Chapter 15: Lindo Jong--Double Face
Lindo Jong describes how upset her daughter (Waverly Jong) was when she told her she does not look Chinese. She tried to teach Waverly how to be Chinese, but Waverly wanted to be American and became so. Now that being Chinese is "fashionable," Waverly wants to claim her heritage, but "Only her skin and her hair are Chinese. Inside--she is all American-made." Lindo says this result is her fault, because she wanted her daughter to have "American circumstances," to believe that anything is possible, while retaining Chinese wisdom, but Lindo failed to impart that wisdom.
The scene changes to Waverly's beauty salon, where she has taken her mother for a haircut before her wedding. Waverly and the hairdresser, Mr. Rory, decide what to do with Lindo's hair without consulting her, and while pretending she does not understand what is going on. Lindo is ashamed that Waverly is ashamed of her. When Mr. Rory says they look alike, Waverly is displeased. She puts her face next to Lindo's. As she looks at their similar faces in the mirror, Lindo is reminded of life with her own mother back in China.
The narrative flashes back to Lindo's childhood. She looked in the mirror with her mother as she and Waverly are doing in the modern-day salon. The difference is that back in China, Lindo wanted to look even more like her mother, who pointed out all the signs of good luck in their similar features. But she could not prevent growing up to look and be different from her mother. After the flood and her first marriage, she came to America and paid another Chinese girl to teach her how to fit in, or lose her "Chinese face." Lindo hates considering that Waverly always makes her seem more "backward" than she really is.
Lindo tells Waverly the true story of how she "lost [her] Chinese face" and made her the way she is. When she arrived in America, she learned that Americans would respect her if she said she was religious. She got a monotonous, low-paying job in a fortune cookie factory, where she met An-mei Hsu. An-mei was already married, and she took Lindo to the First Chinese Baptist Church to introduce her to Ting Jong. Tin was Cantonese and Lindo spoke only Mandarin, so they had to communicate using the little English they were learning, or else by writing things down. An-mei and Lindo found a fortune that would tell Tin that Lindo wanted to marry him; it said: "A house is not home when a spouse is not at home." They were married and had Winston (who died in a car accident at age sixteen) and Vincent. Lindo had named both of them with names that sounded lucky: "Wins ton" and "Wins cent." When Waverly was born, she wanted her to have everything she had never had. She named her after their street with a twofold intention; Waverly should feel like she belonged in America just as much as their street, and when she left, she would take a piece of the place and her mother with her.
The scene shifts back to the hair salon. Lindo notices for the first time that Waverly's nose is crooked like hers. Waverly says that similarity means they are both two-faced, so they are good at getting what they want. Lindo thinks about faces and how being two-faced, that is, having an American face and a Chinese face, always means sacrificing some of one for the other. She recalls that when she returned to China for the first time in forty years, people could tell she was no longer completely Chinese and saw her as a foreigner. She plans to ask Waverly what she thinks she has gained and lost by living in America.
Chapter 16: Jing-mei "June" Woo--A Pair of Tickets
As Jing-mei takes the train with her father from Hong Kong to visit her aunt in Guangzhou, she realizes she is becoming Chinese. Her mother had warned her this would happen, but she had denied it until now. After they visit her aunt, they will go to Shanghai to meet her long-lost sisters. When Canning Woo received the letter from the sisters, he gave it to the Joy Luck Club ladies. Instead of writing a letter breaking the news of Suyuan Woo's death, they wrote a letter to the sisters saying she was coming to see them, and they signed it with her name. Jing-mei begged Lindo to write another letter explaining that their mother had died, afraid her sisters would think their mother died because Jing-mei did not appreciate her enough. Lindo seemed satisfied at Jing-mei's recognition of her own shortcomings and wrote the letter. All of Suyuan's family died when a bomb struck their house. This makes Jing-mei and her sisters the only links to their mother's past.
When they arrive in Guangzhou, Canning Woo's aunt, Aiyi, is there with the rest of her family to greet them. Aiyi is only five years older than Canning, and they cry openly with joy upon seeing each other after so long. The whole family goes back to the hotel where Canning and Jing-mei will be staying. Jing-mei is embarrassed by the luxuriousness of the hotel, having not realized that they would have such lavish accommodations for such little money. The family decides to catch up over American food in the hotel, and Jing-mei finds herself hard-pressed to find what she expected of Communist China amid her surroundings. She suddenly misses her mother and wishes she could ask her questions about all the little things she took for granted.
Jing-mei's father tells her that her sisters' names are Chwun Yu, "Spring Rain," and Chwun Hwa, "Spring Flower." Suyuan's name means "Long-Cherished Wish" written one way, and "Long-Held Grudge" written another. He tells Jing-mei that Jing means "pure essence" and mei means "younger sister." This means she is her "mother's long-cherished wish ... the essence" of her sisters. Jing-mei considers how disappointed her mother must have been in how her wish turned out. Then Canning tells Jing-mei the story of why her mother abandoned her sisters in China.
When Suyuan fled Kweilin to find her husband, she took her babies and as much as she could carry. Eventually, horribly weak with dysentery, she had to abandon everything. Not wanting her babies to die with her, she stuffed valuables and information into each of their shirts, along with a note asking that someone take care of them and return them to her address in Shanghai. Then she walked away to die. She awoke in the care of missionaries, and when she reached Chungking, she found out that her husband was dead. Canning met her in a rehabilitation center, terribly weak and pulling out her hair.
