Summary—Rose Hsu Jordan: “Half and Half”
Rose Hsu Jordan begins by describing the Bible belonging to her mother, An-mei. Although An-mei carried the white leatherette volume with great pride for many years, the Bible now serves to prop up one of the kitchen table legs in her apartment. Rose sits at her mother’s kitchen table, watches her mother sweep around the Bible, and wonders how she will break the news that she and her husband, Ted, are getting divorced. Rose knows An-mei will tell her that she must save the marriage, but she also knows that an attempt to do so would be hopeless.
Rose remembers when she first began dating Ted. At that time, both An-mei and Mrs. Jordan, Ted’s mother, had been opposed to their relationship. As a result, Rose and Ted clung to one another. Ted made all the decisions, and Rose enjoyed playing the part of Ted’s maiden in distress, whom he would always save. However, after they married, Ted, a dermatologist, lost a serious malpractice suit; he lost his confidence and began forcing Rose to make some of the decisions. He became angry when she resisted, accusing her of shirking responsibility and blame. Soon afterward, Ted asked for a divorce, to Rose’s utter shock.
This meditation leads into a narration of another such emotional blow, an event from Rose’s childhood that scarred her and engendered An-mei’s loss of religious faith. The family had taken a trip to the beach, in what Rose describes as an attempt to act like a white American family. An-mei instructed Rose to watch over her younger brothers, and because Matthew, Mark, and Luke were only a few years younger than Rose and could play together self-sufficiently, the four-year-old Bing became Rose’s main responsibility. At one point during the day, Bing asked if he could walk out on the reef to where their father was fishing. Rose gave him permission, but watched him nervously as he made his way out along the crashing waves. Suddenly, Mark and Luke started a fight, and An-mei called to Rose to separate them. Rose looked up just in time to see Bing fall into the water without leaving a ripple. She stood motionless, in shock, but her sisters, returning at that moment from another stretch of the beach, instantly noticed Bing’s absence. The family rushed to the water in panic. They called state authorities, but the search for Bing’s body lasted hours with no success. Each person felt responsible for the accident.
Refusing to accept their fate, An-mei drove with Rose to the beach early in the morning, although to Rose’s knowledge her mother had never driven before. An-mei took her Bible with her and stood on the shore, offering prayers to God. She also attempted to appease “the Coiling Dragon,” whom she said had stolen Bing because one of their ancestors once stole water from a sacred well. To the Dragon, An-mei made offerings of sweetened tea and a watery-blue sapphire ring, both of which she tossed into the ocean. She also voiced to Rose her belief that her nengkan, her “ability to do whatever she put her mind to,” would bring Bing back. Only after she threw a rescue tube into the ocean and saw it sucked away and turned to shreds did An-mei give up her search for Bing.
At the time, Rose thought that her mother had yielded to the realization that faith could not change fate. Yet Rose comments that she now realizes “fate is shaped half by expectation, half by inattention” (hence the title of the story, “Half and Half”). Just as she believes her inattention caused Bing to drown, she thinks that her inattention to signs of her marriage deteriorating resulted in Ted’s request for a divorce. Rose ends her story on an optimistic note, by emphasizing the “expectation” side of fate. She concludes by returning to the Bible under the kitchen table, saying that she once flipped through it and saw her little brother’s name written in the “Deaths” section, “lightly, in erasable pencil.”
Summary—Jing-mei Woo: “Two Kinds”
In the section’s next story, Jing-mei speaks again. She describes her childhood, which was full of pain and resentment linked to having never become the “prodigy” that her mother desired her to be. Suyuan felt certain that Jing-mei could become a prodigy if only she tried hard enough, and at first Jing-mei eagerly complied, trying her skill at a wide range of talents. As Waverly Jong won championship after championship in chess, with Waverly’s mother, Lindo, bragging day after day, Suyuan became ever more determined that she would find her daughter’s hidden inner talent. But Jing-mei always fell short of her mother’s expectations, and as she looked in the mirror one night, she promised herself that she would not allow her mother to try to twist her into what she was not. However, after seeing a nine-year-old Chinese girl play the piano on The Ed Sullivan Show, Suyuan made Jing-mei take lessons from their neighbor, a retired piano teacher named Mr. Chong. When Jing-mei discovered that Mr. Chong was deaf, and that she could get away with playing the wrong notes as long as she kept up the right rhythm, she decided to take the easy way out. As long as she kept time, she did not have to correct her mistakes.
