Amy Tan’s “A Pair of Tickets” and Judith Ortiz Cofer’s “Volar” both use symbolism and distinct settings to portray the lives and feelings of two young girls that originate from a different cultural background. Although these girls are different in the way they lead their lives and the way their nationality impacts them on a daily basis, they both struggle with cultural related problems many people living in a place that is not where they originated from have to deal with. Both of the short stories use similar styles of setting and symbolism to describe two very different problems these young girls have to face because of who they are and where they are from. The setting of each story gives the audience insight of why the characters feel, act, and react in the manner they do. The subtle but powerful symbolism used throughout the stories help create more depth and meaning impacting the main characters.
“A Pair of Tickets” is about the narrator Jing- Mei going to China for the first time and discovering what makes her Chinese. Growing up in California, she has assimilated with the American way of life and the cultures in the country. She insisted that she does not feel Chinese on the inside at all even though her parents were both Chinese immigrants and she looked like it on the outside. In the beginning of the story she wants nothing to do with being Chinese and tries her hardest to avoid it but once she gets to China, she learns what being Chinese really means and oddly enough she feels like she has come home. The setting of China correlates to Jing- Mei’s story of self-discovery. The setting explores heritage, location, and ethnic identity to give the reader a better understanding of the Jing Mei and how it all has an impact on her. The setting and her Chinese relatives help her learn about the nature of being Chinese and cause her to shift her point of view about her heritage. “I look at their faces again and I see no trace of my mother in them. Yet they still look familiar. I also see what part of me is Chinese. It is so obvious. It is my family. It is in our blood” (202). Being in China and being around her family members change around her sense of culture and brings her to realize that although she does not live in China, she is Chinese through her roots and her family.
On the other hand, the story “Volar” is about a family of immigrants also residing in America. The little girl who is also the narrator of the story, has her own version of an American dream that is very far from her reach because of her circumstances. Unlike in “A Pair of Tickets”, the girl from this story has a hard time fitting in. Being from Puerto Rico, she struggles with looking different than everyone else and relating to people living in America so by trying to escape the harsh reality that is her life, she would imagine herself as Supergirl looking over the buildings and spying on her neighbors. This dream gave her the feeling of empowerment and control of her surroundings. In reality she lives in a “Barrio” which is a Spanish speaking neighborhood. The young girl mentioned “I would wake up in my tiny bedroom with the incongruous-at least in our tiny apartment…” (204). She recalls waking up from her super hero dreams to her disappointing small area of living. She is very aware of how the way she lived was below the standards of others. She goes on further to describe how everything in the neighborhood is small and filthy while looking through the kitchen window. She also describes her mother who also is desperate to leave this place and go on vacation to Puerto Rico to visit family and be surrounded by people and culture that they fit in with. The detailed setting of this story helps the reader understand why the narrator and her mother both desire to escape and return to what they know because it is easier and better.
Both “A Pair of Tickets” and “Volar” include heavy use of symbolism to display a deeper meaning the main characters and their struggles as individuals with a distinctive heritage living in America. In “Volar”, the symbol of the mother and daughter wishing to fly is a representation of how desperate they are to escape their hard life in America. Flying is the fastest way of getting somewhere and gives the feeling of complete freedom. This is what the young girl and her mother were dreaming about, although their dreams were very different, they had the same meaning behind them. “She’d sigh deeply and say the same thing the view from her kitchen window always inspired her to say: Ay, si yo pudiera volar” (205). The mother would look out the window hopelessly and imagine the feeling of being able to fly to escape and be where she feels happiest and most comfortable: Puerto Rico. In “A Pair of Tickets”, there is symbolism through the seasons described throughout the story as well as the train tickets. As Jing- Mei first arrives in Guangzhou, the scenery is described as very dull and gloomy which can be describes as winter. This is a representation of the time period she must go through before she is able to blossom and evolve. Once she gets to Shanghai, the scenery is still the same being dull winter like but after she meets her sisters for the first time, it is as if winter shifts to spring. The names of her and the twin sisters when translated to English all have a connection to the spring season. Therefore, when they stand together, embracing one another, their names join to represent a flourishing spring season. The pair of train tickets are the symbol of the journey that led Jing-Mei to evolve and complete the route of self-discovery.
The two stories both use a plethora of symbolism and specifically selected settings to describe to very young girls and why they feel and behave the way they do. The use of symbolism and detailed settings is to explain the life from the point of view of a child who often has to endure a lot when originating from another country. “A Pair of Tickets” is a story of a girl who discovers big portion of her life through the setting of China and the family she meets. Many events throughout the story symbolize her feelings and her journey in accepting her culture. “Volar” is a story that uses symbolism and a specific setting to describe a young girl with thirst to escape her life and clarify why she wants to “fly” so much.