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Jing-Mei Woo - Best Quality
One Chinese New Year just before Suyuan’s death, Jing- Mei joined her family for a celebration. Her mother gave her a fancy jade pendant to wear around her neck. Although Jing-Mei accepted the pendant, she thought it was too big and gaudy and did not understand its meaning. Later, she meets someone else wearing the same pendant; he tells her it was a gift from his mother and that he, too, does not know its meaning.
That Chinese New Year had been an unhappy occasion for Jing-Mei. Her mother had invited the Jongs to her house for the celebration. Jing-Mei accompanied her mother to the market to buy crabs. Suyuan carefully selected the crabs, rejecting one with a severed claw, for it would bring bad luck; the shopkeeper, however, threw in the maimed crab for free. After the guests arrived, Suyuan realized that she had forgotten to count Shoshana, Waverly’s daughter, in the number of guests. As a result, she added the maimed crab to the pot that was cooking. At dinner, Waverly served Shoshana first, selecting for her the best crab. In contrast, Suyuan took the last portion, which was the crab without a claw. She did not eat a bite of the crab, for she did not want to have bad luck.
During the meal, Waverly insults Jing-Mei by criticizing her hair stylist, calling him gay and suggesting he probably has AIDS. Jing-Mei responds with a subtle insult about Waverly’s business, which has failed to pay Jing-Mei for some copywriting she did for them. Waverly responds that Jing-Mei’s work is sub-standard. This criticism brings tears to Jing-Mei’s eyes. Knowing that Jing-Mei has been hurt by Waverly, Suyuan tries to comfort her daughter after the guests leave. She calls Waverly a crab, who walks crooked and states that Jing-Mei is a much better and more honest person. She then gives Jing-Mei the jade pendant, which is of the best quality. She also tells her the pendant represents her “life’s-importance.”
The entire chapter is punctuated with Suyuan’s complaints about the neighbors and their cat. Jing-Mei feels that her mother is making something out of nothing. When the cat disappears, both the neighbors and Jing-Mei suspect that Suyuan has poisoned the animal. After Suyuan’s death, Jing-Mei is cooking for her father, for he has not been eating right. When she is in the kitchen, she notices the loudness of the neighbors and realizes her mother’s complaints have been valid. She also sees the neighbor’s missing cat and is relieved to know that her mother did not poison it.
Jing-Mei, who opened the novel by taking her mother’s place in the Joy Luck Club, narrates this chapter entitled Best Quality. The title is a clear reference to the jade pendant that Suyuan gave Jing-Mei, for it is of the best quality. More importantly, Jing-Mei during the chapter begins to realize the best qualities of Suyuan and herself. Through most of her life, Jing-Mei does not value herself, judging that she is less than best quality. Suyuan constantly tries to improve her daughter’s self-worth.
When Suyuan gives Jing-Mei the pendant, she tells her that it reflects “life’s importance.” At first Jing-Mei does not understand the meaning of the pendant; it is not until after Suyuan’s death that she realizes the true worth of the gift. By giving her the precious necklace, Suyuan indicates to Jing-Mei that she worthy of jade of “best quality.” Through the gift she has, therefore, boosted the confidence of Jing- Mei, who has always been extremely hard on herself. With the pendant, Suyuan makes Jing-Mei realize her own worth. The pendant also symbolizes the importance of passing down Chinese heritage from one generation to the next.
The New Year party reveals the real natures of Suyuan and Jing-Mei, who are selfless and humble. They serve themselves last, taking the leftover crabs. They also swallow the insults heaped on them by the Jongs with dignity. While Lindo jokes about Suyuan’s gaudy dress, Waverly criticizes Jing-Mei’s gay hair stylist and unacceptable copywriting skills. Jing-Mei is helpless to really strike back. Since Waverly is a successful tax accountant and she is a lowly copywriter, Jing-Mei feels totally inferior.