Rose Hsu Jordan, "Half and Half," pages
The defining event in Rose Hsu Jordan's life is the death of her
brother Bing. She is distracted temporarily from her responsibility of
watching him; when she checks to see what he is doing, he is in the
process of falling off the wall. In the few moments in which she is
unable to decide how to save him, he disappears into the ocean. She
and does nothing. Thereafter she loses confidence in her ability to
choices and is unwilling to take responsibility. She loses faith in
herself and at most has hope, which is passive, waiting for what will
happen to happen,
faith was just an illusion that somehow you're in
control. I found the
most I could have was hope, and with that I was not denying any
possisbility, good or bad. I was just saying, If there is a choice,
God or whatever you are, here's where the odds should be placed (p.
In contrast her mother and father have a strong sense
which Tan calls nengkan, or the ability to do anything they set
their minds to. During the search for Bing's body, An-mei's belief in
herself is so strong that she swims out to find Bing, even though she
know how to swim. The next day she drives to the beach (even though she
doesn't know how to drive) to bring Bing back. She throws the blue
sapphire ring which her mother gave her into the sea so that the gods
will return Bing
alive. When Bing is not returned, An-mei loses her faith in God and
the Bible to level a table leg.
Nevertheless, An-mei still retains her confidence and
example, she advises her daughter to take responsibiliity in her
divorce. Rose doesn't want to try to save the marriage because there is
no reason to try. Her mother replies, "This is not hope. Not reason.
This is your fate. This is your life, what you must do" (p. 139). She
refuses to tell Rose what to do, "You must think for yourself, what you
must do. If someone tells you, then you are not trying" (p. 140).
Rose's marriage is based on her passivity and Ted's dominance.
Ironically, this dynamic is also the reason the marriage finally fails.
Both families object to their child dating someone of another race.
Consequently Ted and Rose construct a relationship based on their
clinging to each other as a defense against a hostile world. He
dominates the relationship and takes responsisblity; she is vulnerable
I was victim to his hero. I was always in danger and
he was always
rescuing me. I would fall and he would lift me up. It was exhilarating
and draining. The emotional effect of saving and being saved was
addicting to both of us. And that, as much as anything we ever did in
bed, was how we made love to each other: conjoined where my weaknesses
needed protection" (p. 125).
As long as this pattern of hero-victim fits the psychological needs of
both, the relationship and the marriage are successful.
In their marriage, Ted makes all the decisions, and Rose
acquiesces. After he loses a malpractice suit, Ted's confidence in
himself is shaken. He wants to share responsibility and pushes Rose to
make decisions, "No, you decide. You can't have it both ways,
none of the
responsibility, none of the blame" (p. 126). She is unable to make
decisions and take responsibility, "I would be confused, because I
never believed there was ever any one right answer, yet there were many
wrong ones" (p. 126). So Ted asks for a divorce. Rose sees that her
non-action allows their marriage to fall apart,
I think about my marriage, how I had seen the signs,
really I had. But
I just let it happen. And I think now that fate is shaped half by
expectation, half by inattention. But somehow, when you lose something
you love, faith takes over. You have to pay attention to what you lose.
You have to undo the expectation (p. 140).
One of Rose's expecations is that she cannot act, cannot take
responsibililty. As a result of loss, she will have to change her
expectation, as she does in her final story. Her mother acts as an
example of this principle in her response to Bing's death; her
is shown by her keeping the Bible under the table leg for years and by
her cleaning the Bible.
Jing-mei Woo, "Two Kinds," pages 141-
Suyuan's belief is the belief of all the Joy Luck mothers, "you could
anything you wanted in America" (p. 141). And what they want is the
life, as they understand "best," for their daughters. They believe that
their daughters can have the best of both cultures--the freedom of
America and the values of Chinese tradition. Lindo Jong makes the
clearest statement of the mothers' hopes and of their version of the
I wanted my children to have the best combination:
and Chinese character. How could I know these two things do not mix?
All the mothers are disappointed in their daughters and in their
relationships with their Americanized daughters.
I taught her how American
circusmtances work. If you are born poor here, it's no lasting shame.
You are first in line for a scholarship. If the roof crashes on your
head, no need to cry over this bad luck. You can sue anybody, make the
landlord fix it. You do not have to sit like a Buddha under a tree
letting pigeons drop their dirty business on your head. You can buy an
umbrella. Or go inside a Catholic church. In America, nobody says you
have to keep the circusmtances somebody else gives you.
She learned these things,
couldn't teach her about Chinese character. How to obey parents and
listen to your mother's mind. How not to show your own thoughts... (p.
