Sense of place is the notion with many definitions, which depend upon field of study and purpose of defining. Generally, sense of place is a subjective perception of one’s environment and conscious feelings about it. Hence, in their homeland people may feel comfortable and calm, whereas unfamiliar surroundings are more likely to embarrass them and make them feel lost. One of the major themes of short story A Pair of Tickets by Amy Tan is the sense of place/home experienced by its main characters, including the narrator, Jing-mei and her parents. By the examples of Suyuan, Jing-mei, and Canning author shows how the places people grow up in shape them as individuals, and how homeland creates their identities.
Short story A Pair of Tickets is the last chapter of Amy Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club. Generally, the novel consists of sixteen short stories told by four Chinese American women who moved to the USA from China during the World War II, and their daughters. At the beginning of the last short story readers meet a 36-year old Chinese American June May (Jing-mei) on her way to China, her parents’ motherland. The aim of the journey is to meet her half-sisters, who were abandoned by their mother Suyuan many years ago. While travelling Jing-mei recollects all the memoirs about mother’s life and her Chinese background. Besides, the narrator thinks over her own identity, the way she felt in the USA and the way she feels now, on her way to China. Jing-mei remembers her mother’s words about Chinese roots and now realizes that she was right. On arriving to Guangzhou June and her father Canning meet his family and spend a day in the hotel. Here the woman learns the story of her mother, the real reasons of her escape and leaving her twin-daughters by the road. Finally, she arrives to Shanghai and meets her sisters. When Canning takes a photo of reunited family Jing Mei notices that emerging image is the one of their mother, happy and joyful because her lifelong dream has come true.
Analyzing the character of Jing-mei, readers can find out a lot about her life in the USA, and the way she felt there. Being born in the USA she did not realize she was Chinese. At the age of fifteen, she used to deny any Chinese habits in her lifestyle. Jing-mei considered herself American, and all her friends did so as well. “I was about as Chinese as they were” June used to think, and this was the way she thought and acted (Tan 132). What is more, her American identity did not accept Chinese worldview, and when her mother said that China was somewhere in her genes, June was afraid of the activation of these genes, as her American stereotypes made her think that being Chinese meant “haggling with store owners, pecking mouth with a toothpick in public, being colorblind to the fact that lemon yellow and pale pink are not good combinations for winter clothes” (Tan 133).
Attitude of the main character of A Pair of Tickets towards her parents’ motherland can be noticed on her arrival to China, when she compares her to other Chinese people. She is sure that she does not even look like them. So, is it possible that she is Chinese, being so different from them? One of her greatest fears about her arrival to China is her own failure to recognize Chinese elements within herself.
Hence, the USA evoked in June a sense of home as she believed this country is the one she should had been born in, and denied any mother’s attempts to remind her about her Chinese roots. This particular sense of the USA ruled her emotions and behavior. June’s decisions as well as attitude towards everything around her were dependent upon the beliefs of her Caucasian friends and stereotypes dominating in American society. Thus, despite the fact that Jing-mei was genetically Chinese and had been brought up in Chinese household, she identified with American culture and felt at home here. The situation changes only when she comes to China as a mature woman, interested in her Chinese cultural heritage and eager to find out she has something in common with the country of her origin.
The reason for misunderstanding between mother and daughter is their inability to translate concepts from one culture to another. Cultural misunderstanding owes to lack of language and cultural knowledge. For instance, June has never thought about the meaning of her Chinese name Jing-mei as well as about the meanings of her mother’s and twin-sisters’ names. Later she discovers that Chinese names usually mean something, and these meanings are even more significant than they may seem at first sight. Symbolism is the characteristic feature of Chinese culture, and understanding culture without understanding its symbols is next to impossible.
Although the mother of Jing-mei died, she is present throughout the story in her daughter’s memoirs and thoughts. When June used to abandon her Chinese roots, Suyuan insisted that being Chinese is not something to control. “Once you born Chinese, you cannot help but feel and think Chinese. Someday you will see. It is in your blood” (Tan 133). Suyuan seemed to be anxious over her inability to make her daughter reconcile her Chinese roots with American lifestyle. Jing-mei, who did not understand her mother’s words, were afraid of genetics and felt as if she were a werewolf who once was going to mutate. Suyuan, in her turn, remained Chinese despite the fact she moved to the USA. Her sense of home remained in the country where she had left her twin-daughters and was replaced by lifelong dream to find her babies, which was fulfilled only after her death. In the USA she felt lost, and that is why she founded her own club for immigrant women in order to have a place like her motherland far away from it.
The feeling Suyuan was talking about comes to Jing-mei the moment she crosses the border of China. “The minute our train leaves the Hong Kong border and enters Shenzhen, China, I feel the skin on my forehead tingling, my blood rushing through a new course, my bones aching with a familiar old pain” (Tan 132). The narrator now understands that her mother was right, and that till this very moment she did not realize what it means to feel Chinese. She notices how her father’s facial expression changes while travelling and how his own sense of home activates. When she is in the country of her origin Jing-mei is still under the influence of American stereotypes related to “communist China”. She is shocked when she realizes that her attitudes towards this country were false and feels a kind of pride and relief. Finally, her Chinese identity appears when she meets her twin-sisters and realizes that this reunion has made her Chinese.
The experience of Jing-mei in China supports the idea of mixed identity. The woman proves that two different cultures can co-exist within one personality, and they can be mixed profitably. She notices that China contains many American traits as well and Chinatowns in the USA contain the main cultural features of China. The example of Jing-mei proves that it is not possible for Chinese immigrants to be purely American or purely Chinese, as every culture people face in their lives leaves a trail in their personalities. Thus, an individual, especially an immigrant, is a mixture of unique habits, tastes, beliefs, values and memoirs. At the same time, it is not right to forget about native culture of one’s ancestors and abandon it for the sake of another one, because culture of motherland is in people’s blood waiting to be let go. Jing-mei discovers that the thing that was definitely Chinese in her is her family and its cultural heritage. “I look at their [sisters’] faces again and I see no trace of my mother in them. Yet they still look familiar. And now I also see what part of me is Chinese. It is too obvious. It is my family. It is in our blood. After all these years, it can finally be let go” (Tan 144).
Summing up, the short story A Pair of Tickets by Amy Tan is a meaningful and impressive conclusion of the novel The Joy Luck Club, which consists of narratives of Chinese American immigrants and their daughters. One of the prominent themes of this story is the sense of place and home. The portrayal of major characters contributes to the understanding of this concept and shows how people’s behavior and lifestyle are dependent upon the place they were born and grown up in. At the same time, the cultural heritage of the country of an immigrant’s origin will always be in his heart. The main heroine of A Pair of Tickets Jing-mei finally realizes that there is no reason in denying the things that are in blood, and her identity is a mixture of unique beliefs and habits. With this realization, happy and proud of reunion with her twin-sisters and her Chinese background, Jing-mei fulfills her mother’s lifelong dream and agrees that she is becoming Chinese.