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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Without Wood Summary

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Rose Hsu Jordan remembers how she once believed everything her mother told her even if she did not understand it. Her mother has always held truth “from up high.”

Rose had trouble sleeping as a child, and her mother told her that her sisters had already gone to see Old Mr. Chou, the guardian of the door of dreams. Instead, Rose had nightmares about Old Mr. Chou and her mother. Her mother told her that she did not have to pay attention to Old Mr. Chou, just to her mother.

In the present, Rose and her mother attend a funeral for China Mary Chan. As the minister speaks and the congregation sings, Rose tells her mother that Ted has sent her a check. Her mother asks why and says that Ted must be “doing monkey business with someone else.” She wonders why her daughter talks to a psychiatrist about these issues instead of her own mother.

Rose reflects on her own confusion and fogginess. She tells varying stories to her friends and to her psychiatrist but finds no answers from anyone, including herself. Sometimes she feels pain. At other times, she misses Ted or wants revenge on him. Rose is inventorying their home when she gets a note from Ted along with their divorce papers and a check for $10,000. Ted instructs her to sign the papers.

Rose recalls her mother's explanation of why she is confused all the time. She is “without wood.” She remembers how she would always listen to her mother until other voices started to make their way into her mind, distracting her and confusing her. There are too many opinions, and Chinese opinions are so different from American opinions.

The check especially bothers Rose, for she realizes that the money is nothing to Ted, meaning that she, too, is nothing. She cannot decide what to do, and she looks out into the garden that Ted once cared for so meticulously. It is overgrown and messy now. Rose goes to bed and stays there for three days until she has a nightmare about Old Mr. Chou. Her mother calls and tells Rose that she must “speak up” and talk to Ted.

Ted calls and tells Rose that he needs the papers signed now, for he wants the house because he plans to marry someone else. Rose remembers her mother’s comment about “monkey business” and starts to laugh. She invites Ted to come over, and when he does, she shows him the garden. She hands him the divorce papers but then announces that she plans to stay in the house. The papers are not signed, for she is going to contest them. Ted cannot just throw her away. She has finally made a decision.

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