Chapter 7: Rose Hsu Jordan--Half and Half
Rose says that her mother, An-mei, uses her small Bible to prop up one leg of her kitchen table. She no longer carries it around as proof of her devoutness, but even though she has made it into a prop, she keeps it pristine. Rose watched her mother sweep around the Bible as she waited to tell her she was divorcing her husband, Ted. She knew her mother would want her to fight the divorce. This was ironic, since her mother originally had not approved of Ted because he was American.
Rose had a similar reception in Ted's family. At the Jordan family picnic, Ted's mother took Rose aside and told her that she could not marry Ted. She said that people would not respect a doctor with an Asian wife. Rose tried to break things off with Ted, but he was deeply upset by his mother's actions. The fact that their families hoped to keep them apart made Rose and Ted fall more deeply in love. Once they were married, Rose let Ted make all their decisions. Then, after he lost a malpractice suit, he started pushing Rose to make all their decisions. One day before Ted left on a business trip, he picked a fight with Rose to try to show her how they had grown apart. Then he called from his trip and asked for a divorce. It made Rose wonder how she could be strong when she could trust no one.
Rose says she learned to trust fate the day her mother lost her faith. Her parents had always believed in their ability to do whatever they set their minds to; they called this faith nengkan. One day, their whole family went to the beach so her father could fish. Rose had two sisters and four brothers. At the beach her mother left Rose in charge of her youngest brother, Bing. Rose watched him carefully, thinking of The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates, which showed all the terrible things that could befall a child. In a moment of chaos, she took her eyes off Bing. He fell into the water and could not be found. The family did not blame Rose for what happened, but her mother asked her to help find Bing's body. Rose went back to the beach with her mother to search for Bing. Her mother had more nengkan than ever. She prayed from her Bible and tried Chinese rituals, but they still did not find him. Rose thought she saw her mother lose faith for the first time.
Now Rose knows that she can no more save her marriage than recover Bing. Just as she saw Bing fall but could not stop him, she saw her marriage crumbling and could not prevent it. She says she has learned that "fate is shaped half by expectation, half by inattention." When you lose something you love, you rely on your faith like Rose's mother did. Rose's mother never really lost her faith. She still keeps the Bible around. She wrote Bing's name under "Deaths," lightly and in pencil.
Chapter 8: Jing-mei "June" Woo--Two Kinds
Jing-Mei says her mother, Suyuan, shunned regret and always looked to make things better. For her, America was the ultimate proof that one could get whatever one wanted. When Waverly Jong became a chess prodigy, Suyuan became convinced that Jing-Mei could be a prodigy too, a Chinese Shirley Temple. When she was not at work cleaning houses, she made Jing-Mei imitate videos of Shirley Temple and memorize impressive facts. Jing-Mei liked the attention and the idea of becoming perfect. However, she soon grew tired of her mother's trying to make her into a wonder child. One night she promised herself not to be something she was not, and she stopped trying in order to make her mother lose hope.
Jing-mei's mother left her alone for a few months, until she saw a little Chinese girl playing the piano on the Ed Sullivan Show. She enrolled Jing-Mei in daily piano lessons, expecting her to be even better than the little girl on television. Jing-Mei resented her mother's expectations for her, and she learned to get away with playing sloppily. Because her piano teacher, Old Chang, was deaf, she could play wrong notes without his noticing. When Jing-mei heard her mother bragging to Lindo Jong about how talented she was, she decided to humiliate her mother.
Suyuan and old Chang entered Jing-mei into a talent competition at church. She was to play a piece called "Pleading Child," which she did not put much effort into practicing. All the members of the Joy Luck Club came to watch Jing-mei play. Despite her lack of preparation, she was fearless when she took the stage. As she intended, she played the piece terribly, so that only deaf Old Chong applauded. After the show, Waverly told Jing-mei: "You aren't a genius like me." But it was Suyuan's silence that really devastated Jing-Mei. She knew she had let her mother down.
