What is the main conflict in Amy Tan's narrative titled "Half and Half," and how is it resolved?

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vangoghfan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The narrative titled “Half and Half,” which is one chapter of Amy Tan’s book titled The Joy Luck Club, is narrated by Rose Hsu Jordan and discusses her relationship with her mother, An-mei Hsu. However, the narrative also describes the history of Rose’s relationship with her white husband, Ted; her mother’s early objections to that relationship; and her mother’s reaction to the divorce from Ted that Rose now plans. The narrative also explains how Rose’s mother came to lose her faith in God. This transformation occurred when, during a long-ago trip to the beach, Rose’s young brother Bing accidentally drowned in the ocean. Rose partly blames herself for her brother’s death, just as she now partly blames herself for ever having married the overbearing, egocentric Ted:

I think about Bing, how I knew he was in danger, how I let it happen. I think about my marriage, how I had seen the signs, really I had. But I just let it happen. And I think now that fate is shaped half by expectation, half by inattention.

In several senses, Tan ends this chapter of her book on several notes of lack of resolution rather than on any satisfying kind of resolution. In other words, the chapter is open-ended in various ways, including the following:

  • We do not know, here, whether Rose will actually proceed with the divorce.
  • We do not know, here, whether Rose will follow her mother’s counsel to try to save the marriage.
  • We do not know, here, how or whether the mother will ever be able to regain her faith in God.
  • We do not know, here, whether the mother’s despair at the long-ago death of Bing will be her final response to this matter.  Significantly, the chapter ends as follows, with Rose looking through her mother’s disregarded Bible, which the mother nevertheless does not completely discard:

On the page before the New Testament begins, there's a section called "Deaths," and that's where she wrote "Bing Hsu" lightly, in erasable pencil. [emphasis added]

This is the chapter’s final sentence, and it is typical of the chapter’s whole emphasis on lack of resolution. The mother has lost her faith, but she still keeps her Bible. The mother acknowledges the death of her son, but she does so in “erasable” pencil, suggesting that in one way or another she hopes to discover (perhaps in heaven?) that he is not “really” dead.  Although the mother at least seems to have given up hope about Bing, perhaps she has not truly done so, and it is the mother, after all, who advises her daughter not to give up hope on her marriage. As Rose puts it,

I know now that I had never expected to find Bing, just as I know now I will never find a way to save my marriage. My mother tells me, though, that I should still try.

Only later do we find out what, precisely, happens to the marriage and how, precisely, it happens.  For the time being, however, Tan leaves that question, and several others, unresolved.

The "main conflicts" of the story, then, are between Rose and Ted, between Rose and her mother, and between faith and doubt. None of these conflicts is clearly resolved by the end of the tale.

Read the study guide:
The Joy Luck Club

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