Chapter 11: Rose Hsu Jordan--Without Wood
Rose recalls that she has always believed everything her mother says. She even dreamed that Old Mr. Chou, a Chinese version of the Sandman, believes what her mother says. Rose and her mother attend the funeral of China Mary, a beloved member of the First Chinese Baptist Church. She tells her mother that Ted sent her a check, and her mother intuits that he was cheating on her, but Rose laughs this off. The check was for ten thousand dollars, and Ted sent it along with the divorce papers. Rose could not bear to cash it or sign the papers. Despite advice from her friends and her psychiatrist, no one can seem to help Rose sort out her feelings. Rose's mother tells her that she is confused because her personality lacks the element of wood. In other words, she does not feel strong enough by herself, so she depends on other people's opinions. Rose says she has always valued American opinions over Chinese ones. But this choice generally leads to trouble because American opinions are so complicated.
Rose becomes depressed and sleeps for the majority of four days. She is dreamless for the first time in her life. Her mother finally calls and wakes her up to tell her she is coming over. Then Ted calls and asks why Rose has not cashed the check or signed the divorce papers after two weeks. He wants the divorce finalized so he can marry someone he was seeing while they were married--Rose's mother was right! Laughter overcomes her, and she invites Ted over to see her one last time. When he arrives, she shows him the garden. He used to tend it meticulously, but now it has become overgrown and wild with weeds. Rose tells Ted she is keeping the house. She has not signed the divorce papers. For once, she has forced him into submission instead of the reverse. That night, Rose dreams of her mother and Old Mr. Chou bending over a planter box, in which her mother has planted wild, fast-growing weeds for them both.
Chapter 12: Jing-mei "June" Woo--Best Quality
Jing-mei says that a few months before her mother (Suyuan) died, Suyuan gave her a special jade pendant. At the time, Jing-mei considered it tacky and did not wear it, but now that her mother has died, she wears it all the time. She knows her mother gave her the pendant because it has a special meaning, something which Jing-mei will never know because she never asked.
Jing-mei recounts the events of the night her mother gave her the necklace. It was a crab dinner for the Chinese New Year. She had accompanied her mother on a grocery shopping trip. She listened to her mother complain about her tenants, who accused her of poisoning their tomcat. Jing-mei wondered if her mother really had poisoned the cat. Jing-mei's mother bought crabs and ended up having to take one with a missing leg. Dinner was hectic and full of misunderstandings. Because out of politeness Jing-mei's mother chose last, she ended up with the damaged crab and did not eat it. Jing-mei was the only one who noticed, and she tried to take the crab instead, but her mother would not let her. Waverly was catty with Jing-mei just like when they were children. To get back at her, Jing-mei tried to humiliate Waverly. She teased her about her tax firm's being so late in paying Jing-mei for some writing she did. This charge backfired, because Waverly ended up revealing that the work was considered unacceptable, so Jing-mei would not be paid in full.
After dinner, Jing-mei's mother shows she understands her. She knew Jing-mei would be the only one to offer to take the damaged crab. She says Jing-mei is special because she thinks differently than Waverly and others do, and Jing-mei is generous. This is when she gives Jing-mei the jade pendant.
At the end of the chapter, the narrative returns to the present. Jing-Mei is cooking her father dinner, and the tomcat appears at the window. She is relieved that her mother did not poison him after all. She finds herself equally annoyed by the neighbors as their tomcat lifts his tail to spray her mother's window.
Chapters 11-12 examine how the daughters come to terms with their mothers' wisdom, realizing, like the daughter in the prologue, that they cannot help but share their mothers' strong spirits. Rose realizes that her mother is urging her to save not her marriage, but her spirit. Both Rose and An-mei are represented by the wild weeds in Rose's garden and her dream. Mother and daughter are sometimes quiet as plants, afraid to assert their own needs and desires, and as a result, they sometimes they do not get enough attention. On the other hand, like plants, they refuse to be confined or clipped back, being wild and strong in spirit.
Tan notes that some plants are so strong that they can undermine a house's foundation--so, to remove the weeds, one would have to pull down the house. In this way, An-mei has taught Rose how to secretly get what she wants. Just as weeds creep under the bricks of her house to secretly weaken it, Rose already has the power to end her marriage and keep the house for herself. Ted may have ended their marriage in some ways, but he cannot break Rose's spirit; to take the house from her, he would have to destroy her and it together. Thus, Rose unwittingly had the strength of 'wood' in her personality all along. All she has to do is use it to pull apart her marriage in the name of honoring the brave, independent spirit she shares with An-mei.
Jing-mei also becomes closer to her mother than before. When Suyuan gives Jing-mei the jade pendant, she says, "See, I wore this on my skin, so when you put it on your skin, then you know my meaning." For many years, Jing-mei does not understand Suyuan's meaning. Like Rose, she sees her mother's attempts to impart wisdom as controlling and out of touch. Only in retrospect does Jing-mei realize how much her mother valued her. All her life, Jing-mei thought that Suyuan wanted her to be like Waverly. Lindo might pride herself on having shown Waverly to pick the best crab for Shoshana; her love for Waverly is deep, but it is based in a desire to be one of the best, whether that means being chess champion or a member of the Sun clan. Yet, Suyuan is proud instead of Jing-mei's humility--she is the only one who would choose the damaged crab. Although we do not find out what the jade pendant means, we know it honors the quality Jing-mei proved she had that night, that of wanting the best for others and not only herself.
As she thinks about that night, Jing-mei begins to understand that her mother was just like her, thinking for herself and creating her own special happiness. Jing-mei has inherited her mother's knack not for being the best, but for making the best of a situation, as Suyuan did by creating the Joy Luck Club. All along, Suyuan recognized in Jing-mei her own "Best Quality"--her strong-willed and generous spirit. Jing-mei in this way, too, is the "American translation" of herself.