Study Guide

The Joy Luck Club Part 3, Chapter 1

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Part 3, Chapter 1

  • Lena begins her narrative by explaining that her mother has an uncanny ability to see the future (not the future like stocks, but the future in regards to family).
  • Though her mom, Ying-ying, has been able to see into the family’s future and see bad events coming, Ying-ying grieves that she never did anything to stop them.
  • For example, Lena’s mom knew that Lena’s dad would die because of the way a plant he gave her died in spite of proper care.
  • Lena’s stressed out about her mom’s strange abilities because she’s worried about what her mother will see in the new house she and Harold (Lena’s husband) just bought.
  • Harold and Lena are driving Lena’s mom over to see the house, which is in a semi-isolated area up on a hill. Lena’s mom already has some criticisms: Harold’s driving style will put too much wear and tear on their nice car.
  • Right now Lena’s mad at Harold. They’re bickering about money, again. He wants Lena to pay for the flea exterminator because Lena’s cat brought the fleas in, so the fleas are obviously Lena’s as well.
  • Then Lena switches her narration to describe the new house, which is a converted barn.
  • Lena’s mother points out all the flaws with terrifying truth – it cost too much, the floors slant, and it’s full of spiders and fleas.
  • Lena is afraid that her mother sees her marriage problems as well. She’s convinced her mom knows that the marriage isn’t a happy one because when Lena was eight-years-old, her mom predicted that she would marry a "bad man."
  • We flashback to a dinner many, many years ago.
  • In an effort to get Lena to finish her food, Lena’s mother tells her that her future husband will have one pock mark for every grain of uneaten rice. Then she follows up by implying that guys with pock marks are bad men.
  • Lena thinks of Arnold, a mean twelve-year-old with pits in his face from bad acne, who picks on her.
  • She doesn’t want Arnold as a husband, so she finishes her rice.
  • But her mother points out that Lena has left many bowls of rice uneaten in the past.
  • That same week, Lena sees a film in Sunday school about people with leprosy. She determines that lepers must be husbands and wives of people who failed to finish their rice.
  • Lena figures that if she leaves mouthfuls of her rice uneaten at every meal, she won’t have to marry Arnold. (Because then he’ll be a leper and die.)
  • She rapidly stopped eating just about everything. Hmm…that sounds like an eating disorder.
  • Five years later, Lena finds out from a newspaper that Arnold recently died of complications from measles. He contracted the measles when he was twelve (when Lena was eight and decided to stop eating her rice) and the disease resurfaced five years later.
  • Lena feels incredibly guilty, like she caused Arnold to die.
  • That night, Lena devours a half-gallon of strawberry ice cream and then promptly throws it up on the fire escape.
  • The flashback ends.
  • Lena’s still isn’t convinced that she didn’t cause Arnold to die, after all, as an eight-year-old that was her intention.
  • Even though Lena succeeded in avoiding marrying Arnold, she ends up with Harold (suspiciously similar name). From the way she says this, we’re not so sure that Harold is any better than Arnold in her eyes.
  • Lena explains the history her relationship with Harold in a flashback.
  • Lena and Harold meet through work, and start seeing each other on casual dates.
  • When they go out for meals, they split the bill in half – even though Lena only orders a salad and Harold orders full-course meals. Yeah, she has "doormat" written all over her.
  • During some pillow talk, Harold gives Lena some compliments: she’s "so together" and "soft and squishy."
  • She’s really astonished that such an amazing man would fall for her. She worries that Harold will one day think she isn’t worthy of his love. (This is called suffering from a lack of self-respect.)
  • Lena encourages Harold to start his own business, and basically saves his nascent firm with her new, smart ideas for restaurant design.
  • Although Lena does amazing work for Harold – finding the decorations and props for the themed restaurants they work on – she never gets promoted. Harold is fair to everyone in the workplace…except Lena.
  • Meanwhile, Harold insists on keeping all the money stuff separate to ensure that their love is "pure" and "uncontaminated by money." But it’s really, really clear that Lena is getting the short end of the stick.
  • The flashback ends and we’re back to the present with Lena’s mom visiting Harold and Lena at their new house.
  • Lena sees her mom looking at the refrigerator list with all of the shared expenses that Lena and Harold have, basically a long list of who owes who, so they can split all the expenses evenly.
  • Harold is super obsessed with money matters. Since they’ve bought an expensive house and Lena can’t afford to pay half the mortgage payment, she only owns a small portion of the house and property. And since she has less ownership of the house, Harold gets to make all of the decorating decisions. Harold is a jerk.
  • When her mother calls her on it, after seeing the IOU list on the refrigerator, Lena doesn’t know how to respond.
  • After dinner, it’s really clear that Harold and Lena have marriage problems.
  • Harold asks who wants ice cream for dessert. Lena says she’s full, Harold thinks she’s just on a diet, and Lena’s mom points out that Lena has hated ice cream since she was a kid. So there. And all this time Lena’s been paying for half of Harold’s Friday evening ice cream purchases.
  • When Lena’s mom says that Lena’s becoming so thin "She like a ghost, disappear." Harold thinks she’s making a comment about Lena’s diets. But remember how Lena’s mom, Ying-ying St. Clair, is the one who became more and more ghostlike because she lost herself? Ying-ying is probably making a comment about Lena losing herself, not about dieting.
  • Lena gets her mom set up in the guest room, where her mom notices a totally rickety bedside table with a vase on it. The table can’t hold any weight, and her mom thinks it’s useless.
  • Later that night, Lena and Harold fight. She yells at him for being "so goddamn fair!" and how she’s sick of their relationship being about accounting. He doesn’t get it.
  • Lena starts to cry while Harold dodges questions about the foundation of their relationship, and throws them back at her.
  • They’re interrupted by the sounds of glass shattering.
  • Lena goes upstairs to see what the sound was.
  • The fragile table in the guest bedroom (where Lena’s mother is staying) has fallen and the vase on it shattered.
  • Lena picks up the pieces, saying she knew it was going to happen.
  • Her mother asks, then why didn’t you stop it?

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