mei's mother offered her to keep to piano it was like a peace offering or forgiveness.
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