Even after the fiasco, Suyuan expected Jing-mei to practice piano. Jing-mei flatly refused, saying she would never be someone she wasn't. Suyuan dragged her to the piano and told her, "Only two kinds of daughters ... Those who are obedient and those who follow their own mind! Only one kind of daughter can live in this house. Obedient daughter!" Jing-mei shouted back, "Then I wish I wasn't your daughter. I wish you weren't my mother ... I wish I'd never been born! ... I wish I were dead! Like them" (referring to the babies Suyuan abandoned in China). As though Jing-mei had said the magic words to destroy her mother, Suyuan left the room meekly--and Jing-mei stopped her piano lessons.
From then on, Jing-mei "asserted ... [her] right to fall short of expectations," disappointing her mother time and again. She never discussed what had happened with her mother, for fear of finding out how disappointed she really was. A few years back, Suyuan offered the old piano to Jing-mei, but she refused it. Only after Suyuan died did Jing-mei have the piano restored. When she sat down to play "Pleading Child," she noticed that it was only the first half of a song; the other half was called "Perfectly Contented." She was pleasantly surprised that after all this time, she could play both pieces.
Chapters 7 and 8 deal with the shame and lessons learned in letting one's mother down. Jing-Mei fails at piano and insults her mother, and Rose lets Bing die on her watch. The titles of these chapters, "Half and Half" and "Two Kinds," emphasize the dichotomies that arise from being Chinese and American, both one's own self and one's mother's daughter. Suyuan wanted Jing-Mei to understand the importance of her Chinese identity, but at the same time she wanted her to be American and privileged, to be proof (like the swan from Feathers from a Thousand Li Away) of just how far her mother had come. She wanted Jing-mei to imitate the quintessentially American Shirley Temple, to become an American swan. Like what Lindo wanted for Waverly, Suyuan wanted Jing-mei to have the childhood she could not; ironically in both cases, in their desire to have daughters who were the image of the carefree American child, they allowed them to have no time or cares of their own. Jing-mei pokes fun at the American dream when she calls disappointing Suyuan her "right to fall short of expectations." She asserts that her mother's goals of perfection and obedience are actually Chinese. Being truly American means having the freedom to do what she wants, even if it is "unglamorous" and imperfect. Jing-mei does not grasp until after her mother's death that in truth, Suyuan understood this point. She begins to realize it when she sits down to play the piano after many years--suddenly she understands that Suyuan has always wanted her not to be perfect, to live up to an unreachable standard, but to be "perfectly contented."
Like Waverly, Jing-mei finally got the independence she wanted, but at the price of wounding her mother very deeply. For these two daughters, renouncing their mothers meant renouncing a part of themselves. Therefore they ended up hurting themselves like the daughter in the prologue who falls off her bike. Throughout their lives, the daughters identify their Chinese identities very strongly with their mothers. Therefore, by renouncing their mothers, do the daughters renounce their Chinese identities?
Tan suggests that they do not. Even when as a child Jing-mei renounces Suyuan, as an adult she proves the key to a wish that can be fulfilled only by reclaiming her Chinese identity and actually traveling to China. Furthermore, if the daughters' Chinese identities depended on their mothers, there would be no hope for them to carry on their legacies when they died. The daughters have a Chinese heritage all their own, shaped by their unique experiences.
Rose, who is more mild-mannered than Jing-mei, finds herself more or less connected to her Chinese heritage depending on the situation. In one sense, marrying an American affirms that she is American; in another, it marks her as Chinese. An-mei wants Rose to marry someone Chinese like her, and Ted's mother disapproves of Rose's Chinese appearance. The story about Bing reveals that Rose's faith is what connects her so strongly to An-mei, and the faith itself is both Chinese and American. When Bing drowns, An-mei tries to bring him back using Chinese nengkan. The rituals An-mei performs seem foreign to Rose; even as an adult, she feels as though she lacks her mother's gift. Perhaps, if she had it, she could make things right with Ted. The other half of An-mei's faith is Christian, symbolized by the Bible.
Rose feels as though she is a victim of fate, which is "shaped half by expectation, half by inattention." She pretends her problems do not exist until they are so bad she cannot ignore them. She also demonstrates that, like An-mei, she is a person of faith. Just as An-mei keeps the Bible nearby as a sign that she still has not given up on Bing, Rose lives in the house she shared with Ted and waits to sign the divorce papers as a sign that she has not entirely given up on love.