Last Updated on February 3, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 806
An-mei, now an old woman, narrates this story. As a child, she and her brother live with Popo, Auntie, and Uncle. As Popo grows increasingly ill, she calls An-mei to her bedside and tells her stories with a moral to them. Both Popo and Auntie tell the children that their...
(The entire section contains 806 words.)
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An-mei, now an old woman, narrates this story. As a child, she and her brother live with Popo, Auntie, and Uncle. As Popo grows increasingly ill, she calls An-mei to her bedside and tells her stories with a moral to them. Both Popo and Auntie tell the children that their mother has no respect for the family. An-mei feels unlucky to have such a mother.
The story jumps ahead to when An-mei is nine, and her mother returns. Auntie, Uncle, and the servants, unhappy with her presence, ignore her. She goes to Popo’s room and begins to take care of her. Popo is so sick she doesn’t even know who is there. If she had known who it was, she would have thrown An-mei’s mother out.
An-mei says her mother’s voice confused her, “a familiar sound from a forgotten dream.” Later she remembers when she had heard her mother’s voice before.
She had been four. During an argument between her mother and the rest of the family, a large pot of hot soup on the dinner table spilled on An-mei’s neck. The burn was very serious. The first night Popo told An-mei the family had made burial clothes for her, her mother had left, and if An-mei did not get well soon, her mother would forget her. An-mei recovered. Two years later the scar on her neck was pale and shiny, and she had completely forgotten her mother.
The story returns to the time when An-mei is nine, and Popo is dying. Her mother repeats an ancient tradition. She cuts a piece of flesh from her arm, puts it into a special soup, and feeds Popo, partly in one last attempt to save her life and partly out of respect for her. Popo dies a few hours later.
An-mei, now in the present, says that even then she could tell how much respect her mother had for Popo: “It is shou so deep it is in your bones.” Sometimes the only way to remember what is in your bones is to peel off everything until there is nothing else left.
At the end of “The Joy Luck Club,” when Jing-mei protests that she doesn’t know anything about Suyuan, An-mei exclaims, “Your mother is in your bones!” This story shows how she has come to believe this.
“Scar” focuses on shou, respect for family. In this important Chinese tradition, respect is granted automatically; it does not have to be earned. The American-born daughters will not view respect for the family in the same manner as their mothers. This difference in the two cultures and generations creates conflict throughout the novel.
An-mei’s mother has disgraced her family. An-mei’s father died, and Chinese tradition forbids widows to remarry. For reasons we are not told in this story, however, she has remarried. Worse, she married a wealthy man who already had three wives.
Both Popo and Auntie teach An-mei and her brother that their mother is bad. The children think she is “thoughtless” and “a traitor to our ancestors.” Eventually An-mei believes them and considers herself unlucky to have such a mother. However, she thinks these thoughts while hiding from the portrait of her father, suggesting that she knew she was being disrespectful.
The story does not tell how An-mei’s mother knew Popo was dying. She returns to take care of her mother, even cutting flesh from her own arm for a special soup. She knew she could not save Popo’s life. The important thing was to demonstrate shou. An-mei realized that showing respect for Popo did not depend on whether Popo showed respect for her. She saw her mother’s sacrifice for Popo as a way of honoring her.
The title of the story, “Scar,” can be interpreted three ways. Most obvious is what An-mei calls her “smooth-neck scar,” the result of being burned by the soup. A second, an emotional scar, is suggested when An-mei says:
In two years’ time, my scar became pale and shiny and I had no memory of my mother. That is the way it is with a wound. The wound begins to close in on itself, to protect what is hurting so much. And once it is closed, you no longer see what is underneath, what started the pain.
An-mei’s mother will have a scar as a result of the wound to her arm in addition to emotional scars from being separated from her children and disowned by her family. In another story we will see that she carries scars from other incidents in her life, too.
Popo is also scarred. From her point of view, disowning her daughter was the right thing to do. Even so, she has suffered. Her daughter is gone, and her family is in disgrace.