Suyuan's hopes for her daughter take the form of wanting her
to be the
best. Jing-mei's childhood is a succession of unsuccessful efforts to
find her hidden talent and become a child prodigy. What are the reasons
that she fails at playing the piano? Consider the following passage,
This is a moment of identity, when Jing-mei sees what she accepts as
essential self. It is the same experience Lindo has when she looks at
her relfection on her wedding day and sees her essential (hidden) self;
Waverly and Lindo also have a perception of identity when they are
looking in the mirror at the hair salon and see their physical
similarity. Is Jing-mei's insight a positive or a negative perception,
that is, is the identity or essential self that she sees one that will
help her succeed and fulfill herself or one that will cause her to fail
and not find or fulfill herself?
And, after seeing my
disappointed face once again, something inside of me began to die. I
hated the tests, the raised hopes and failed expectations. Before going
to bed that night, I looked in the mirror above the bathroom sink and
when I saw only my face staring back--and that it would always be this
ordinary face--I began to cry. Such a sad, ugly girl! I made
high-pitched noises like a crazed animal, trying to scratch out the
And then I saw what
seemed to be
the prodigy side of me--because I had never seen that face before. I
looked at my reflection, blinking so I could see more clearly. The girl
staring back at me was angry, powerful. This girl and I were the same.
I had new thoughts, wilful thoughts, or rather thoughts filled with
of won'ts. I won't let her change me, I promised myself, I won't be
what I'm not (144).
Her disastrous performance at the talent show is a turning
Jing-mei's life. She refuses to continue to practice, "and I now felt
stronger, as if my true self had finally emerged. So this was what had
been inside me all along" (p. 152). She defies and defeats her mother
by referring to her lost, dead sisters.
What is the essential self that Jing-mei identifies as her
true self? Is it expressed in her failures? "In the years that
followed, I failed
her so many times, each time asserting my own will, my right to fall
short of expectations. . . . For unlike my mother, I did not believe I
could be anything I wanted to be. I could only be me" (p. 153-4).
Why is she pleased as an adult when her mother gives her the
is the significance of her discovery that "Pleading Child" is only the
first half of a song whose second half is "Perfectly Contented"? In
other words, how do the two halves of the song apply to Jing-mei?
In the tale preceding this section, the daughter looks into the mirror
has a revelation of her identification or connection with her mother.
This anticipates the connection that all the daughers come to see.
Lena St. Clair, "Rice Husband," pp. 161-
Lena's mother Ying-ying and Lena believe she has the power to tell the
futune; based on what has already happened, Ying-ying foresees the
future; Lena expresses the idea of the future growing out of the
and past as "one thing is always the result of another" (p. 161). The
influence of the past can be seen in the lives and characters of the
American daughters, which develop from the lives and characters of
Chinese mothers. In addition, the characters and lives of Lindo and
An-mei are determined in large measure by their relationships with
mothers (the past).
For a long time, Lena feels guilty about causing Arnold's
believes he dies of complications from a case of childhood measles
because she deliberately does not eat her food. Even when she rejects
this idea, she believes that "somehow, for the most part, we deserve
we get. I didn't get Arnold. I got Harold" (p. 168). Clearly, she
suffers from low self-esteem or little sense of her own worth.
She surrenders herself to Harold, giving more than her share.
encourages him to start his own company and has the idea which makes
company distinct and successful. Harold, in contrast, talks about
equality and splitting expenses to the penny. They agree to this
arrangement, "So we can eliminate false dependencies...be
without obligations..." (p. 176). This arrangment, in practice, does
work out according to their theory. While Lena gives love freely,
measures love and in the measuring treats Lena unfairly. For example,
shares the cost of ice cream, though she never eats it; he doesn't
notice. She is not an associate in the firm he founded, but an
he earns seven times more than she does. Recently Lena has become aware
of problems in their marriage, "I love my work when I don't think about
it too much. And when I do think about it, how much I get paid, how
I work, how fair Harold is to everybody except me, I get upset"
Lena has a major realization one morning as they leave the
experiences an intense feeling of love for Harold, "it was as if I were
seeing Harold the first time we made love, this feeling of surrendering
everything to him, with abandon, without caring what I got in return"
174). In the car she tells him she loves him, and he replies, looking
in the rear view mirror and backing up the car, "I love you, too. Did
you lock the door?" (p. 174). Why does Lena respond the way she does,
"And just like that, I started to think, It's just not enough" (p.
