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In the short story “Without Wood” by Amy Tan, Rose Hsu Jordan feels like she listened to other people more than her mom, and ended up with a mind full of other peoples’ English thoughts, leaving her confused and unreadable to her own mother. Rose Hsu Jordan wavers between hostility, distress, and relief about her impending divorce. Rose’s mother, An-mei believes Rose’s uncertainty comes from the fact that she’s “without wood. “If you bend to listen to other people, you will grow crooked and weak, ” An-mei says. Rose is finally able to hear her mother’s advice and listens to it instead of ignoring it. Rose is now able to make a decision about her marriage with Ted and about her home, but she also comes to accept herself as a person who is “without wood. ”
When Rose was a child, her mother told her people without wood, one of the five elements that make up each person according to Chinese tradition, spread themselves like weeds in every direction only to be thrown away in the end. Rose tells Ted, “You can’t just pull me out of your life and throw me away”, and in her dreams she extends the same respect to her garden. The weeds in her dream garden run rampant, representing both her control over her circumstances and her acceptance of herself exactly the way she is. She sees something beautiful in the weeds even if others do not. It is not coincidental that her mother appears in the dream, having planted the weeds “this morning, some for you, some for me”.
Rose is having a dream about the dolls and the sand boxes in where Old Mr. Chou is chasing her and saying, “See what happens when you don’t listen to your mother. And Rose became paralyzed, too scared to move in any direction”. Rose doesn’t know where to go in her divorce, she doesn’t know what she wants and what to do. Her mother has been trying to tell her what she should do this whole time, but Rose hasn’t been listening to her because she thinks that her mother is just going to tell her to try to save her marriage. An-mei says “I’m not telling you to save your marriage. I only say you should speak up”. An-mei is the only one who can snap Rose out of her depression, because they have a bond that goes beyond any other relationship. An-mei wants her daughter to voice her fears, and not be silent as past generations of women have been forced to be. When Rose listens to her mother and speaks to Ted about the divorce, she finally knows what she wants. After listening to her mother, she finally knows where she wants to go and what she wants to do in this divorce of hers. Rose faces a conflict with herself. She struggles with the concept of having “wood, ” as she is not accustomed to making her own decisions and opinions. It is apparent that Rose confuses even herself. She speaks differently to her friends and to her psychiatrist about the divorce. When An-mei says “phycheattrics will only make you hulihudu, make you see heimongmom, ” she is trying to hint that the only person in her life that can make her truly feel better inside is her mother, because she knows best, and physiatrists only trick you to get their money. Eventually she realizes her vulnerability to Ted and learns to stand up for herself.
Throughout her whole marriage, Rose never made any decisions, she always let Ted decide. Then, when Ted wants a divorce so that he can marry someone else, he says that he’ll give her some time to find a new place to live. Rose answers that she already found one and says she will stay here. Rose finds help from her mother in her time of most need. She is going through a divorce and even though she never really connected with her mother, her words had reached her and helped her fight Ted. Ted was practically throwing her out of his life. “You must stand tall and listen to your mother standing next to you”, was said by Rose’s mother. She believed that she was always right and that Rose must obey her. Rose’s mother was right about Rose having to speak out on her divorce. Her mother told her that she was confused and that she needed to speak out. Even though Rose, like all her Americanized friends, does not connect with her mother, it is still her mom that tells her what she needs to do and gives her courage to do so Rose and An-Mei develop an even stronger, closer relationship in the duration of Rose’s divorce.
Like always, An-Mei gives her daughter valuable advice, helping her through tough times. It is as if An-Mei is Rose’s “wood”. Although Rose acknowledges her mother’s concern, she does not entirely believe and put into action her mother’s words and suggestions. When Rose’s disbelief toward Ted doing “monkey business” with another woman is undermined, she realizes the truth and wisdom in her mother’s admonishment. It is not until she sees for herself how weak she is, how “without wood” she is being, does she finally stand up for herself and speak up to Ted. With the help of her mother, Rose is able to pull through her divorce.
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