Both in this particular story as well as in the book, mothers and daughters are caught up in an all consuming nessecity to resurrect their pasts through actions taken in their remaining years in America. But, unfortunately, they find it difficult to articulate their honest intentions, emotions, and experiences to one another. For example, Jing -mei Woo’s mother
“gives her an heirloom jade pendant—her life’s importance—by which she will know her mother’s meaning. But as Jing-mei notes, it seemed that she and other jade-pendant wearers were “all sworn to the same secret covenant, so secret we don’t even know what we belong to.” Much miscommunication takes place between the mothers and daughters. It is a tricky and risky task for them to dredge up and decipher each other’s personal stories—these palimpsests that are shrouded in layers of silence, secrecy, pain, ambiguity, collusion, and prohibition within the varied discourses, institutions, and power relations in a society.” (Huntley, 1998)
In the story’s poignant ending, Jing-mei realizes, more than twenty years after her mother’s death, what she had actually meant. When her eyes trace the contours of the piano that her mother had bought her, she notices for the first time something that never caught her attention before. The song on one side of the page is titled “Pleading Child”, while the one on the other side is titled “Perfectly Contented.” Suddenly, Jing-mei realizes that the two titles are two halves of the same song. This insight resonates with a central the theme of the story, namely the generational tension between mothers and daughters. While factors such as age, upbringing, education and aspiration might separate these two groups, the fact remains that the “pleading child” cannot be “perfectly contented” as long as she cannot overcome the issues with her mother and to a lesser extent with herself. In this struggle, she is essentially asking herself fundamental questions of identity. In order to answer this question, Jing-mei had to rebel against her mother and her ethnic heritage. Hence, it can be concluded that Amy Tan succeeds in portraying the subtleties, conflicts and confusions of relationships in immigrant communities in America, through application of inventive literary techniques that blur the distinction between short-stories and novels.
Bloom, H. (Ed.). (2001). Amy Tan. Philadelphia: Chelsea House.
Huntley, E. D. (1998). Amy Tan: A Critical Companion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.
Nelson, E. S. (Ed.). (2000). Asian American Novelists: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.