In a way, Jing-mei Woo is the main character of The Joy Luck Club. Structurally, her narratives serve as bridges between the two generations of storytellers, as Jing-mei speaks both for herself and for her recently deceased mother, Suyuan. Jing-mei also bridges America and China. When she travels to China, she discovers the Chinese essence within herself, thus realizing a deep connection to her mother that she had always ignored. She also brings Suyuan’s story to her long-lost twin daughters, and, once reunited with her half-sisters, gains an even more profound understanding of who her mother was.
For the most part, Jing-mei’s fears echo those of her peers, the other daughters of the Joy Luck Club members. They have always identified with Americans (Jing-mei also goes by the English name “June”) but are beginning to regret having neglected their Chinese heritage. Her fears also speak to a reciprocal fear shared by the mothers, who wonder whether, by giving their daughters American opportunities and self-sufficiency, they have alienated them from their Chinese heritage.
Jing-mei is representative in other ways as well. She believes that her mother’s constant criticism bespeaks a lack of affection, when in fact her mother’s severity and high expectations are expressions of love and faith in her daughter. All of the other mother-daughter pairs experience the same misunderstanding, which in some ways may be seen to stem from cultural differences. What Tan portrays as the traditional Chinese values of filial obedience, criticism-enveloped expressions of love, and the concealment of excessive emotions all clash with the daughters’ “American” ideas about autonomy, free and open speech, and self-esteem. However, by eventually creating a bridge between China and America, between mothers and daughters, Jing-mei ultimately reconciles some of these cultural and generational differences, providing hope for the other mother-daughter pairs.