She knows something is wrong in their marrige but cannot
she does not know what to ask for. Their home and the table symbolize
their relationship. Their home is used and decorated as a house but it
is really a barn; Lena's marriage looks ideal to their friends, but it
is falling apart. The table, which Harold designed, is out of balance,
so that any weight is likely to cause it to collapse; so their
whose terms Harold designed, is out of balance and collapsing. When the
table does collapse, Lena tells her mother she knew it would happen.
mother asks, "Then why you don't stop it?" (p.181). The chapter ends
with Lena's statement, "And it's such a simple question" (p. 181). Lena
has no answer. What she recognizes is the validity of the question,
which applies to her marriage and to her life.
Waverly Jong, "Four Directions," pages
A mirror reflecting the inner or psychological state appears in this
chapter: Waverly looks at the mink jacket Rich gave her and sees the
flaws her mother pointed out.
A turning point in Waverly's life and in her relationship with
is their confrontation over chess and her losing her sense of power and
invulnerability. Before the confrontation, Waverly
could see things on the chessboard that other people
could not. I could
create barriers to protect myself that were invisible to my opponents.
And this gift gave me supreme confidence. I knew what my opponents
do, move for move. . . . I loved to win (p. 187).
Wavery loses the power struggle with her mother; she sees her
relationship and struggle with her mother in terms of chess, "I stared
at my chessboard, its sixty-four squares, to figure out how to undo
terrible mess" (p. 189). When her strategies or moves do not produce
results she expected, she loses confidence in her ability to know what
"opponents would do, move for move." Not only does she lose her
confidence and start losing chess games, but she sees her mother as a
dangerous, all-powerful opponent, "In her hands, I always became the
pawn. I could only run away. And she was the queen, able to move in all
directions, relentless in her pursuit, always able to find my weakest
spots" (p. 199).
Waverly is afraid to tell her mother about her fiance, Rich;
her mother's power to make her see flaws in Rich and in their
relationship. Waverly shows she is indeed her mother's daughter in
character in the indirect ways she tries to tell her mother about
importance in her life--Waverly invites her mother to the apartment so
that her mother can see that Rich is living with her.
Her view of her mother as all-powerful changes when she sees
mother asleep and vulnerable. For a moment she thinks her mother may be
dead. Waverly sees that her mother "had no weapons, no demons
surrounding her. She looked powerless. Defeated" (p. 200). Relieved
when her mother awakens, she cries. Then she accuses her mother of
putting down Rich to be mean and hurt her. Looking old and vulnerable,
her mother is wounded by the accusation, "So you think your mother is
this bad. You think I have a secret meaning. But it is you who has this
meaning" (p. 201). Waverly is torn by her perceptions of her mother's
strength and of her weakness.
On this basis of partial understanding, they have an "almost
conversation" (p. 202). Waverly gets an insight into herself, her
mother, and their relationship,
I saw what I had
been fighting for: It
was for me, a scared child, who had run away a long time ago to what I
had imagined was a safer place. And hiding in this place, behind my
invisible barriers, I knew what lay on the other side: Her side
attacks. Her secret weapons. Her uncanny ability to find my weakest
in the brief instant that I had peered over the barriers I could
see what was really there: an old woman, a wok for her armor, a
needle for her sword, getting a little crabby as she waited patiently
for her daughter to invite her in (pp. 203-4).
She is finally able to see her mother as a human being, not the
figure her fear and imagination created when she was a child. That
perception allows her to be more open with her mother; since she no
longer feels so threatened, she can let down the defenses she built to
protect herself from her mother.
At first Waverly rejects the possibility that her mother might
her and Rich to China on their honeymoon; then she thinks, "Yet part of
me also thinks the whole idea makes perfect sense. The three of us,
leaving our differences behind, stepping on the plane together, sitting
side by side, lifting off, moving West to reach East" (p. 205). Her
attitude is ambivalent. Why? Does her change in attitude reflect a
change in the mother-daughter relationship? If yes, what change? If
not, what explains her changed attitude?
Rose Hsu Jordan, "Without Wood," pages
As a child, Rose is afraid to fall asleep, because of her nightmares
involving Mr. Chou and her mother. She resists her mother's advice and
wisdom. Her mother insists, "A mother knows best what is inside you"
210); her psychiatrist will make her hulihudu (confused) and
her see heimongmong (dark fog).
In keeping with her inability to make decisions and accept
responsibililty, Rose tells each person a different reason for the
divorce, and each seems true to her at the time. Her mother explains
this trait as the result of Rose's having been born without wood; that
the reason she listens to too many people. An-mei "knew this, because
once she had almost become this way" (p. 213); however, her mother
her from that fate by dying for her.
