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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.
Rose Hsu Jordan
: narrator of this story, daughter of An-mei and George, wife of Ted Jordan; a free-lance production assistant for graphic artists
: Rose’s husband, a dermatologist
: Ted’s mother
: An-mei’s father
Janice, Ruth, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Bing
: Rose’s sisters and brothers
“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.
The Joy Luck Club
Her Bible becomes a physical, rather than spiritual, prop — a wedge to shore up a rickety table. Ironically, the Bible is still fulfilling its original purpose — "correcting the imbalances of life." On the surface, it seems that Mrs. Hsu is just being practical; after all, why waste a perfectly good Bible? But even twenty years later, the cover is still "clean white," showing that she hasn't wholly discounted the power of religion to buttress her life. This condition is affirmed when Rose opens the Bible and sees that her mother has entered Bing's name in "erasable pencil." This entry is proof that when she made the entry, she didn't believe that Bing was really dead. She was still hoping that he might return through the power of faith. Even now, she has not reentered his name in ink.
This story returns to the motif of yin and yang, beginning with the title, a reference to the Daoist ideal of two halves balancing to make a whole. Rose and Ted’s relationship is an example of yin and yang gone awry. Instead of balancing the characteristics of both yin and yang in her personality, Rose is entirely yin, always the victim. Ted, on the other hand, is all yang, always the rescuer. Unhealthy though their relationship is, it works until Ted loses the malpractice suit and becomes the one in need. Rose, unaware of how hard he has taken the loss, does not help him. The balance destroyed, their marriage falls apart.
Balance is the key to the theme of this story, suggesting our lives are shaped both by what we control and what we don’t control. Echoing the theme of “The Joy Luck Club,” it suggests that hope is all people really have. Rose says of her own hope, “I was not denying any possibility, good or bad. I was just saying, If there is a choice, dear God or whatever you are, here’s where the odds should be placed.”
Half & Half
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.
When An-mei returns with Rose to the site of Bing’s drowning, she has complete confidence one of her three plans will work. First she uses her Christian faith, holding the white Bible and praying to God.
When Bing does not appear, she turns to her Chinese tradition. Explaining that an ancestor had once stolen sacred water, she throws tea into the sea to “sweeten the temper of the Coiling Dragon.” She also throws in a blue sapphire ring, possibly her most valuable possession, a gift from her mother. When he still does not reappear, An-mei falls back on her nengkan, the powerful self-confidence that has served her family so well in the past. She is convinced her own efforts will succeed where Christian faith and Chinese tradition have failed: the inner tube attached to her husband’s fishing pole will go where Bing is and bring him back.
But when the fishing line snaps, she no longer has the “illusion that somehow [she’s] in control.” She and Rose can only watch powerlessly and hopefully as the inner tube is smashed against the cove wall until it is destroyed.
The story concludes that fate consists of expectation—a positive force, yang—coupled with inattention—a negative force, yin. Those who lose something they love, as An-mei lost Bing and Rose lost Ted, must fill the void, must “pay attention to what [was] lost.” The family Bible’s clean condition tells the reader that An-mei notices it even though she pretends not to. It represents the absent Bing. Bing’s name written “in erasable pencil” in it suggests that An-mei, like Rose, now believes hope is the most a person can have. Rose must pay attention to her marriage, something she acknowledges she has not done, in order to restore the balance in her life. This is her fate.