We’re going to argue that Jing-mei is the protagonist despite the fact the book has eight primary characters. To begin with, Jing-mei’s story brackets the entire book – it’s the beginning and end, as well as interspersed in the middle. For the most part, Jing-mei’s story also exemplifies the relationships of all of the mothers and daughters. Lastly, it is Jing-mei’s struggle to discover who her mother was that opens the door for the other women’s stories and reflections. While some of the other characters grow throughout the stories, it is Jing-mei who goes off on a mission – meeting her mother’s twin daughters and fulfilling her mother’s wish – and completes it. On the way, Jing-mei learns more about herself and comes to terms with her mom’s memory.
But then again, because there are eight stories to be told, there are really eight protagonists. In each woman’s narrative, there is a full cast of characters, usually with the narrator as the protagonist. Sometimes though, the woman’s mother will act as the protagonist in a flashback, as in An-mei’s story.
So what do you think: is Jing-mei the protagonist or are all eight of the women?