Love, Teardrops, and The Hundred Secret Senses


The song “Teardrop” by the 1980's British brand Massive Attack, which was written by the Scottish singer Elizabeth Fraser, explores the theme of love through the diction and use of repetition (Ankeny). Amy Tan's fictional novel, the The Hundred Secret Senses, also explores a theme of love similar to that of “Teardrop” through the depiction of the protagonist Olivia's and her husband, Simon's relationship.

Olivia and Simon first meet in college which, at that time, Simon is still together with his childhood girl, Elza—although shortly after, Elza dies when she goes to the mountains. Regardless, both are still intimate with each other; although most of this intimacy is conveyed through the form of sexual desire, even at this beginning stage, however, Olivia is “in-love with Simon—goo-goo-eyed, giggly-voiced, floaty-headed...” (75). Similarly, in “Teardrop” the first two lines, “Love, love is a verb/Love is a doing word” resembles that sexual intimacy between the two characters. The middle of the first verse in “Teardrop,” “Shakes me makes me lighter,” describes how love makes one feel as if this deep, intense emotion is able to levitate into the boundless limits of the sky, or as Olivia—in addition to her description of that “floaty-headed” feeling—further describes how she feels when she is together with Simon: “I [feel] as if a secret and better part of myself [has] finally been unleashed” and “I laugh harder, think more deeply, feel more passionately...” (77).

Even though Olivia knows that Simon has a girlfriend, she also believes that because they are in college, girlfriend's come and go—for everyone is changing their minds about everything. However, after Simon's comment on how Olivia is basically a good buddy to him, Olivia would ,“At night...cry angrily” and vow "many times to give up any hope of romance with Simon” (77). In addition, Olivia's assessments are further reinforced by her insights on Simon treating her merely as Elza's shadow. From Simon's references to Elza to him keeping a box of her belongings, how could Olivia not be frustrated? In the second verse of “Teardrop” the line, “Black flowers blossom” reflects Olivia's and Simon's love in that black is symbolic of death, the unknown, and of no hope; moreover, flowers can represent two lovers as well as their feelings for each other. Therefore, black flowers represent the unsure, the insecure (both of which are the unknown), the possible death, and the hopeless love between two people. The fact that Olivia is basically Elza's replacement and the fact that even from the start she believes there is no hope between them shows their unsure, unknown, and hopeless love. However, comparable to how “Teardrop's” lyrics say “black flowers blossom,” Olivia's and Simon's love also blossoms.

Though A Hundred Secret Senses is also a novel about the growth of Olivia, her love with Simon is a major element in this growth. In an attempt to get Simon and Olivia closer as lovers (as well as for other personal reasons), one of the characters invites them to visit a village in China where all three adults end up sleeping on the same bed. It is through this nearly forced experience that enables Olivia and Simon to really get to discuss their relationship with each other. Before, Olivia thought that love was “a trick on the brain...It floods the cells that transmit worry...drowns them with biochemical bliss (312-3). However, after the trip to China, Olivia is now capable of saying, “I once thought love was supposed to be nothing but bliss. I now know it is also worry and grief, hope and trust” (399). Evidently, the fact that Olivia goes from this nearly impossible relationship of a replacement, to the final acceptance of the emotions that come with loving Simon, demonstrates the blossoming of their love.

Furthermore, the repetition of the line “Teardrop on the fire,” in “Teardrop,” also reflects Olivia's description of her love. First, a teardrop is a substance evoked from three contrasting feelings—sadness, anger, and happiness. Secondly, a fire is symbolic of rage, a mix of emotions, and chaos. Therefore, a teardrop on the fire may indicate the emotions on top of all the emotional events. In other words, this is similar to how both Olivia and Simon are able to cry from the quarrels, misunderstandings, rage, and the joyful, pleasurable moments of their lives. This fact, in addition, further illustrates how Olivia's and Simon's love is also able to blossom. For again, love is the “worry and grief, hope and trust” (399).

The final verse of “Teardrop” consists of two repeating lines “Stumbling a little/Stumbling a little.” These lines give to say that in spite of the fact that love provokes hope, (as shown by the line “Black flowers blossom”) it still makes one (or two) unstable. Additionally, the use of the word “little” is similar to how Olivia portrays her current love relationship with Simon as “We're still working things out...The petty arguments, snipes, and gripes, they still crop up...But it's easier to remember how unimportant they are, how they shrink the heart and make life small” (399).

Through “Teardrop's” examination of love from how love makes one feel that excitement, how the ambiguity of love can evolve and thrive, how love evokes both the positive and negative emotions, and finally, how even though love can be hope and excitement, because it also comes with the negative emotions, one will continue to be “Stumbling a little.” Similarly, the relationship between Olivia and Simon resemble these notions of love through their relationship from when they first meet in college to when they are called on a trip to China, during which passion, pain, and hope are all indications of their love for each other.

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