Example Of Nationality And Anxiety In “A Pair Of Tickets” Thesis
One of the most intriguing elements of Amy Tan’s “A Pair of Tickets” (from The Joy Luck Club) is the story’s exploration of the tension between globalization and cultural identity. Jing-mei wants to “feel Chinese,” but is often frustrated by the Americanization of her native-born Chinese family, who insist on having hamburgers and taking Polaroids (Tan 133). Through Jing-mei’s exploration of the story she is told about her mother, and how she was forced to abandon her half-sisters in the wake of the Japanese invasion, she begins to cultivate a greater understanding of what it means to be Chinese in the wake of a globalized dilution of this authenticity. These themes of cultural identity, generational identity and the anxiety of the ‘true Chinese experience’ permeate “A Pair of Tickets,” echoing Amy Tan’s own exploration of the Asian-American experience and revealing the cultural tensions that color interactions between Asians and Americans, as well as between mothers and daughters.
Jing-mei navigates her own sense of cultural identity through the events of the story in a variety of ways, revealing the unique anxieties Asian-Americans often go through in attempting to authentically engage with their native culture. Jing-mei’s struggle to “feel Chinese” is interrupted and disrupted by the new globalized China, which can cause tension in individuals searching for a cultural identity. This is a recurring motif throughout Tan’s novel The Joy Luck Club and the rest of her works, as she “creates two entirely different scripts of cultural identity, a realistically-outlined ‘American’ identity for the daughters and an Orientalized ‘Chinese’ one for their mothers” (Singer 324).
Jing-mei in particular is someone with a great deal of tension about her cultural identity, as evidenced by her excitement at arriving in China, with her “skintingling” and “blood rushing” (Tan 132). As a Chinese-American, she has felt (and been told about by her mother) the pull of arriving to China, showcasing a decided yearning for a more authentic Chinese experience. However, this is frustrated by her family, who carry a somewhat lessened adherence to traditional Chinese culture; bring dragged to an Americanized hotel, with a mini-bar and snacks, leads her to ask “This is communist China?” (Tan 139). Cities are described as looking American from a distance, only seeming Chinese when you look closely and see the fine details.
Tan’s work in “A Pair of Tickets,” just as with many other Asian-American authors, is to search for “a ground on which they can find their own identity,” navigating this intercultural conflict that they must wrestle with by being torn between two worlds. The aforementioned glib descriptions of China by Jing-mei are used by Tan to illustrate the ‘double consciousness’ of the Asian-American experience, in which Asian-Americans must deal with the cultural baggage of both cultures to which they have grown accustomed (Wang 88).
This is a recurring motif in Asian-American literature, of which this story is representative: Asian-Americans who are put through “psychological confusion, emotional frustration, and cultural alienation” as a result of their need to look at themselves based on how others look at them (Wang 89). This is true of Jing-mei, as she is the only one acutely conscious (and self-conscious) of just how much “communist China” has been Westernized; her search for authenticity has been stymied by the same American trappings following her to her cultural home. The central theme of “A Pair of Tickets” lies in Jing-mei’s desire to not only feel Chinese, but connected to her family; the two are virtually interchangeable in this instance.
Despite this issue, Tan uses time to emphasize the inexorable link that Chinese have to their history and heritage. When speaking to her father Canning, he relays to her an amazing story about her mother, Suyuan, traveling to America through war-torn China, only to leave her half-sisters behind for their own safety. The story Jing-mei hears about her mother helps her to reconcile that Chinese identity with her Americanized present, an almost supernatural fable that lends a sense of myth to history (Singer 325). Upon hearing this story, Jing-mei gains a new appreciation for her culture and her father as well, as she describes the effect of this tale as “finding my mother in my father’s story” (Tan 144).
Tan’s use of oral history to convey the story of the Communist revolution through a single woman’s story offers a sense of continuity and heightened majesty to the struggles of the Chinese during this tumultuous time, as well as offers Jing-mei a more personal connection to both her family and her past. This also develops Tan’s leitmotif of mothers and daughters, offering this specific matriarchal family link as a lifeline to Asian-Americans seeking a reconciliation with their parents and their culture (Wood 82).
Central to this exploration of identity is Tan’s unique concept of time; time seems to be the thing that changes cultural identity, familial relationships, and the perception of history. The generational gap between Jing-mei’s mother, her Chinese relatives, and herself offers a distinct set of identities that run the gamut of Chinese cultural identity – her mother Suyuan’s heartfelt, grave struggle against grave historical circumstances, the current family’s acclimation to American culture and respect for the past, and Jing-mei’s cynicism regarding that Americanization and a heartfelt desire to return to her roots. “A Pair of Tickets,” like most of Tan’s other stories, “interact through their superstructural arrangement into a narrative that stresses the importance of returning to the past in order to progress into the future” (Singer 325). Luckily, through Canning’s explanation of Suyuan’s story about Jing-mei’s half-sisters, Jing-mei herself can do exactly that.
Through this exploration of the uniquely difficult experiences of Asian-Americans as compared with the trials and tribulations of refugees from war-torn China, Jing-mei in “A Pair of Tickets” reveals Amy Tan’s desire to reconcile the horrors of the past with the hope of an acculturated future. Even as Jing-mei is frustrated in her attempts to explore the authentic Chinese part of herself – to “feel Chinese” – she finds herself growing closer to her family through the harrowing story of her mother’s sacrifice (and the traditional storytelling that brings her mother’s story to her). In this way, Tan’s story explores the intricate ways in which Asian-Americans must navigate their own identity, negotiating between familial and cultural signposts to come to a greater understanding about themselves. As Jing-mei begins to abandon the idea of ‘feeling Chinese’ in modern China, she grows closer to her Chinese mother and finds her own identity within these new definitions. As she does so, authors like Tan can begin to discuss and reconcile the double consciousness that exists within many Asian-Americans, who search for authenticity and identity in their own lives and cultures.
Singer, Marc. "Moving Forward to Reach the Past: The Dialogics of Time in Amy Tan's ‘The
Joy Luck Club’." Journal of Narrative Theory (2001): 324-352.
Tan, Amy. “A Pair of Tickets.” In The Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed. Mays, Kelly J.
New York: W. W. Norton & Co Inc., 2014.
Wang, Qun. "’Double Consciousness,’ Sociological Imagination, and the Asian American
Experience." Race, Gender & Class (1997): 88-94.
Wood, Michelle Gaffner. "Negotiating the Geography of Mother-Daughter Relationships in Amy
Tan's The Joy Luck Club." The Midwest Quarterly 54.1 (2012): 82.
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