Explain what effect the first five paragraphs of “Half and Half” have for the story as a whole.

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caledon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Half and Half" is a short story contained in The Joy Luck Club. It is narrated by Rose Hsu Jordan, the first-generation American daughter of An-Mei Hsu, an immigrant from China. The first five paragraphs establish a sort of mysterious bookend for the story, by introducing objects, character traits and themes which are not fully connected and explained until the end of the story.

A general summary of the story is that it is an autobiography and self-critique by Rose, but it incorporates events from several different times in her life and connects them back to these introductory paragraphs; therefore it is difficult to succinctly summarize without losing important details. The gist of it is that Rose has experienced two tragedies in her life that were a direct result of her own passive nature; the death of her younger brother, and her impending divorce, which is taking place at the time of her narration.

The introductory paragraphs establish that An-Mei was once religious, but lost her faith, and for twenty years she has used a white leather-bound bible to prop up a table, and yet has kept the bible "clean white". Rose is also certain that telling An-Mei about her divorce will only result in An-Mei insisting that Rose do whatever she can to save her marriage.

These two descriptions seem only tenuously related at first, but establish several themes, and bury questions in the reader's mind which contribute to the reader sharing in Rose's revelatory experiences;

  • We wonder why An-Mei lost her faith
  • We don't have a good explanation for why a faithless person would keep a Bible spotlessly clean
  • We don't know what An-Mei's faith, or the Bible, have to do with Rose's fear of her reply about the divorce, or the nature of the reply itself.

The effect of these five paragraphs, and these seemingly unrelated events, is that it creates a sense of unresolved conflict for the reader; we want to know the answer to these questions. Because Rose experiences a revelation toward the end of the story, that faith is used to balance loss, we get our answers; the Bible is both a literal and metaphorical way of "balancing" things, and so on. However the real purpose and effect of the first five paragraphs is the unsettling sense of incompletion that it gives us; thus, we are able to share in Rose's revelation, by seeing the connection between things that are familiar to us.