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The Joy Luck Club | Study Guide

Amy Tan

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The Joy Luck Club | Part 3, Chapter 3 : Without Wood (Rose Hsu Jordan) | Summary



Depending on who she's talking to, Rose Hsu Jordan vacillates between anger, sorrow, and relief about her impending divorce. Her mother, An-mei, thinks Rose's confusion stems from the fact that she's "without wood." "If you bend to listen to other people, you will grow crooked and weak," An-mei says. Weak trees fall down with the first wind, then grow wild like weeds until they are pulled out and thrown away.

When she was a child Rose listened to everything her mother said, but as she grew older she came to prefer "American" opinions over those of the Chinese. Unfortunately, American opinions give rise to too many choices, which overwhelm Rose to the point where she can't make a decision at all. At first she thinks it would be easiest just to go along with Ted's wishes, but Rose reconsiders when she realizes how much she loves their house. A walk through the garden, formerly Ted's domain, brings to mind a fortune cookie fortune: "When a husband stops paying attention to the garden, he's thinking of pulling up roots." This is definitely true in Ted's case. Once again unsure of what she wants, Rose retreats to bed for four days. She wakes to calls from her mother, her psychiatrist, and Ted. An-mei tells Rose to speak up for herself, the psychiatrist wants her to reschedule her missed appointments, and Ted wants her to sign the divorce papers immediately. Just like An-mei suspects, he's been seeing someone else who he now wants to marry.

Rose surprises herself by asking him to come to the house. She gives him the divorce papers, which she hasn't signed, and tells him she's going to keep the house, which her lawyer will stipulate in the divorce papers she's going to file. "You can't just pull me out of your life and throw me away," Rose says calmly. That night she dreams she's in the garden with her mother and Old Mr. Chou, the fictional figure from her childhood who was said to be the guardian of the door to dreams. They happily welcome Rose, and she admires the weeds her mother has planted "running wild in every direction."


Part of Rose's eternal confusion stems from the differences between the Chinese way of doing things and the American way of doing things. Whether it's out of cultural rebellion or just a natural instinct, Rose actively distances herself from "Chinese" opinions. This is shorthand for saying Rose isn't interested in her mother's advice, though she eventually agrees with her mother that "a mother is best. A mother knows what is inside you." The feelings inside Rose are Chinese, hulihudu and heimongmong. There are no English equivalents for them, so Rose offers an approximate translation: the former means something like "confusion" and the latter, "dark fog." She needs a Chinese person's guidance for dealing with her Chinese feelings. She needs her mother.

The problem is that An-mei has been giving Rose advice throughout the separation, but though Rose understands the words she doesn't understand their meaning. In Part 2, Chapter 3 An-mei tells Rose she must "try." Rose assumes An-mei is telling her to try to save the marriage, but An-mei is really saying Rose must try to save herself. "This is your fate. This is your life, what you must do," she tells her daughter. The message doesn't get through, so An-mei has to resort to American-style advice and bluntly state her intentions. "I am not telling you to save your marriage," she says. "I only say you should speak up." After she speaks the reader is forced to wonder whether it is the mothers' ways of speaking or the daughters' ways of hearing that causes confusion between the languages.

Rose's part of the story resolves itself in Part 3, Chapter 3 because she is finally able to hear her mother's advice constructively. Not only does she make a decision about her marriage and her home but she also comes to accept herself as a person who is "without wood." When Rose was a child, her mother told her people without wood, one of the five elements that make up each person according to Chinese tradition, spread themselves like weeds in every direction only to be thrown away in the end. Rose tells Ted he "can't throw [her] away," and in her dreams she extends the same respect to her garden. The weeds in her dream garden run rampant, representing both her control over her circumstances and her acceptance of herself exactly the way she is. She sees something beautiful in the weeds even if others do not. It is not coincidental that her mother appears in the dream, having planted the weeds "this morning, some for you, some for me."

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