The old woman remembered a swan she had bought many years ago in Shanghai for a foolish sum. This bird, boasted the market vendor, was once a duck that stretched its neck in hopes of becoming a goose, and now look! – it is too beautiful to eat. (I.Prologue.1)
The duck transformed itself into more than what it was aiming for.
Part 1, Chapter 4
Ying-ying St. Clair
So I walked closer yet, until I could see the face of the Moon Lady: shrunken cheeks, a broad oily nose, large glaring teeth, and red-stained eyes. A face so tired that as she wearily pulled off her hair, her long gown fell from her shoulders. And as the secret wish fell from my lips, the Moon Lady looked at me and became a man. (I.4.113)
Her desire for the Moon Lady to be real and able to grant wishes transforms a frightening man into a beautiful Moon Lady. But Ying-ying’s illusion is shattered on close inspection.
Part 2, Chapter 3
Rose Hsu Jordan
And I too saw Bing trudging wearily at the far end of the beach, his shoes hanging in his hand, his dark head bent over in exhaustion. I could feel what my mother felt. The hunger in our hearts was instantly filled. And then the two of us, before we could even get to our feet, saw him light a cigarette, grow tall, and become a stranger. (II.3.89)
For Rose and her mother, the strength of their desire to see Bing momentarily transforms a strange man into the four-year-old Bing.
Part 3, Chapter 1
Ying-ying St. Clair
"She become so thin now you cannot see her," says my mother. "She like a ghost, disappear." (III.1.94)
Ying-ying further draws out the similarities between herself and her daughter; like Ying-ying, Lena is transforming into a ghost because she is allowing her true self to be suppressed, never speaking up for herself.
Part 3, Chapter 2
And looking at the coat in the mirror, I couldn’t fend off the strength of her will anymore, her ability to make me see black where there was once white, white where there was once black. The coat looked shabby, an imitation of romance. (III.2.34)
Lindo has the power to transform Waverly’s perceptions through her criticisms.
And even if I recognized her strategy, her sneak attack, I was afraid that some unseen speck of truth would fly into my eye, blur what I was seeing and transform him from the divine man I thought he was into someone quite mundane, mortally wounded with tiresome habits and irritating imperfections. (III.2.72)
Waverly is afraid Lindo will transform Rich into an ordinary man through criticisms.
When I was in love with Marvin, he was nearly perfect…But by the time my mother had had her say about him, I saw his brain had shrunk from laziness, so that now it was good only for thinking up excuses. He chased golf and tennis balls to run away from family responsibilities. His eyes wandered up and down other girls’ legs, so he didn’t know how to drive home straight anymore. (III.2.74)
Lindo points out inescapable truths about Marvin; he is perfect in Waverly’s eyes no longer.
Part 4, Chapter 4
Jing-mei (June) Woo
The minute our train leaves the Hong Kong border and enters Shenzhen, China, I feel different. I can feel the skin on my forehead tingling, my blood rushing through a new course, my bones aching with a familiar old pain. And I think, My mother was right. I am becoming Chinese. (IV.4.1)
According to Suyuan, Chinese-ness is passed on in the blood and lies dormant until the bearer (Jing-mei) enters China.
The gray-green surface changes to the bright colors of our three images, sharpening and deepening all at once. And although we don’t speak, I know we all see it: Together we look like our mother. Her same eyes, her same mouth, open in surprise to see, at last, her long-cherished wish. (IV.4.146)
Collectively, the meeting of Jing-mei and her sisters evoke their mother’s spirit.