"Magpies" is a chapter told from the perspective of Rose's mother, An-Mei. The chapter opens with a line about Rose's marriage falling apart. What follows is a reflective chapter in which An-Mei looks at her own mother and childhood to make sense of her daughter's situation and ultimately compare herself to her daughter.
An-Mei notes in this chapter a difference between herself and her American daughter. Rose claims her "marriage is falling apart" and all she can do is "watch it fall." Rose believes she is powerless to stop things and assumes this is the result of having no choices in the matter. An-Mei asserts that even from the psychiatrist's couch, her daughter Rose is making choices (to cry or not, to speak, to do nothing). Chinese Americans have more opportunities for choices than she or her mother had growing up in China because they were taught to "desire nothing" and "swallow other people's misery." As a result, An-Mei has had to learn how to own her power, whereas her daughter takes power for granted.
Ultimately, the most prominent theme portrayed is the idea that choices affect change and ultimately provide power. The tone and narrative style are straightforward and reflective, but by the end of the vignette, An-Mei projects a feeling of triumph.