An-mei compares a girl to a young tree. She advises Rose,
You must stand tall and listen to your mother
standing next to you. That
is the only way to grow strong and straight. But if you bend to listen
to other people, you will grow crooked and weak. You will fall to the
ground with the first strong wind. And then you will be like a weed,
growing wild in any direction, running along the ground until someone
pulls you out and throws you away (p. 213).
An-mei speaks out of her experience with her own mother. She listens to
her mother's death-bed words; as a result, her spirit is strengthed,
and she learns
to shout or assert herself. She rejects the false friendship of Second
Wife. She wants Rose to have the same relationship with her that she
her mother. An-mei wants to strengthen her daughter as her mother
strengthened her. She wants her daughter to speak up, to shout, just as
she learned to.
Rose is torn between American and Chinese values, but American
impose a heavy burden,
Over the years, I learned
to choose from the
best opinions. Chinese people had Chinese opinions. American people had
American opinions. And in almost every case, the American version was
A culture like China's that looks to the past for wisdom, guidance, and
values will be one with few choices; the choices and their consequences
will be known, for the most part.
It was only later that I
was a serious flaw with the American version. There were too many
choices, so it was easy to get confused and pick the wrong thing (p.
Rose is unable to make choices concerning the divorce and
into sleep. One function of sleep is that it allows us to contact our
unconscious selves; our hidden or suppressed parts may become available
to us temporarily. Rose has lost touch with her essential self, the
that makes decisions. In sleep, she re-establishes contact with her
essential self. When she finds out that Ted has been having an affair,
achieves cerainty, "All the questions: gone. There were no choices. I
had an empty feeling--and I felt free, wild. From high inside my head
I could hear someone laughing" (217). She asserts herself, by insisting
that Ted come to the house to see her.
Ted wants the house, which she loves. Having connected with
essential self, Rose knows what she wants and is able to express it.
refuses to sign the divorce papers to give him what he wants, "You
just pull me out of your life and throw me away" (p. 219). She is
following her mother's advice; she has stopped listening to others and
is speaking up for herself. She is also using the weed image of her
mother's speech, but she is using it in a different meaning, to express
her essential self. Her assertion causes Ted to be hulihudu,
i.e., confused, in a fog. She experiences a sense of her power through
the effect of her words on him. In this, she is like her mother;
both of them assert their newly-found identities in language.
What is the significance of Rose's dream after the meeting
with Ted of Old Mr. Chou and her
mother? What or whom do the weeds which her mother has planted under
fog represent? Why are the weeds "running wild in very direction" (p.
Jing-mei Woo, "Best Quality," page 221-
Suyuan gives Jing-mei a jade pendant representing her life's
importance. The lack of communication between the generations is shown
by the fact
that she does not know what her mother means by her life's importance.
Neither does a Chinese bartender wearing the same pendant know.
Jing-mei comments, "It's as though we
were all sworn to the same secret covenant, so secret we don't even
what we belong to" (p. 222). This describes the plight of the
American-born child in a Chinese immigrant family and partly grows out
difference between American and Chinese cultures.
The experience of the Chinese mothers is quite different. When
An-mei is given a sapphire ring by her mother and Lindo is given
a red chang by her mother, both know what their mothers mean by the
gift. Both keep the jewelry and give it to their children--An-mei
sapphire into the ocean for the return of Bing, and Lindo gives her
necklace to Waverly for good luck in the chess tournaments. Suyuan
expects her daughter to understand her, "See, I wore this on my skin,
so when you put it on your skin, then you know my meaning" (p. 236),
the way mothers and daughters in China understood each other.
Jing-mei is of two minds about the necklace. One part of her
wants to give the necklace back; another part feels "as if I had
already swallowed it" (p. 236). Does her feeling of swallowing express
some understanding or closeness with her mother
which develops as they talk in the kitchen after the crab incident?
At the dinner which Suyuan cooks, what is the significance of
Waverly's taking the
best crabs? of Jing-mei's taking what she thinks is the worst crab?
What realization does she come about to herself as a result of
Waverly's comments about the the ads she
wrote? Her mother says, "Only you pick that crab. Nobody else
take it. I
already know this. Everybody else want best quality. You thinking
different" (p. 234).
Is this a put-down of Jing-mei? How does this statement affect
Jing-mei cooks a dish her father likes to express her love and
to comfort him. As
she works in her mother's kitchen, she learns the truth of her mother's
about the tenants and their cat. She experiences what her mother
experienced; is this a sign of her growing closeness to and
understanding of her mother?