A peasant woman named Mei Ching had found Jing-mei's sisters. She and her husband lived in a cave during the war, and they cared for Chwun Yu and Chwun Ha. After her husband died, she took them to Shanghai to the address written on the note. But the address was for a factory, and besides, Suyuan and Canning had already left for America. Over the years, Suyuan wrote to many old friends in China, asking them to look for her daughters to no avail. She insisted that she and Canning go back to China, but he told her it was too late, thinking she just wanted to go for a visit and not to find her daughters. He thinks the possibility that they were dead, which he must have accidentally planted in her mind, is what grew until it killed her in the form of an aneurysm. After Suyuan's death, her schoolmate happened upon the long-lost sisters by accident and gave them Suyuan's address in San Francisco.
The next day, Jing-mei and Canning fly to Shanghai to finally meet her sisters. As soon as they step into the airport, Jing-mei's sisters recognize her and yell for her. They look strangely like and unlike Suyuan. They embrace, and Jing-mei suddenly realizes that the Chinese part of her is persisting within her family. Canning takes a Polaroid of the three sisters together. As it develops, they see their mother's features come to life in their faces. Finally her "long-cherished wish" has come true.
In Chapters 15 and 16, we find the daughters on the cusp of taking their mothers' places. The generations are coming full circle, a pattern echoed in the novel's structure. The Joy Luck Club begins with Jing-mei's story and continues with the mothers' stories, the daughters' stories form the center, and then the novel cycles back to the mothers and ends with Jing-mei. The symmetry in the novel's structure echoes the cyclic pattern of the characters' lives; mothers and daughters diverge in their paths, but all come back to a single point of inviolable love and understanding. Furthermore, the book's symmetry suggests that the stories we read about in the novel have happened in all past generations and will recur in all future generations. Just as one can imagine seeing infinite generations by standing between two mirrors that are opposite each other, one can understand the struggles of infinite generations by hearing the stories of just two.
Although the novel focuses on how similar the generations are in spirit, it is physical appearance that makes Waverly and Jing-mei realize they are truly their mothers' daughters. Lindo Jong's discussion of Chinese and American faces creates a turn in the story line. It is a confirmation that the mothers have become as American as the daughters are Chinese. While we have witnessed the daughters' struggles with dual identity, this is the first time we realize how much American culture-the daughters' culture-affects the mothers as well. In fact, when Lindo returned to China on a trip, she was not even seen as Chinese.
Having a "Double Face," as the chapter title suggests, can mean being isolated from both cultures. But a "double face" also creates an advantage. Just as a tiger's two-colored stripes let it stalk its prey unseen, a person can use her Chinese face in some situations and her American face in others (even if she cannot fully pass as either). Inherent in this idea, though is the negative connotation of "two-faced"; as we have seen, the daughters do view their mothers as deceptive and threatening at times. Even though Lindo and Waverly do not achieve a perfect mutual understanding by the end of the novel, they have a revelation by looking at their two faces, literally, in the mirror. While Waverly often acts ashamed of her mother and the culture she represents, she now sees how much she is like Lindo, flaws and all. Like the daughter in the prologue, Lindo and Waverly look into the mirror and see not only their own faces reflected, but all the past hopes of their mothers and the future hopes of their daughters. Just as Waverly sees her mother's face in her own, when the three sisters watch the Polaroid picture of themselves develop, their images emerge like ghosts from the mist until they form one clear image, that of Suyuan. Ironically, only by examining each other in a superficial, indirect manner-in a mirror or photograph- do the characters finally understand each other. They are looking beyond immediate physical similarities and seeing symbols of intergenerational unities.
Names are crucial to the last two chapters. We first hear about Waverly's name from her, and in a slightly ironic tone; she suggests that her mother named her after their street only so she would sound American, not realizing that "Waverly Place" is a strange name for a child. Even after realizing that she wants Lindo to help Rich understand the Chinese part of her, Waverly still misunderstands what is Chinese, seeing it as backwards. But Waverly's very name affirms that she cannot escape her heritage or her mother; as American as it is, it means that she can never leave her roots behind. Jing-mei also spends most of the book unaware of the affirmation encoded in her name. Suyuan not only has a wish, but also expresses it, because her name means "long-cherished wish." After Suyuan's death, Jing-mei's mission becomes to fulfill that wish, but in fact, she has been fulfilling the wish since birth. Suyuan has always thought of Jing-mei as the "essence of [her] sister[s]." She saw in Jing-mei enough spirit to live for all three of her daughters, should the other two be dead. Hard as they might try at times, neither Waverly nor Jing-mei can escape her mother, the one who named her, the one whose spirit she shares.
As in most of the book, Tan imbues the title of the last chapter, "A Pair of Tickets," with several meanings. In the simplest sense, both Jing-mei and her father travel to China, so they need two tickets. The title also suggests that the long-lost sisters might come back to America with Jing-mei and her father, thus needing "a pair of tickets" of their own. More deeply, Chwun Yu and Chwun Hwa are themselves "a pair of tickets" not only in the fulfillment of Suyuan's wish, but in Jing-mei's understanding of her heritage and her relationship with Suyuan. When in China, Jing-mei finds herself distanced from Chinese culture even as she comes closer to her mother. Therefore it is not Chinese culture as a whole that she and the other daughters inherit, but a sense of being Chinese that is special to them. Even though they relate, each daughter's Chinese identity is as individual as the name her mother chose for her.
The climax comes at the very end of the novel, when Jing-mei meets her sisters. It is the moment when Jing-mei, on behalf of all the characters, understands the point about shared spirit that Tan's reader has been seeing all along. They cannot escape one another, because in many ways they "are" one another. In uniting with her sisters in the flesh, Jing-mei fulfills more than just her mother's wish to be reunited with her sisters in spirit. She has also fulfilled Suyuan's other deep wish, to have Jing-mei understand her and to be able to pass on her legacy. Their meeting is the ultimate affirmation of Tan's continual theme: mothers and daughters in all generations are different 'translations' of the same capable, compassionate and unbreakable spirit.