The Joy Luck Club Chapter 13, An-mei Hsu, Magpies
An-mei laments that Rose is watching her marriage fall apart without doing anything. Rose says she has no choice, but An-mei knows that even to give up is to make a choice. An-mei knows because she is this way, just as her mother was.
When An-mei's mother came to An-mei's uncle's house, nine-year-old An-mei recognized her even though she didn't know her. All An-mei's relatives tell her that her mother is evil, but she doesn't look evil to An-mei. After Popo's funeral, her mother prepares to go back to the rich man she married after her husband died (this is why her relatives hate her--she married again as a widow, becoming the third wife of a rich man.) The night before she is to leave, she tells young An-mei that she used to sit by the same pond, with the same turtle in it, that An-mei plays near now. She says that when she was a child, Popo told her she couldn't play anymore, or even speak aloud. She had to sit silently and listen to others. She went to the pond to cry, and the turtle swallowed her tears. Then it climbed out and told her that it understood her pain, because it had eaten her tears. One egg for each tear fell out of its mouth, and from those eggs hatched beautiful birds: magpies, birds of joy. The turtle explained that her tears did not wash away her pain--they just created joy for others. Therefore, he told her, she should not cry. She must learn to "swallow her own tears." But when her mother is finished with the story, they both begin to cry. Young An-mei believes that she and her mother are both doomed to live with secret sadness their whole lives.
The next morning, An-mei wakes up to a fight in the courtyard. Her mother is leaving again, and she tells An-mei she can come with if she wants to, even though An-mei's aunt and uncle say that if she goes, she will ruin her own life. Her uncle tells her she will never be able to lift her head again, so she tries to lift it. Looking up, she sees her brother sobbing. Her mother cannot ask him to come too, because he is a boy, and cannot move to a different house. When An-mei sees her brother this way, she drops her head, realizing her uncle is right. An-mei and her mother travel on a boat for seven days. Her mother tells her how wonderful everything is in the city. But as they approach the city, her mother seems nervous. An-mei starts to get upset, but then her mother gives her a beautiful dress. She knows exactly what to do to make An-mei feel good, and An-mei is no longer afraid. When they arrive at the dock, her mother seems to be looking for someone but, finding no one, they take a rickshaw and arrive home, both exhausted and irritable. Her mother is married to Wu Tsing, a rich merchant whose large house amazes An-mei. There is a fancy cuckoo clock that keeps An-mei awake until she learns "to not listen to something meaningless calling to me." Chapter 13, pg. 226
An-mei is happy--until Wu Tsing returns with a new wife, Fifth Wife, who is very young. An-mei learns that her mother is not jealous because she, like many women in China, didn't marry for love, she married for position. And her position was the worst. One night An-mei, who sleeps with her mother, is awakened and told to leave. She sees Wu Tsing standing by the bed. The next morning, Fifth Wife is angry at everyone, but An-mei's mother is even angrier. She tells her daughter that being a Fourth Wife, like herself, is even worse than being fifth. She has been dishonored by her husband's choice of a young, low-class woman as his fifth wife. Her mother angrily says that she was not always Fourth Wife--she used to be the first wife of a scholar. Soon after, Second and Third Wife return. Third Wife is ugly, and has three ugly, shy daughters. Second Wife dresses fancily, and carries a two year old boy. Second Wife gives An-mei a necklace, telling her how pretty she is. Though An-mei can see that for some reason her mother doesn't like Second Wife, she is very flattered. Later that day, An-mei's mother crushes one of the beads of the necklace, showing her that they are glass, not pearl. An-mei is shocked that she could be bought so easily, and tells her mother she understands that she was fooled. Then her mother gives her a beautiful ring. Soon, First Wife returns. An-mei expects her to be the ruler of the house, but she is a ghost of a woman, who often ignores everyone around her. An-mei learns that this woman had two daughters with Wu Tsing--one with legs of different lengths, and the other with a large facial birthmark.
After these tragedies, First Wife went on so many pilgrimages to another city that Wu Tsing bought her a house there. She only comes back to visit him twice a year. An-mei's mother decides that she too should have a separate house, and cheerfully tells An-mei that it will happen soon. During the winter, everyone stays in doors, and An-mei spends her time talking to a servant who tells her stories about Second Wife. Second Wife used to be a singer, but when she saw how rich Wu Tsing was, and how powerless First Wife was, she gave up her career to marry Wu Tsing. She knew he was superstitious, so he would believe in the idea of dead wives coming back as ghosts to haunt their husbands. She faked suicide over and over, so that each time he would be afraid and give her whatever she wanted. This was how she got control of their household. But she could not give him a son, which was his greatest desire. She then found him Third Wife, an ugly woman who was so grateful to her for arranging the marriage that she never questioned her authority. But Third Wife only had daughters, so Wu Tsing needed another wife.
An-mei presses the servant to tell her how her mother became Wu Tsing's Fourth Wife. Though the servant is hesitant, she finally explains that when An-mei's father died, her mother went to honor him in a pagoda across a lake. On the boat, her mother met Second Wife and Wu Tsing. Her mother was so beautiful that Second Wife immediately knew she had to find a way to make her Fourth Wife. She invited mother to have dinner, and then the next night they played mah jong until it was very late. Second Wife insisted that mother stay in her bed with her, but in the middle of the night she left, and Wu Tsing replaced her. When mother woke up to find Wu Tsing touching her, she tried to leave, but he raped her. Then Second Wife began gossiping about the evil widow who had seduced her husband. Mother could not protest--who would believe her? So she was forced to accept Wu Tsing's marriage proposal. She had a son, who Second Wife promptly claimed as her own. Hearing this story, An-mei suddenly sees who Second Wife really is: a cunning, cruel woman. An-mei wants her mother to yell at everyone around her for hurting her so much, but she knows that her mother cannot do that. She sees that her mother's situation is hopeless. Soon after, the servant wakes An-mei up late at night, bringing her to her mother's room. Her mother has poisoned herself, so everyone is waiting for her to die. An-mei cries until she faints. An-mei knows that her mother planned her death carefully: "on the third day after someone dies, the soul comes back to settle scores. In my mother's case, this would be the first day of the lunar new year. And because it is the new year, all debts must be paid, or disaster and misfortune will follow." Chapter 13, pg. 240 Wu Tsing promises to raise An-mei and her brother as his honored children. An-mei shows Second Wife that she knows the necklace she gave her is worthless. Second Wife's hair begins to turn white.
Remembering this as an old woman, An-mei says that a psychiatrist is like one of those birds, drinking your tears and telling you to cry more. She says that her mother cried, not to understand herself, but because she had to. But people in China no longer have to do this--An-mei read something in a magazine recently. Birds had been eating the seeds peasants planted for thousands of years, drinking the tears of their labor. But recently the peasants gathered in the fields and yelled "Die!" at the birds until the birds began to fall to earth, dead. An-mei is overjoyed to read this.