The story "Without Wood" from Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club centers on Rose Hsu Jordan, namely her marriage to Ted. The title comes from something Rose's mother, An-mei, says about her: "She said I was without wood. Born without wood so that I listened to too many people" (213). An-mei means that her daughter is too accommodating and too easily influenced by others; she is not decisive and does not have a strong enough personality to get what she wants and needs. An-mei understands this, Rose says, because she, too, was "without wood" as a young woman. She compares young girls to young trees, saying that over time and with experiences, they strengthen. An-mei also believes that it is necessary for a daughter to listen to her mother and to have a strong relationship with her in order to become strong herself. An-mei says she will "grow strong and straight" with her mother but "crooked and weak" if she listens to others instead (213).
Rose's personality is explored in this story, both in her relationship and in her multicultural identity. Rose grows up in the U.S., though her parents were raised in China and only moved to America as adults. Rose describes how Chinese and American people have different opinions, which already means she has multiple voices to listen to. This seems to have resulted in confusion and indecision for Rose. Further, she "discovered there was as serious flaw with the American [opinions]. There were too many choices, so it was easy to get confused and pick the wrong thing" (214). In the so-called land of opportunity, people can become overwhelmed by the possibilities. In her marriage to Ted, Rose's "without wood" personality means that she listens to what he thinks is best rather than asserting her own views. Ted has an affair, and he then tries to take control of the divorce. Ironically, though the voice of her friend Waverly and the voice of her mother, Rose comes to the conclusion that she deserves more and demands that she keep the house in the divorce. Rose ends the story experiencing "the power of [her] words" (215) is "without wood" no more.