How does Rose come to terms with her mother in Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club?

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, Rose does not have to come to terms with her mother in the same way that some of the other characters do. Rose's journey has consisted of listening to her mother as if all she said was true; listening to her husband as if all he said was true; and, finally coming to the point where she realizes that she needed to make decisions for herself—but the "journey" is not so easy.

Rose grows up believing everything her mother says.

She said doors would unlock themselves in the middle of the night unless we checked twice. She said a mirror could see only my face, but she could see me inside out even when I was not in the room.

All these things seemed true to me. The power of her words was that strong.

Thirty years pass, and Rose's mother is doing the same thing: trying to make her daughter listen to her. When she learns Rose and her husband Ted are divorcing, she tells her that she need not visit a psychiatrist: she only needs to talk to her mother.

A mother is best. A mother knows what is inside you.

Rose is confused. She is telling different versions of her story to her friends: all are true, but different depending upon what part of the story she is telling. Her friends try to give her advice. Rose has always believed that Chinese opinions were not as good as American ones, but now she thinks American opinions offer too many choices, and she is always confused about what to do—and has been for a while.

When Rose and Ted dated and later when they had married, Rose always deferred to Ted. He was comfortable with telling everyone what to do, secure that he always knew what to do. However, when he loses a malpractice case, he wants Rose to make all of the decisions. When she does not, he becomes angry, accusing her of having no opinions and being unable to make decisions. Soon after, he asks for a divorce.

Rose's mother had once told Rose that she had "no wood:" that like a tree, she must stand strong and not listen to the advice of others, for she would be bent and swayed, and not strong like a tree. She believed that by the time her mother told her this, it was too late.

After several days of sleeping through her depression, Rose's mother calls her. Instead of telling her to work things out with Ted, she says:

Why do you not speak up for yourself?...I'm not telling you to save your marriage...I only say you should speak up.

Her mother is telling her what to do again, but Rose is still too confused. Later Ted calls on the phone about the divorce papers. He wants to settle quickly, and ultimately reveals that he wants to marry someone else. As her mother had suspected, Ted had been "doing monkey business with someone else." In that moment, everything changes:

...everything stopped. All the questions gone. There were no choices. I had an empty feeling—and I felt free, wild.

Angering Ted, Rose starts to laugh, perhaps because things are suddenly so clear. Ted had accused her of never being able to make a decision—but suddenly she can. He wants the house—but she decides she is going to fight for it in the divorce, rather than letting Ted have his way—again.

Rose comes to terms with what her mother has told be strong like a tree, to stop listening to others in order to know what to do, and to speak up for herself. In understanding her mother's words and wisdom, Rose finds herself and frees herself.

Read the study guide:
The Joy Luck Club

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