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The Joy Luck Club | Study Guide

Amy Tan

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The Joy Luck Club | Part 2, Chapter 3 : Half and Half (Rose Hsu Jordan) | Summary



Rose Hsu Jordan is getting a divorce. Her soon-to-be-ex-husband, Ted, used to make all the decisions for the couple, but a malpractice lawsuit forces the plastic surgeon to question whether he can trust his own judgment. He turns to Rose for guidance, but Rose is nearly incapable of making decisions. Up to this point she has relied on him to do so, plus she can see the positives and negatives of every situation. Ted views her chronic indecision as an indicator of just how little she cares about anything, particularly their relationship. This isn't true, but it's too late to change his mind. Rose dreads telling her mother, An-mei, about the couple's separation. She knows An-mei will encourage her to save the marriage even though there's nothing left to save.

This reminds Rose of the moment when her mother stopped believing in God. An-mei's youngest son, Bing, was four when he drowned during a family trip to the ocean. Rose, who was 14 at the time, was supposed to be watching him but turned to care for her other siblings. She turned back and saw Bing as he fell into the ocean. Rose was unable to move or speak when she realized Bing was gone, but when the rest of the family realized he had disappeared they sprang into action and searched for hours without luck.

Rose and An-mei went back to the beach the next day. Rose's mother and father had a strong sense of nengkan, the "ability to do anything [they] put [their] mind to." With her white leatherette Bible in hand, An-mei spoke directly to God, apologizing for taking His gifts for granted and asking for her son back. She then appealed to "the Coiling Dragon who lives in the sea" by dumping sweetened tea into the water, followed by a beautiful sapphire ring. She pushed an inner tube into the raging waves in the hope it would bring Bing back to her, but it was torn to pieces on the jagged rocks.

An-mei didn't give up until she saw the tattered inner tube. Rose recalls the look of "complete despair and horror" on her mother's face, partly because she lost Bing but also because of how foolish she was "to think she could use faith to change fate." Rose feels as if she's in the same situation today. Just like she never expected to find Bing all those years ago, she doesn't expect to resurrect her marriage now. Her mother's insistence that she try pushes Rose to "pay attention to what [she] lost" as she tries to figure out what to do next.


The title of Part 2, Chapter 3, "Half and Half," refers to the nature of fate, which Rose says is "shaped half by expectation, half by inattention." Under this definition it is appropriate to say the end of Rose's marriage was the work of fate. She allowed her marriage to limp along on autopilot under the assumption that everything would turn out fine in the end, and did nothing to fix it when she realized it was failing. It should be noted this particular concept of fate is different from the commonly held idea that fate cannot be changed. In The Joy Luck Club the characters believe it is humans, not an outside, omnipotent force, who shape the future. A person's fate, therefore, can be changed if they apply themselves. Rose acknowledges she could have changed the outcome of her marriage if she had paid attention to the signs of its demise, just as she could have altered Bing's fate if she had been more proactive in protecting him from the dangers on the beach. Even though she knows she has the power to take control of her life, she is unable to do it. In fact the knowledge cripples her, leaving her with such an overwhelming sense of responsibility that the thought of making any decision at all becomes impossible.

Of all the characters in The Joy Luck Club, Rose comes the closest to embodying the traditional stereotypes about Asian women, who have long been portrayed in popular culture as quiet, submissive caretakers of men or villainous, scheming "dragon ladies." Rose appears to fall into the former category, even she strays from the stereotype. Rose knows her inability to act and make decisions is a weakness. She doesn't act this way because she thinks it's attractive or expected but because she's scared. She was 14 when Bing drowned, and she blames herself for not acting when she first noticed he had slipped into the water, although her family does not believe it was her fault. Not all the decisions she faces are matters of life or death, but Bing's death has left a scar on her psyche that refuses to heal.

Bing's death affects everyone in the Hsu family, but perhaps no one more than his mother, An-mei. His passing is the impetus for her loss of faith in God, whom she previously credited with keeping "all [the] good things coming [their] way" during the family's early years in America. An-mei appears confident God will bring Bing back from the sea. When He and the Chinese gods fail to hear her pleas, she gives up hope and abandons her faith. That doesn't mean she forgets about it, though. Her prized white leatherette Bible sits in plain sight under the kitchen table for more than 20 years, balancing a rickety leg. Just as she counsels Rose, An-mei pays attention to what she has lost so she doesn't make the same mistakes again. In her case she will not rely on faith to protect her family. She instead turns to fate, taking action when Rose's life begins to crumble.

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