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In The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan, concepts of balance are highly influential in regards to the stories of An-Mei Hsu and Lena St. Clair. An-Mei Hsu uses faith to find balance in her life after the death of her son, Bing. Lena St. Clair balances all of her transactions with her husband, Harold, in order to stabilize an unequal relationship. Amy Tan, in the chapters “Half and Half” and “Rice Husband”, shows how An-Mei Hsu and Lena St. Clair attempt to achieve balance in certain aspects of an otherwise unbalanced life.
An-Mei Hsu, in “Half and Half”, uses her faith in God as a vehicle to seek balance in her life after it became unbalanced. In the eyes of her daughter, Rose Hsu Jordan, An-Mei Hsu lost faith after her son, Bing died. However, she may have not given up in God after all: “But later, after my mother lost her faith in God, that leatherette Bible wound up wedged under a too-short table leg” (116).
The table is a metaphor for life. Each leg represents an aspect of it, and if each aspect fits together, life will be balanced. However, even if one leg is slightly shorter or longer, the entire table will tip. The shortness of the leg represents the death of Bing; that event caused the entire table of An-Mei’s life to become unsteady. However, she used faith as a way to balance it after it had tipped. However, the Bible didn’t fix the table in reality, as: “Faith was just an illusion that somehow you’re in control” (121).
The illusion that An-Mei’s faith painted was that the shorter table leg was the same length as the others if she put the Bible lifted it up. However, no matter how much “that leatherette Bible” balanced the table, it still wasn’t a leg. Although An-Mei Hsu’s method of seeking balance in her life isn’t entirely effective, her faith manages to prop up the “too short table leg” of her family.
Lena St. Clair, in “Half and Half”, balances all her transactions and money with Harold in order to stabilize an unequal marriage. In the minds of Lena and Harold, their relationship is fair. This is because every penny that one person pays is accounted for, and eventually paid back. However in reality, they are unequal: “So really, we’re equals, except that Harold makes about seven times more than what I make” (159). The marriage, as a whole, is not balanced. Harold has the power and the income over Lena. The constant transactions with one enough somewhat evens out the relationship. That is why Lena always insists on paying Harold back: she wants to find balance in some aspect of the relationship; she doesn’t always want to always be inferior. “We started seeing each other for working lunches, to talk about the projects, and we would always split the tab right in half, even though I usually ordered only a salad because I have this tendency to gain weight easily. Later, when we started meeting secretly for dinner, we still divided the bill” (155). Because they split the bill, Lena was never in debt to Harold. With this mindset, their marriage would never be tainted, and it would remain pure. However, because Lena “usually ordered only a salad”, the balance was actually a misconception: she still got the short end of the stick. She still had to pay for part of Harold’s meal, and this trend continued into their marriage. Since Lena is inferior to Harold in terms of power, she makes sure to never have to owe him any money, to allow the relationship to be perceived as balanced, when in reality, it is not.
Tan gives insight about An-Mei Hsu and Lena St. Clair’s two different methods of finding a sense of balance in a confusing world: An-Mei resorts to faith in a higher being and Lena makes sure to never be in debt to her husband. However, neither of the methods are completely flawless; An-Mei faith is deceiving and Lena ends up paying for more than she takes. Do these characters now realize that their need for stability has put them in bad situations, and if so, are they ready to accept that life will always, no matter what they do, be slightly unbalanced?
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