Illustration of the profiles of a young woman and an older woman facting away from each other

The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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Last Updated December 9, 2022.

Rose Hsu Jordan begins her narrative with a comment that her mother has lost her faith, and now her Bible has been used to balance a table for more than twenty years. Rose is wondering how to tell her mother that she and her husband, Ted, are getting a divorce, for she knows that her mother will tell her she must save the marriage.

Rose’s mother has never approved of Ted, whom Rose met in college. Rose’s sisters always dated Chinese boys, and Ted is an American. Ted’s mother, Mrs. Jordan, had something to say, too, and she told Rose right out that Rose would not be a proper wife for her son. Rose and Ted clung to each other, and they developed a pattern of Ted making all the decisions and constantly supporting and rescuing Rose. This lasted until Ted lost a malpractice lawsuit. Then he wanted Rose to make more of the decisions, but she was not equipped or in practice. Finally, Ted told Rose that he wants a divorce, and now Rose must cope with the effects.

Rose now explains how her mother lost her faith in God. The family went to the beach one day. Rose, her parents, her two sisters, and her four brothers all marched down the sand to a hollow cove. Her mother spread out a blanket, and the kids dug into the lunch while their father went out to fish. Rose’s sisters ran down the beach, but Rose looked after her brothers. It was her responsibility. The three oldest started playing in the sand, but four-year-old Bing was left out. Rose recalled her mother’s superstitions about all the horrible things that could happen to the children.

As the day went on, Bing tried to amuse himself and decided to walk out on the reef to his father. His father was distracted by a fish, and the other boys caught their mother’s and Rose’s attention when they started to fight. Rose turned back just in time to see Bing fall into the water. She was frozen for a few moments, and then everyone was running toward the water. They searched for hours, and the police joined them, but they could not find Bing.

That night, the family grieved together, and the next morning, Rose and her mother went back out to look for Bing again. Rose’s mother prayed, thinking that perhaps God was just hiding Bing to teach them a lesson. She asked for forgiveness. Then she turned to Chinese traditions, trying to placate the Coiling Dragon in the sea with tea and a sapphire ring. Both Rose and her mother thought they saw Bing, but it was not him. Rose’s mother decided that Bing must be in a cave and tried to get to him with an inner tube. Everything failed. Bing was gone.

Now Rose listens as her mother says she must try to save her marriage. Rose recalls how she knew that Bing was in danger yet let the worst happen. She has known that her marriage has been in danger, too, and yet she has let it happen. She takes the Bible out from under the table and sees Bing’s name written under “Deaths.”

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