Take the The Twenty-six Malignant Gates: “Half and Half” & “Two Kinds” Quick Quiz
THE JOY LUCK CLUB: LITERARY ANALYSIS / LITERATURE NOTES
Rose Hsu Jordan - Half and Half
Rose, the narrator of this chapter, is the daughter of An-Mei, who narrated Scar. Although Rose and her husband are on the verge of a divorce, she dreads telling her mother. Even though her mother has disapproved of Roses marriage to an American, Rose knows that An-Mei will encourage her to try and save it. Rose, however, knows that there is nothing to salvage.
Roses dread over facing her mother makes her recall a painful memory from her past when she dreaded to face An-Mei. Twenty years ago Rose was a happy child living in the midst of a loving family. One day the family took a trip to the beach, and Rose was given the responsibility of looking after her younger brothers, named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Bing. She had some trouble controlling her youngest brother, Bing, who wanted to go far out into the waves. Rose warned him not to go any further, but he did not listen. When she took her eyes off him for a minute, Bing was swept away by a wave and tragically drowned. An-Mei could not believe that Bing was gone. She was convinced that he would soon be returned to them alive and well. Her mothers emotions only made Rose feel more guilty.
An-Mei had many reactions to Bings death. Being religious, she prayed to God for his safe return to her. She then tried to defy fate by throwing her own mothers ring into the sea, thinking it might bring back her drowned son. When Bing did not come back, An-Mei lost faith in God. As a result, she never again read the Bible; instead, she used it under a table leg as a support. Eventually, however, An-Mei accepted Bings death.
Rose returns to her present situation. She knows that her mother has never approved of her marriage to Ted since he is American rather than Chinese. She met Ted at the University of California, some seventeen years ago. Rose fell deeply in love with Ted, largely because he was so different than the Chinese boys she knew. After dating, they decided to marry before Ted started medical school.
From the beginning of their marriage, Ted insisted upon controlling things. Rose was helpless to do anything about it. Now she is miserable because he wants a divorce. Unable to do anything about the situation, she feels as helpless as when she watched her brother drowning. She compares her loss of faith in love to her mothers loss of faith in God.
Roses chapter titled Half and Half is a story in two halves: one half from her childhood and one half from her adulthood. When Rose thinks about losing her husband and her faith in love, she remembers her past when her mother lost her son and her faith in God. She tells the story of how her youngest brother, Bing, drowns and explains An-Meis reaction to the loss.
Half and Half also applies to the relationship between Rose and her husband. In their marriage, Rose is the Chinese half and Ted is the American half. Both their mothers oppose the unions. Teds mother opposes it because she does not believe in racial mixing and feels her son is marrying beneath his social status. Roses mother knows that two very different heritages will not blend, and she fears that Rose will stop being Chinese.
Finally, Half and Half refers to the state of the Hsus before and after the drowning of Bing. In fact, Tan described the beach where the boy dies as a giant bowl, cracked in half, the other half washed out to sea. Prior to Bings death, An-Mei and her children were a happy and close-knit family. An-Mei was a pillar of strength. A very religious person, she carried the Bible around and read it for support and encouragement. After Bings death, An-Mei abandoned her religion and placed the Bible as a support for the leg of the kitchen table. She was angry at God for not returning Bing to her; her anger negatively affected the entire family.
In this chapter, two themes are further developed. As with the other Chinese daughters, there is a huge gap in communication and thinking between Rose and An-Mei. The daughter has become very Americanized, especially after her marriage to Ted, an American, and she and An-Mei have little in common. In addition, the theme of loss of heritage is emphasized in the chapter. An-Mei totally resents Roses abandonment of her Chinese self.