This chapter is about An-Mei Hsu, the hostess of the first Joy Luck Club meeting that Jing-Mei attends. Like Suyuan in the last chapter, An-Mei relates how she and her brother had suffered in China. Her mother had left the family to live with a wealthy merchant as his fourth wife and concubine; the family pretended that she was ďdead.Ē Then when An-Meiís father died, she and her brother went to live with their aunt, uncle, and grandmother. Hoping that her granddaughter would turn out better than her daughter, An-Meiís grandmother, Popo, told her frightening stories that stressed the importance of morality and obedience. In one of her tales, she said that An-Mei and her brother came from the eggs of a useless goose. Being a young child, An-Mei literally believed the story and felt worthless and unimportant as a result.
When An-Mei was still a child, her mother unexpectedly came for a visit. An-Mei immediately noticed that she had a long neck, just like a goose; this observation reinforced the tale that Popo had related to her earlier. An-Mei was definitely convinced that she came from a goose egg. An-Mei also felt her mother looked strangely evil, with her haughty attitude, her strange clothes, and her high-heeled shoes. She seemed to be as bad as Popo had always described her.
As Popo and An-Meiís mother argued about whether she should take the children away with her, a pot of hot soup spilled on An-Mei. The burns were so serious that she nearly died from them. Everyone blamed her mother for the injury and sent her away. Popo, however, understood An-Meiís emotions for her mother. Trying to encourage her recovery, Popo told the child that if she did not get well, her mother would forget who she was. Little An-Mei, not wanting her mother to forget her, listened to her grandmother and recovered from the burns; but she carries both physical and emotional scars from the incident.
Later An-Meiís mother partially redeemed herself. When Popo was dying,
she attempted to save her life. Following an old Chinese custom, she severed
part of her own flesh and put it in a ďsoupĒ that she created to heal
her mother. As a result, An-Meiís mother also bore a physical scar.
This chapter again stresses a lack of communication and disconnection between mother and daughter. An-Meiís mother is disowned by her grandmother when she leaves her children to live with a wealthy merchant. As a result, An-Mei has always been separated from her mother. Popo, the grandmother, unwittingly makes the separation more painful when she tells An-Mei that she came from a worthless goose and when she bombards her with stories about disobedient children who are severely punished. Throughout her childhood, An-Mei is terrified; as a result, she carries emotional scars.
The physical scars that both An-Mei and her mother carry are very symbolic. An-Mei is severely burned by boiling soup and carries a scar from the incident. An-Meiís mother cuts her own flesh to make a soup meant to heal her mother, Popo. Like her daughter, she also has a scar. The physical scar, however, is not nearly as painful as the underlying emotional scars caused by the separation of a daughter from her mother.
The image of An-Meiís mother as a goose is also symbolic. Like the goose at the first of the book, who tries to change itself into a swan, An-Meiís mother also stretches herself into something different. Popo disclaims her as a result. She is so hurt by her daughterís immorality that she unknowingly punishes her granddaughter by telling her that she came from a worthless goose. In other words, An-Mei is made to feel like a goose egg, a useless being.
After many years of sad confusion, An-Mei finally comes to understand her
mother and accept that she is like her in many ways. Her own suffering
has made her appreciate the suffering her mother endured. She states,
ďNot because she came to me and begged me to forgive her. She did not.
She did not need to explain that Popo chased her out of the house when
I was dying. This I knew. She did not need to tell me she married Wu Tsing
to exchange one happiness for another. I knew that as well. Here is how
I came to love my mother. How I saw in her my own nature. What was beneath
my skin. Inside my bones.Ē An-Mei further explains that to really know
yourself, you have to deal with your past; you must peel away your own
skin, and the skin of your mother, and the skin of your grandmother before
her. It is a painful, but necessary, process in order to be in touch with
your true self; but it is only when the scarred skin is peeled away that
the healing can begin. Much of the book deals with past suffering, which
causes a need for healing.
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