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Rose Hsu Jordan - Without Wood
Rose reflects on her impending divorce from Ted. She is shattered, for she is still in love with him, and seeks the help of a psychiatrist. Her mother, An-Mei, pleads with her to talk to family, not to a psychiatrist. Rose, however, has always found it difficult to talk with An-Mei. As a child, she was often frightened by her mother’s stories of ghosts and Old Chou, the man who guarded the door to dreams. She remembers dreaming about being in Mr. Chou’s garden, where he shouted warnings to her about listening to and minding her mother. Am-Mei is still trying to make her daughter mind and listen.
Upset by having received the divorce papers to sign, Rose takes sleeping pills and falls asleep, dreaming of Old Chou. When she wakes, she receives phone calls from her mother, her psychiatrist, and Ted. Her husband wants her to sign the divorce papers at once so that he can remarry; he also states that he wants the house for himself. Rose is horrified to learn that Ted is leaving her for another woman and wants to take the house as well. She asks him to come over to discuss things. When Ted arrives, Rose takes him out to the overgrown gardens of their home. In the past, Ted had meticulously tended the gardens, which Rose loved. She felt that the beautiful and healthy flowering plants were symbolic of the love between Ted and herself. In truth, the gardens were just another of Ted’s obsessions. He controlled the plants by planting them and pruning them, just as he controlled Rose’s life. Now she accepts that both the plants and her marriage have gone to ruin. In accepting this, Rose reaches inside herself to find strength that has never been there before. She hands Ted the unsigned divorce papers and tells him she will not leave the house. For the first time in her life, Rose has acted with certainty rather than timidity. She is no longer a fragile flower (Rose), but a tough weed that will survive. In time, she will grow into a woody plant, capable of standing alone.
At the end of the chapter, Rose looks forward to going to bed. It is no longer an escape from reality for her, but a time for her to be in touch with her inner self. When she peacefully falls asleep, she has another dream about Mr. Chou, but it is not a frightening nightmare this time. Instead, she dreams that An-Mei is walking with Mr. Chou in a garden, and they are planting weeds. Rose now understands that her mother has planted her to survive.
This chapter reinforces the idea that the solution to one’s problems lies within oneself and not outside. Fortunately, Rose realizes this before she looses everything. Although Ted is divorcing her for another woman, she will not allow him to also have the house. For the first time in her life, she stands up for what she knows is right. She refuses to sign the divorce papers until he agrees that Rose will keep the house.
Being a typical Chinese mother steeped in tradition, An-Mei has always tried to impose her will on Rose, often frightening her daughter into obeying her commands. In the past, she warned Rose about ghosts and evil men who might snatch her away. She also told Rose that she was “born without wood,” being pulled in too many directions and never taking a stand. An-Mei really wants Rose to listen to her, for she thinks that she has her daughter’s best interests at heart; she also wants Rose to make her own decisions. As a result, when she hears that her daughter is going to a psychiatrist, An-Mei is horrified. She begs Rose to talk to the family about her problems, not to some stranger. Rose, however, cannot talk to her mother, for she fears her disapproval. Ironically, An-Mei’s words of wisdom help Rose to resolve her dilemma, while the words of the psychiatrist only confuse her.
Like the other Chinese mothers in the book, An-Mei does know what is best for her daughter. Rose tends to listen to other people rather than listening to her own conscience. An-Mei tries to teach her to have strength of character and trust in herself, rather than acting like a creature “without wood.” Because of An-Mei’s help, Rose is finally able to stand up for herself and tell Ted that he cannot have the house.
The imagery of the weeds in this chapter is significant. Like her overgrown garden, Rose has been mistreated in life because she did not stand up for herself. An-Mei had earlier told Rose that “a girl is like a young tree. You should stand tall and listen to your mother standing next to you. That is the only way to grow strong and straight. But if you bend to listen to other people, you will grow crooked and weak. You will fall to the ground with the first strong wind. And then you will be like a weed, growing wild in any direction, running along the ground until someone pulls you out and throws you away.” Throughout her life, Rose has listened to people other than her mother. They tended to misuse and abuse the sensitive Rose, especially Ted. In the end, Rose listens to her mother and has “wood” enough to stand tall and refuse to give in to Ted’s demands.