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Free Study Guide-The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan-Free Booknotes Online
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SECTION III

Lena St. Clair - Rice Husband

Lena is nervous because her mother, Ying-ying, is coming to visit her and Harold in their new home. Lena is afraid that her mother will criticize the house and her marriage to Harold. When the chapter opens, Lena and Harold are in the midst of an argument over who should pay for the catís treatment for fleas.

Lenaís life with Harold has degenerated into one of mechanics. Years ago Lena worked hard to provide Harold with the financial support he needed to start his own architectural firm. Now that Harold is a successful businessman, he shamelessly refuses to share his success with his wife. Even though Lena earns a small percentage of what Harold makes, he insists that they split their bills in half, right down to the fifty cents each pays for ice cream. Even though Harold does not appreciate Lena and takes advantage of her, she does not like to acknowledge it. She knows, however, that her mother will.

When Ying-ying arrives, she is not pleased with the house, just as Lena has feared. She feels it has a lack of balance, is too expensive, and is not well built. Her criticisms remind Lena of an incident from her childhood. When she was a child and did not finish her rice, Ying-ying would frighten her into eating the rice by telling her she would one day marry a man who had as many pock marks on his face as the rice particles left on her plate. The young Lena knew a boy, Arnold, who was terribly pockmarked. Horrified at the thought that she would one day marry him, she ate all of her rice. Still fearing that she might have to marry Arnold, Lena began to hate him and torment him. She was also so upset about Arnold that she refused to eat. Then one day her father read her the news about Arnoldís death. Feeling miserable and guilty, Lena convinced herself that she was responsible for his death because of her hatred and her refusal to eat. In retaliation, she stuffed herself with ice cream until she got sick. This incident was the beginning of Lenaís true anorexia and her distaste for ice cream.

During her motherís visit, Harold discovers for the first time that Lena does not eat ice cream. He is horrified by the thought that he might be insensitive to his wifeís likes and dislikes. Ironically, he is not sensitive to anything about Lena. As a result, she tells him that she is unhappy with their life together, which she views as nothing more than a planned and systematic existence. Harold is puzzled and confused by his wifeís confession. Ying-ying, however, understands her daughterís unhappiness and warns Lena to mend her life before it breaks down.

Notes

This chapter again emphasizes the communication gap that exists between a Chinese mother and her Americanized daughter. At the beginning of the chapter, Lena is dreading her motherís upcoming visit, for she is sure that Ying-ying will criticize the new house that she and Harold have bought. She knows that she will also criticize her marriage to Harold, for Ying-Ying has never liked him since he is not Chinese.


This chapter also exposes the communication gap that can exist between modern couples. The relationship between Lena and Harold has become distant and strained because he gives all his time and energy to his work in order to be successful. Unfortunately, he does not remember that Lena was the one who made sacrifices and worked to help him start up his architectural firm. Now he is selfish with her, making her pay one-half of all the bills even though she makes much less money than he.

Harold is so preoccupied with being successful that he has never even realized that his wife does not eat ice cream. This, however, is just one of many things that he does not realize about Lena. When Lena complains about the routine of their existence and expresses a desire to change the pattern of their lives, Harold is taken aback. He cannot understand that she could possibly be unhappy.

The fancy table placed in the guest room is symbolic of the life led by Lena and Harold. Harold made the rickety, poorly constructed table while he was in school.

Lena, aware of the fragility of the table, has repeatedly tried to convince Harold to make it stronger; he, however, has seen no need to fix it. Similarly, Lena is aware of the hollowness of her wedded life and wants to correct it. Like the rickety table, her marriage is fragile and may break down unless it is repaired. When she tells Harold of her unhappiness and her desire to fix it, Harold does not see what needs to be changed in their marriage.

This chapter again points out the contrast between traditional Chinese culture and the modern mechanical world. Ying-ying belongs to the past where customs and traditions play an important part of life. She had always lived together with members of a huge family, where people lived truthfully and shared their joys and sorrows. In contrast Lenaís world is fashionable, modern, and mechanical; but her family life is hollow and meaningless. Waverly tries to stand up to Harold and express her true feelings, but since she lacks self-confidence, she cannot convince her insensitive husband of the mechanical nature of their existence. Lacking the strength to bring about change in herself or her situation, Waverly can only disintegrate into tears. Ironically, her traditional Chinese mother sees the problem and advises her daughter to fix the situation, even if it means divorce.

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