The Joy Luck Club Chapter 12, Jing-mei Woo, Best Quality
Five months ago, Suyuan gave Jing-mei a necklace that Suyuan called her "life's importance." At first, Jing-mei disliked the way it looked. But now she wears it every day. She wonders what the jewel and design mean, but knows that everyone she asks would give her a different answer. She met a bartender who wore the same sort of pendant, and when she asked him where and why he got his, he said his mother gave it to him, but Jing-mei could tell he had no idea why.
For last Chinese New Year's, Suyuan bought eleven crabs--one per person, plus one extra. Jing-mei helped her shop, listening to her mother complaining about her tenants (she and her husband owned their building) and criticizing other women on the street. She says that a Caucasian couple accused her of poisoning their cat, who has disappeared. Jing-mei wouldn't put it past her mother to do such a thing. They examine the crabs, using a pencil to see how strong the creatures' grips are. But one crab loses a leg, and when Suyuan tries to put it back, the store clerk insists that she take it. Irritated, Suyuan says it doesn't matter anyway, because this one will be extra. Back home, Jing-mei can't watch her mother cook the crabs. She remembers playing with a crab when she was eight, then watching her mother boil it alive. She cannot forget the image of the crab trying to escape from the pot.
Lindo, her husband, Waverly, her brother Vincent, his girlfriend, Waverly's daughter Shoshana, Rich, and Jing-mei's old piano teacher come to the dinner at the Woo household. Jing-mei watches as everyone picks out the best crabs, leaving her and her mother with a discolored one and the one with the missing leg. Suyuan takes the one without the leg, and Jing-mei sees her quietly smell it and then take it into the kitchen, returning with more seasonings for the table but without the crab. Waverly and Rich disdain the crab's brain, which Lindo says is the best part. Then Waverly begins to sneakily insult Jing-mei, telling her that she should get her hair cut where Waverly goes--though it might be too expensive for her. Furious and wanting to hurt the other woman, Jing-mei asks Waverly why she hasn't paid her for the copy-writing work she did for her company. Waverly looks flustered at first, but then she says that Jing-mei's work was unsatisfactory. Ashamed, Jing-mei tries to say that she can change the work to meet the needs of the company, but Waverly brushes her off. She says Jing-mei just does not have style. Then Suyuan tells Waverly, "True, cannot teach style. June not sophisticate like you. Must be born this way." Chapter 12, pg. 206 There is silence, and then finally Lindo tells Waverly to give Jing-mei another chance. Jing-mei tries to smile and declines, going into the kitchen to wash the dishes. "That was the night, in the kitchen, that I realized I was no better than who I was....And I no longer felt angry at Waverly. I felt tired and foolish, as if I had been running to escape someone chasing me, only to look behind and discover there was no one there." Chapter 12, pg. 207 Later that night, she talks with her mother. Suyuan says that she knew June would pick the worst crab--she thinks differently from the others, who always want the best. Though June doesn't understand, this makes her feel good. Then suddenly Suyuan takes off her necklace and gives it to June--it is her life's importance.
June is making tofu for her father, remembering all this after her mother has died. She hears the tenants her mother hated so much upstairs. She hopes to cheer her father up with a good meal. Then she sees the cat from upstairs--her mother didn't kill it after all. She tries to shoo it away, but it just hisses at her.