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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Rice Husbands Summary

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Lena St. Clair reflects on how her mother always seemed to know what was going to happen to their family, and she wonders what her mother will see as she visits Lena and her husband, Harold.

Lena’s mother makes Harold slow down during the drive, and Lena is pleased with the irony of this, for Harold normally acts like he wants to run over slow drivers. Lena also remembers her disagreement with her husband over their cat, Mirugai. Lena’s mother struggles with the cost of Lena and Harold’s home and points out several flaws. Lena is annoyed but also recalls the time her mother predicted that she would “marry a bad man.”

If Lena did not finish all her rice, her husband would be a mean man with a pock-marked face, her mother told her. Lena immediately thought of the neighbor boy Arnold who shot rubber bands at her legs. She finished her meal, determined never to marry Arnold, but her mother reminded her of all the times she had not eaten all her food.

Later, Lena grew to despise Arnold so much that she decided she would never finish all her food so that Arnold would grow up to be as deformed as the people in the missionary video her teacher showed at school. Arnold actually did die young, at age seventeen, from complications of the measles, and Lena felt guilty.

Lena and Harold work together in his architectural design company, Livotny & Associates. They met while working at another firm and started going out to lunch. They always split the tab, and this started a practice between them that is now irritating to Lena. Their desire to be “equals” has become extreme. Lena was the one who encouraged him to start his own firm, yet she paid half the rent when they moved in together. She supported him with pep talks and ideas for restaurant designs, but she is subordinate to the interior designer in the company because Harold does not want to show favoritism. Lena works hard and thinks that Harold is unfair to her.

Back at the house, Lena’s mother notices the list on the refrigerator outlining the expenses that each spouse is responsible for. Lena, embarrassed, tries to brush it off, recalling how they have always split expenses almost to the point of obsession and remembering the arguments they have had over the practice. Lena merely tells her mother it was just something they started before they married, and to herself, she questions their usual explanation about being equals and “love without obligation.”

After dinner, Lena leads her mother to the guest room and warns her about the bedside table, which is unstable. Her mother wonders what use it is. Downstairs, Lena and Harold discuss expenses, and Lena says she is tired of always “adding things up.” They argue but are interrupted by a crash from upstairs. The side table has fallen over, and Lena’s mother wonders why, if Lena knew the table would break, she did not stop it.

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