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The Daughters (continued)
Lena St. Clair
Lena is a fragile character. Throughout her life she has lacked the drive to assert herself; instead, she thinks and reacts according to what she believes others will think about her, especially her mother. As a result, Lena emerges as a mere shadow of Ying-ying St. Clair and is often characterized by a word like “ghost.” In truth, Lena is a portrait of fear in control.
In her childhood, Lena was commanded, controlled, and overprotected by Ying-Ying, who told her terrible tales of the consequences of disobedience. In turn, Lena developed into a meek and humble youth and a passive adult, who still submits to the wishes of her mother and husband. Fearful of censure, Lena never states her opinion or protests a decision, even when there is a strong need to do so.
Lena worked hard to help Harold, her husband, set up his business. Now that he is a successful businessman, he gives her no credit or appreciation. In fact, he makes her pay one- half of all the bills, even though he makes many times more than she does. Lena is too weak to protest the unfair treatment. In a like manner, she allows Harold to design and decorate the house that they have purchased and are redoing. She does not criticize him, even though she knows that the house is out of proportion and the furniture is too delicate. She is content to remain in Harold’s shadow, just as she has always been in Ying-ying’s shadow.
Lena fears her mother’s visit to the new house. She knows that her mother will openly criticize everything about it. More importantly, Lena knows that Ying-ying will see the misery of her marriage to Harold and criticize it as well. Her mother’s visit, however, encourages Lena to talk to Harold. She expresses a desire to change the pattern of their dull, mechanized life. The insensitive Harold is amazed to hear his wife voicing an opinion and cannot believe that she could possibly be unhappy with him or their life together.
At the end of the novel, Lena still seems fragile. There is hope, however, that she will become less timid. Encouraged by her mother, she makes an attempt to express herself and stand up for her beliefs. She has a long way to go before she will become that pillar of strength that Ying-ying would like to see, but the mother and the reader are encouraged by Lena’s small steps towards knowing who she is and standing up for herself.
Rose Hsu Jordan
Rose Jordan is an educated woman with a mind of her own, but she lacks the courage to assert her identity. Like Lena, she is taken for granted by a selfish husband, who eventually leaves her for another woman. When Ted serves her the notice for a divorce, Rose breaks down, indulging in self- pity. Feeling helpless and depressed, she can barely function. She goes to see a psychiatrist to try and relieve her distress, but she always leaves his office feeling more confused. An-Mei, Rose’s mother, knows that her daughter needs to have more inner strength and wishes she could find a way to give it to her.
An-Mei does encourage Rose to stand up against Ted. As a result, she bravely tells her husband that she will not sign the divorce papers and that she will not let him take the house from her. It is the bravest things that Rose has ever done. As a result, at the end of the novel, An-Mei and the reader feel encouraged about Rose, just as Ying-ying and the reader felt encouraged about Lena.