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.

Read about another character who travels to better understand her family history, Yolanda García from Julia Alvarez’s How the García Girls Lost their Accents.

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.