Rose, the narrator of this chapter, is the daughter of An-Mei, who narrated Scar. Although Rose and her husband are on the verge of a divorce, she dreads telling her mother. Even though her mother has disapproved of Rose’s marriage to an American, Rose knows that An-Mei will encourage her to try and save it. Rose, however, knows that there is nothing to salvage.
Rose’s dread over facing her mother makes her recall a painful memory from her past when she dreaded to face An-Mei. Twenty years ago Rose was a happy child living in the midst of a loving family. One day the family took a trip to the beach, and Rose was given the responsibility of looking after her younger brothers, named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Bing. She had some trouble controlling her youngest brother, Bing, who wanted to go far out into the waves. Rose warned him not to go any further, but he did not listen. When she took her eyes off him for a minute, Bing was swept away by a wave and tragically drowned. An-Mei could not believe that Bing was gone. She was convinced that he would soon be returned to them alive and well. Her mother’s emotions only made Rose feel more guilty.
An-Mei had many reactions to Bing’s death. Being religious, she prayed to God for his safe return to her. She then tried to defy fate by throwing her own mother’s ring into the sea, thinking it might bring back her drowned son. When Bing did not come back, An-Mei lost faith in God. As a result, she never again read the Bible; instead, she used it under a table leg as a support. Eventually, however, An-Mei accepted Bing’s death.
Rose returns to her present situation. She knows that her mother has never approved of her marriage to Ted since he is American rather than Chinese. She met Ted at the University of California, some seventeen years ago. Rose fell deeply in love with Ted, largely because he was so different than the Chinese boys she knew. After dating, they decided to marry before Ted started medical school.
From the beginning of their marriage, Ted insisted upon controlling
things. Rose was helpless to do anything about it. Now she is miserable
because he wants a divorce. Unable to do anything about the situation,
she feels as helpless as when she watched her brother drowning. She compares
her loss of faith in love to her mother’s loss of faith in God.
Rose’s chapter titled Half and Half is a story in two halves: one half from her childhood and one half from her adulthood. When Rose thinks about losing her husband and her faith in love, she remembers her past when her mother lost her son and her faith in God. She tells the story of how her youngest brother, Bing, drowns and explains An-Mei’s reaction to the loss.
“Half and Half” also applies to the relationship between Rose and her husband. In their marriage, Rose is the Chinese half and Ted is the American half. Both their mothers oppose the unions. Ted’s mother opposes it because she does not believe in racial mixing and feels her son is marrying beneath his social status. Rose’s mother knows that two very different heritages will not blend, and she fears that Rose will stop being Chinese.
Finally, “Half and Half” refers to the state of the Hsus before and after the drowning of Bing. In fact, Tan described the beach where the boy dies as “a giant bowl, cracked in half, the other half washed out to sea.” Prior to Bing’s death, An-Mei and her children were a happy and close-knit family. An-Mei was a pillar of strength. A very religious person, she carried the Bible around and read it for support and encouragement. After Bing’s death, An-Mei abandoned her religion and placed the Bible as a support for the leg of the kitchen table. She was angry at God for not returning Bing to her; her anger negatively affected the entire family.
In this chapter, two themes are further developed. As with the other Chinese
daughters, there is a huge gap in communication and thinking between Rose
and An-Mei. The daughter has become very Americanized, especially after
her marriage to Ted, an American, and she and An-Mei have little in common.
In addition, the theme of loss of heritage is emphasized in the chapter.
An-Mei totally resents Rose’s abandonment of her Chinese self.
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