She was married to a bad man who left her after a short time to follow other women. Her love for him turned to hate, and she killed her unborn baby. This act gave her remorse for all her life since she considered it a murder. Tortured by this incident, she had a mental breakdown, for a period of time, when her second son — with her second husband, St.
Clair — died at birth. She saw it as a punishment for her previous behavior. After leaving her first husband’s house and returning home, she abandoned herself to whatever life offered her. She lived like a shadow, letting other people or events to decide for her.
When she met St. Clair, she passively let him believe that she was from a poor family. Ying-Ying also let him think that he married her to save her from some catastrophe, since she seemed to be in a desperate state of mind when she married him. She could not tell her husband, and later, her daughter Lena, that the catastrophe they imagined was only the news of the death of her bad and unloving former husband, and the emptiness she felt after hearing that news.
She let St. Clair make all decisions for her, since she wanted to give up her “chi” — her spirit or her strong will — because the only time she exerted it was to do a bad thing in her eyes: killing her unborn first son. Ying-Ying did not want to let her husband and daughter know more about herself, since it would mean she had to confess her shameful secret. Both her husband and daughter did not know about her first marriage.
Lena St. Clair, on the other hand, was born in America and lives like an American girl, “But when she was born, she sprang from me like a slippery fish, and had been swimming away ever since” (Tan, 274). Lena knew that her mother kept a secret and could not share it. She saw her mother as a weaken-minded woman who needed her help. She learned American ways and thought of herself as more suitable than her mother to American life.
However, conversely, her mother saw the fragility of Lena’s marriage and happiness. For all her life, Ying-Ying lived on a superficial level with St. Clair, her husband. Lena inherited this attitude from her mother. In St.
Clair’s family, they never had real communication. They only tried to be good to each other. The daughter and her father never knew who Ying-Ying really was, and what past she carried to America with her. Lena chose American ways, not realizing that her Chinese family education and tradition are really important to her happiness as well. Children learn to act as their parents do before them.
The relationship between Ying-Ying and St. Clair was superficial, so is that of Lena and Harold, her husband. Lena never questioned her mother about Chinese tradition, or about her parents’ relationship. Despite the exterior resemblance between the two marriages, Harold is very different from his father-in-law.
While St. Clair was an honest man who courted Ying-Ying for four years before marrying her, and he did not abandon her when she had her breakdown, Harold seems to be more egotistical and uncaring. For instance, he never paid attention to the fact that his wife never ate ice cream, and continued to let her pay for his. He also exploited her, paid her a very low wage compared to his, regardless of all the success she brought to him by inspiring him with her creative ideas.
Lena knew all about it, but she did not question his behavior, because of her Chinese heritage, although she was not conscious of it. I was hoping I was praying to Buddha, the goddess of mercy to make the candle go out(Tan, 56). However, Chinese traditional culture was based partly on Confucius’s teachings, partly on Taoism and Buddhism. Confucius taught that every woman had to follow three persons during her whole life: At home, she had to follow her father; married, she had to follow her husband; and when her husband died, she had to follow her son.
Normally, in the case of Ying-Ying, she had to give birth to her first son and stay forever in her in-law’s house, waiting for her husband to come back. Ying-Ying went against tradition by doing what she did. She chose not to stay in her husband’s house, and to do every possible thing to return to her father’s house. This was now all Chinese women were raised.
Therefore, this part of their culture their children could never understand which painted a thick picture around the mother-daughter relationship because of the lack of the mother not understanding the American culture and the daughters not comprhending lessons taught them because they referred to the Chinese culture. Each person is made of five elements, she told me. Too much fire and you had a bad temper to little wood and you bent too quickly to listen to other peoples ideasto much water and you flowed in too many directions ,(Tan, 19). Fire, water, earth, wood, and metal were the five chinese elements Amy Tan used and portrayed throughout the course of the novel. Additionally, these elements gave birth to eachother .
Wood, which symbolizes organic matter and signifies the whole vegetative cover of the Earth, burns which makes fire. Additionally, fire turns into ash, which is earth, metal can be found in ash. Metal found in earth from which came the underground steam, water. Water feeds plant life and produces wood (Skinner, 64). Therefore, Amy Tan uses these elements to portray more essance of the characters faults. For example, Rose Hsu Jordan has acquired to much water because she can never decide on any decisions and leaves them all to her husband; therefore, she resembles water because she flows in every direction.
Additionally, Lena St. Clair has to much fire because she is strictly even with expenses and decisions in her marriage. Consequently this makes her resentful and angry. Waverly Jong does not contain enough wood in her character. Therefore, she is coerced into too many things.
This is also why she marries twice.