Rose used to believe every superstition her mother An-mei mentioned, even when she didn’t quite know what it meant; the power of An-mei’s words were just that strong to her.
Language has immense power, especially when spoken out of maternal wisdom.
In the present day, Rose and An-mei attend the funeral of a family friend, and Rose tells her mother more about her impending divorce from Ted. She also tells An-mei that Ted sent her money, which immediately makes An-mei suspicious that Ted’s “doing monkey business with someone else.” Rose brushes the accusation off, but An-mei says that “a mother know what is inside you” in a way that no one else can.
Chinese mothers in the novel all have intuitions that the daughters don’t initially trust, in part because their expressions seem outdated and out of place in modern America. Yet the mothers suggest that their sensitivities to their daughters are timeless, because they have a bond unlike anything else.
Over the next few weeks, Rose inventories her whole house, dividing furniture and remembering the history of everything she and Ted bought together. One day, she gets the official divorce papers from Ted, along with a hastily written check for $10,000. Rose becomes overwhelmed by the reality of her divorce and can’t decide if the check is a trick or an attempt to be compassionate. She remembers that An-mei told her she lacks the Chinese Zodiac element of wood, which causes Rose to listen to too many people.
As expressed in her previously narrated chapter, Rose struggles to find her voice after years of passively agreeing with Ted’s opinion. During this stressful time, she can’t help but turn to wisdom inherited from her mother.
Unable to make a decision, Rose stays in bed for three days, taking sleeping pills to numb her chaotic mind. An-mei starts calling Rose non-stop on the fourth day, rousing her from her depressed stupor. Rose wearily tells her the marriage is unsalvageable, but An-mei interrupts, saying “I’m not telling you to save your marriage. I only say you should speak up.”
An-mei is the only one who can snap Rose out of her depression, because they have a bond that goes beyond any other relationship. An-mei wants her daughter to voice her fears, and not be silent as past generations of women have been forced to be.
Rose hangs up, and when the phone rings later, it’s Ted. He demands that she sign the papers and cash the check, because he wants to get re-married as soon as possible to a woman he’s been seeing during their separation. Rose realizes An-mei was right in suspecting extramarital “monkey business,” and gets the courage to not sign anything until she sees Ted in person.
As with most premonitions in the novel, An-mei’s instinct is correct that Ted has been having an affair. Her mother’s support encourages Rose to be assertive for the first time in her marriage.
Ted comes over after work, expecting the divorce papers to be signed. However, Rose has finally made up her mind, and refuses to bend to Ted’s will without a fight. She tells him that he can’t just pull her out of his life and throw her away, and gives him unsigned divorce papers. For the first time, she sees fear in Ted’s eyes, as he acknowledges how powerful her words are.
Just as An-mei’s words were powerful during Rose’s childhood, Rose’s words have power over Ted. She finally inherits the courage that existed through many generations of women in her family, and can voice her strength in a way that they were often not allowed.