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Amy Tans A Pair Of Tickets English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1643 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In Amy Tans story A Pair of Tickets, the protagonist June May, uses generalizations and internal conflicts to demonstrate how being ignorant and not embracing your roots makes you miss out on one of the most important parts of your life, your heritage.

The short story begins with June and her 72-year-old father on a train destined for China. Their first stop will be Guangzhou where they will get together with her father’s aunt whom he hasn’t seen in 62 years. Their final destination will be Shanghai where they will meet June’s two half-sisters whom she has never seen.

Upon arrival at Guangzhou June is nervous and although she is trying hard to assimilate there is a conflict at work because her thoughts seem to go back and forth between being Chinese and continually questioning her heritage. This struggle is evident in Amy Tan’s line, “The minute our train leaves the Hong Kong border and enters Shenzhen, China, I feel different. I can feel the skin on my forehead tingling, my blood rushing through a new course, my bones aching with familiar old pain and I think, my mother was right. I am becoming Chinese” (Tan p.120). In the book Modern Critical Views, Harold Bloom cites Ben Xu, who wrote “At this moment she seems to come to a sudden realization that to be “Chinese” is a lofty realm of being that transcends all the experiential attributes she once associated with being a Chinese, when she was unable to understand why her mother said that a person born Chinese cannot help but feel and think Chinese.” (Bloom P.55).

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The next scene she is getting off the train in Guangzhou and she is thinking “even without makeup, I could never pass for true Chinese. I stand five-foot-six, and my head pokes above the crowd, so that I am eye level only with other tourists” (Amy Tan 124). Adding to her identity crisis is the fact that June is 36-years-old and although she understands Chinese she cannot speak it very well. At first glance you get the impression that June’s trip to China may be an attempt on her part to conform with her Chinese heritage, but in reality the trip is the fulfillment of what she felt was an obligation to carry out her mother’s wishes who wanted to take the trip herself to finally meet the two daughters who she abandoned as a young woman fleeing Kweilin ahead of the invading Japanese. Unfortunately she passed away before she ever got the chance. Throughout her entire life June’s mother did her best to instill in her the importance of her Chinese heritage. “Once you are born Chinese, you cannot help but feel and think Chinese.” Her mother would tell her. (Tan 120).

Amy Tan makes it very clear that the Protagonist in her story was completely westernized. She was born in Oakland California, attended Galileo High in San Francisco and was surrounded by Caucasian friends. “The daughters, unlike their mothers are American not by choice, but by birth. Neither the Chinese nor the American culture is equipped to define them except in rather superficial terms. They can identify themselves for sure neither as Chinese nor American” (Bloom p.56).

An important indication of how she loathed her Chinese heritage is described in the passage where in response to June’s mother telling her “Someday you will see,” “it is in your blood waiting to be let go.” When she said this, I saw myself transforming like a werewolf, a mutant tag DNA suddenly triggered, replicating itself insidiously into a syndrome, a cluster of telltale Chinese behaviors, all those things mother did to embarrass me-haggling with store owners, pecking her mouth with a toothpick in public, being color-blind to the fact that lemon yellow and pale pink are not good combination for winter clothes” (Tan 120).

In what is considered to be an analogy to Amy Tan’s protagonist, another famous Chinese author Lin May, Between Worlds: Women Writers of Chinese Ancestry, wrote

the following about her Western upbringing: “I grew up on a diet of Mother Goose nursery rhymes and European fairy tales, wishing I could be a blue-eyed princess with long blond hair. Since our first four years were spent in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and Mexico, Missouri-small towns where we were the only Chinese family-I never saw another Asian face apart from my own and those of my family.” Just because I have Chinese facial features doesn’t mean I know anything about China or Chinese customs. I’m American!”

The part where June visits the hotel is another indication of her American upbringing and her lack of being current on Chinese modernization and culture. “The taxi stops and I assume we’ve arrived, but then I peer out at what looks like a grander version of the Hyatt Regency.” “this is communist China?” she exclaims! (Tan p.127). Almost as if she is expecting all of china to be backward and not modern in any way. How could they possibly have a hotel this beautiful in China? How could they have things like we do? This is communist China? She exclaims over and over again. At the same time being at the hotel seems to begin to change her self image in ways that she doesn’t quite understand yet. In the scene where June is “envisioning my first real Chinese feast for many days already, a big banquet with one of those soups steaming out of a carved winter melon, chicken wrapped in clay, Peking duck, the works” (Tan p.128). When she discovers what her Chinese family desires, however, it is amusingly “hamburgers, French fries, and apple pie la mode the classic American dinner.

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During the stay at the hotel June’s father finally tells her the story of her mother and the circumstances that led to her leaving them by the side of the road. He explained how her mother never gave up hope and spent her entire life searching for her twins. He was able to clarify many questions that had haunted her for most of her life. This was a significant event and the beginning of June’s self-image change.

On the final part of the journey June’s plane lands in Shanghai and she finally gets to meet her twin sisters. As she takes a picture with her Polaroid and the three sisters are looking at the film developing before their eyes-the gray-green surface changes to the bright colors of our three images, sharpening and deepening all at once. And although we don’t speak, I know we all see it: “Together we look like our mother. Her same eyes, the same mouth, open in surprise to see, at last, her long-cherished wish” (Tan p.288). Finally June May becomes Jing Mei Woo.

“In traveling to China to meet her twin half-sisters-the now-grown babies for whom Sunyan had searched for almost forty years-Jing-mei brings closure and resolution to her mother’s story as well as to her own. For Jin-mei, the journey is an epiphany and a disvoice to Suyuan’s story as well as to the story that they share as mother and daughter.’ (Huntley p.48).

The theme of Amy Tan’s short story “A Pair of Tickets” is the account of a young Chinese American, June May, who was born and raised in California and was in denial about her ethnic identity. She has reached middle-age and doesn’t know what it means to be Chinese. She never got along with her mother who tried to instill in her the importance of her Chinese heritage. She did her best to raise her in the traditional Chinese ways. Many of her arguments were associated with her antagonist attitude toward her heritage. She finally gets the chance to fulfill a promise she made to her mother before her death and takes a trip to her parent’s homeland in China to meet her long lost twin sisters. At first she dreads and fears the reception she will get from the sisters she never knew nor met, but as the story unfolds she undergoes a transformation related to her roots and begins to exhibit the very same traits that she once hated.

The author, Amy Tan, uses the story to explain how the protagonist’s trip to China was the turning point in her life. The impression that there is something missing and her life is incomplete is evident throughout the short story. At the end of the story the message that the relationship between mother and daughter is something to be cherished is powerful and heartwarming. Marina Heung seems to capture the essence of May June’s journey in Bloom’s Modern Critical Views. Marina’s passage, “During the scene of June’s reunion with her sisters, the rebounding of mirror images enacts a climactic moment, binding mother to daughter and sister to sister. In this encounter, sisterly and maternal identities are blurred, and through the recovery of lost sisters, the foundling myth is conflated with romance of the daughter. Looking into her sister’s faces, June also sees mirrored in them part of her own ethnic identity.” (p.29).

I believe E.D. Huntley captures what “A Pair of Tickets” is all about in the following statement, “Tan’s Protagonists inhabit a psychological and emotional landscape that has been labeled “The border”: mothers mediate between the homeland of their birth and their adopted country; daughters feel trapped between their Chinese heritage and their American upbringing; and mothers and daughters meet uneasily in the unstable geography of the immigrant family in which one generation remains firmly entrenched in an ancestral culture while the younger family members feel like outsiders or aliens in that culture” (p.71).



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