‘A Pair of Tickets’ by Amy Tan
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The short story ‘A Pair of Tickets’ is a component of a novel ‘The Joy Luck Club’ by Amy Tan which focuses on a woman fulfilling the lifelong wish of her mother. The title symbolizes the discovery of the narrator’s identity, and the soul of her emotional nature and feelings towards her mother. The setting in this story changes the soul of the narrator as she begins to discover things about herself and her two different cultures. As the story progresses, she begins to question things in her life, her identity, her mother’s life, and the lives of her newly discovered twin sisters. She wants to fulfill her mother’s wish of seeing the twin daughters once again. At the beginning of the story, she denies her Chinese culture, but through the trip to China, she matures and begins to realize her true self. When the narrator leaves the Hong Kong border to China, she feels the ‘familiar old pain’ aching in her bones. This pain comes form her internal conflict between two different culture, her denial of being Chinese, and the missed opportunity for her to truly know her mother.
According to Stanley L. Fong, ‘ As Chinese become progressively removed from their ancestral culture and in greater contact with the dominant American culture, they will show an concurrent increase in their assimilation-orientation and in their internalization of American cultural norms’ (39). As the narrator was born in America, goes to an American school, and makes friends with Caucasians, she starts to become part American. She wants to be more associated with her Caucasian friends, and because she is educated under an American culture, she thinks in an American way. She doesn’t want to be an outsider in a foreign country, she wants to be associated with Americans in an American culture, she wants to be an American. In order to do so, she must deny her Chinese ways as taught by her parents. The characteristics of being a Chinese has embarrassed her enough. She does not want to be like her mother, ‘ haggling with store owners, pecking her mouth with a toothpick in public, being colour-blind to the fact that lemon yellow and pale pink are not good combinations for winter clothes’.
She does not want to embarrass herself in public like that, does not want people to look down on her, and does not want to be stereotyped by Americans. Therefore, she tries to deny her Chinese identity. The narrator’s trip to China symbolizes the fulfilment of her mother’s wish to once again see her twin daughters. According to a character of Amy Tan, ‘Your mother was a very strong woman, a good mother. She loved you very much, more than her own life. And that’s why you can understand why a mother like this could ever forget her other daughters. She knew they were alive, and before she died she wanted to find her daughters in China’ (29). Her mother was very strong in her search for her daughters, but passed on before she could complete the task. The narrator goes to China to fulfill this task for her mother, as well as meet her family members she has never seen before. She wants to tell her twin sisters about the life of her mother, the mother they did not know about and the one who loves them so much. In fulfilling her mother’s dream, it does not only help to make her feel better, but also gives relief to her mother’s soul.
In the trip to China, the narrator begins to understand the other side of her mother, and the strength of her soul. ‘…their mother-their mother-was coming, whereas my mother was dead.’ The mother in the narrator’s eyes is just an unfashionable woman who only knows how to embarrass the narrator in public and express her ideas in fragile English. The narrator had never questioned her mother’s life and the internal feelings her mother had or ever tried to look at her mother closely enough when she was still alive. But once her father told her about her mother’s experience, she knows there is a lot more to her mother that she had ever realized. She starts to notice how important and strong her mother is , and wants to know more about her mother’s past. The trip to China also symbolizes the discovery of Chinese blood in the narrator’s identity. ‘ Once you are born Chinese, you cannot help but feel and think Chinese’. When she arrives in China, she starts to notice the similarity between her two cultures, and learns to accept the fact that she is Chinese. She notices that the crowds in the train station feels like getting on a bus in San Francisco, and starts enjoying the pushing too.
In downtown Guangzhou, the highrises and the construction make her feel like she was in an American city, which is how she never expected it to feel before. She pays attention to the things around her, and tries to associate herself with the Chinese culture. She wants to learn more about her mother, and wants to be part Chinese. When she sees her twin sisters, she notices that they all look similar to their mother, and the fact that her mother and her sisters are completely Chinese. They were born in China, and they act and think as a Chinese. She finally realizes that there is Chinese blood flowing in her veins. Since the narrator’s mother left her twin daughters on the way to Chungking, she had developed an illness caused by her depression of having to abandon them. In the Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan’s narrator states that her father thinks the narrator’s mother was killed by her own thoughts, but before her horrible thoughts could be eased, they exploded and killed her (5).
The thought in her mother’s mind may be her guilt of leaving her twin daughters and her hope of seeing them again. She blames herself for not being a good mother, she could not care for them the way that she feels a mother should have. She tried her best to find her daughters, but failed in the end. She wants to see them again, so that she can compensate for her failure to properly care for her daughters. She loves them very much and wants to be a responsible mother once again. The death of the narrator’s mother, greatly affects the narrator in the story. Edith G. Neisser states that ‘ Pressures from the outside and from within combine to produce this uncomfortable guilt once the mother died’ (261). The narrator feels guilty and responsible for her mother’s death. She thinks that she did not take care of her and understand her well enough when she was alive. She never admired and respected her before, and did not know how much her mother had suffered and how much her mother missed her twin daughters. She wants to ease her guilt by fulfilling her mother’s wish, but she does not know how to face her twin sisters, because she thinks she is the only one who is responsible for their mother’s death. In the story, the narrator mentions that all the cities in China have changed their spellings, except Shanghai, which is where her sisters live.
This unchanged spelling of Shanghai is a symbol of her mother’s dedication to her search for her daughters over these years. She travelled many different cities, and even wrote and asked her old schoolmate to look for her daughters. A part of her believes that finding them is impossible, but she still does not want to give up her hope, because of the bond she feels between them. It also symbolizes the change in the narrator after her mother’s death. She learns more about her mother and accepts herself as being part of Chinese. She goes to Shanghai to see her sisters, because this is the only way she can fulfill her mother’s wish and find her own identity. Therefore, Shanghai is a name which is very important to the narrator. The names of the characters are very significant to the story and show much about them. The name of the narrator’s mother ‘Suyuan’, ‘ The way she writes it in Chinese, means ‘Long- Cherished Wish’.’, according to the narrator’s father. It symbolizes for her mother’s continuous searching for her twin daughters and wish to be with them again. Her mother’s name could also mean ‘Long-Held Grudge’ as sometimes used by her father when her mother would get upset.
It shows another side of her mother that was quite often hidden, she held a grudge against herself for leaving her daughters on the side of the road and her irresponsibility of being their mother. ‘Chwun Yu’ and ‘Chwun Hwa’, the names of her twin sisters, mean ‘Spring Rain’ and ‘Spring Flower’, which show their order in birth and their starting of life when they are reunited with their mother again. The narrator’s name ‘Jing Mei’, is also connected to her mother, which means ‘Pure-Essential Younger Sister’. She is the only daughter that her mother could be with during this year, she is very essential to her mother in her life and she is the youngest sister of the twins. Her mother puts all her hope in the narrator, because she knows that she could not lose her child again. Throughout the trip to China, the narrator matures into an insightful woman with the heritage of two cultures. She finally understands what her mother meant by ‘ Once you are born Chinese, you cannot help but feel and think Chinese.’. During all of these years, the narrator has solved all the doubts about herself, her mother, and her sisters that she had. She knows that she is a part of Chinese which she can never deny again, because if has already been rooted in her veins.