Kitchen God’s Wife
Amy Tan’s title The Kitchen God’s Wife initially bewildered me, as I acquainted nothing about the Chinese belief in the Kitchen God. Nonetheless, Tan rationally correlates the title to the novel’s contents by almost instantaneously acquainting me with the story behind the Kitchen God and his wife. Citations to the Kitchen God appear throughout the book, reminding me about the title, but I do not completely understand the title’s significance until the end. The steadily agonizing life of Winnie and the lack of anyone to applaud her for putting up with Wen Fu mirror the adversity life of the Kitchen God’s wife. Even Winnie realizes the comparison, saying that she was like the Kitchen God’s wife. “Nobody worship her either. She was forgotten” (620). Both wives suffer horrendously in their marriages, survive, and turn out happier and more giving than their husbands, but still receive no apperception for their courage. The title hence provides a suitable narration of Winnie’s ordeals, but does so inventively.
Instead of saying outright that the novel confronts with, among other subjects, a regretful marriage and its lasting scars, Tan exploits her imagination to originate a title that only hints at her themes. The title The Kitchen God’s Wife grasps my attention because I wonder what the expression means, and what a book with such a title embraces. Tan’s title creatively provokes interest in her work and has significance to the novel’s contents.
Tan’s book begins in California in the present, but shifts to China before, during, and after the second World War, and then returns to California as Winnie completes her story. The novel covers all of Winnie’s life, laying the action in a realistic setting. I more voluntary believe what occurs since Tan sets her novel in existing countries.
Tan conscientiously describes various Chinese and American superstitions, customs, and religions throughout The Kitchen God’s Wife. When Winnie, her father, her aunts discuss her prospective marriage to Wen Fu Tan exhibits Chinese wedding rituals. Tan also teaches me, in a skillful and interesting manner, about Chinese gods, superstition and luck. I learn how Chinese believe that “everything is connected” (481) through luck and chance when Penut discovers her fortune and Winnie thinks that this forever changes her life.
Tan did not intend for The Kitchen God’s Wife to be read as just another typical interesting story. The novel has an underlying setting about relationship, also. Tan stresses, through Winnie’s constant self-blame for her hardships, that you cannot blame yourself for things, which you cannot control. She uses Winnie’s regrets over her past actions to tell me that instead of focusing on “what-ifs,” you must move on to what you can now do to change and improve the situation.
Tan carefully pays attention to describe her settings so that I can clearly picture what the charters see and feel. However, she mercifully does not drone on about the details. Tan has the creative talent of effectively depicting the mountain Winnie crosses to Kunming in just a few simple words. “The blue heavens above, the white clouds beneath, all the problems of the world forgotten” (501) unfolds stronger images in my mind of the wonder and awe of such a unique place than thirty pages of minute detail could ever inspire.
In The Kitchen God’s Wife the major characters are Winnie, Pearl, Wen Fu, and Helen. Tan also implicates various minor characters who have significance in the minor plots that develop Winnie’s character. Yet, for the most part, only the four major characters explicate notably.
In the opening of the book, Pearl grumbles about having to put up with Winnie, her mother’s superstitious beliefs, custom and opinions. Thus Pearl says, “It drives me crazy, listening to (Winnie’s) various hypotheses” (99) about how luck, fate, and fortune are connected to each other. In addition to, Pearl feels that her “mother lived a life of regrets that never faded with time” (100). However by the closure of the novel, Pearl comprehends her mother’s regrets and that Winnie is trying to overcome them. Pearl also comes to embrace and even admire her mother’s customs and belief’s, as Winnie uses lady Sorrowfree to show her love. Pearl finally finds that her mother can take care of her and give her hope, as always.
Winnie’s character also elaborate throughout the novel. She at first anticipates that Pearl will not have radical problems since she has not had as difficult life as Winnie. After Pearl tells Winnie about her multiple sclerosis, Winnie understands that Pearl is also defenseless and needs consolation and a mother to turn to. Consequently, then Winnie, like a typical mother, takes Pearl’s worries, anger and fears and put “all this into her own heart, so that (Pearl) could finally see what was left (611).
Wen Fu is contemptible during the whole story. I hate him with every cell of my body for what he does to Winnie and his other victims. “(Wen Fu) used (Winnie) as if (Winnie) was a machine” (350). Wen Fu acts out of self-indulgence and a need for supremacy and power. When he sings to Winnie at the top of the mountain, I expect, as Winnie does, that he has marvelously and suddenly modified his character for the better, but he unfortunately only becomes even more despicable.
Helen bothers me greatly throughout the novel. She is selfish and snobby. She takes advantage of Winnie in instances. She particularly annoys me when she clumsily remembers what happens, and when she takes the best rooms for herself, leaving the
unlucky ones for Winnie. Near the end of the book, however, Helen provokes me to begin to appreciate her because she persuades Winnie and Pearl to tell each other the truth.
In The Kitchen God’s Wife, the main conflict involves the secrets that Winnie and Pearl hide from each other, and how these secrets threaten their relationship until they open out the truth. The battle between Winnie and Helen or Wen Fu, and the neglect and abuse of Winnie add to my sense of the huge struggle that Winnie has had with life and her families. The complex plot, revealed as Winnie speaks to Pearl about her life, contains various sub-plots.
In the beginning of the novel Tan discloses that “Win Fu that bad man.was Pearl’s father” (142), that “Pearl has multiple sclerosis” (143), and that “Helen is not a blood relative” (145). Tan grasps my attention by startling me with such sudden announcement, and then slowly explaining the secret’s foundation. By the conclusion, I apprehend why Winnie has so many lies in her past, and I see why both mother and daughter have difficulty telling each other about their adversity. I expect Pearl to show resentment and fury for Winnie for never telling her the truth, but Tan uses her artistry to hold back the mother and daughter from working out their problems in a likely manner.
Tan’s major climax occurs as Winnie says, ” I had a baby. I had you,” (390) and then explains to Pearl that her father was Wen Fu by saying that Pearl looks like Winnie’s other children. The climax becomes profound as I finally get to find out how Pearl respond.
Pearl feels sorry for the ” terrible life” (395) that Winnie has had “to keep. secret from everyone” (396). She also begins to laugh and weep at the same time, as confusion wars with skepticism and feeling of disappointment. Winnie’s proclamations of the truth results in the increased understanding between mother and daughter, as Pearl insists that she “never thought Winnie was a bad mother” (395) and Winnie shows her love by the simple touching action of “tucking .a loose strand of hair” (396) behind Pearl’s ear as she admits Pearl’s alikeness to her offspring by Wen Fu. I like this part because Winnie and Pearl again begin to more wholly understand each other, as Winnie like a prototypical mother, takes Pearl’s anger, concerns and fear and puts “all these into her own heart, so that Pearl could finally see what was left” (397).
Pearl finally finds that her mother can take care of her and give her hope, as always. These sections made me cry with the melancholy satisfaction that Winnie and Pearl now understand each other and there is a more open relationship between mother and daughter.
In spite of the complication of the plot, Tan’s writing flows naturally from one event to another. She allows Winnie’s recollection to wander in and out of numerous situations that might seem inapplicable to the main plot, yet in sincere contribute to my overall perception of Winnie’s troubles and sorrow. I promptly believe Winnie’s firs-hand account, and Winnie’s narration of one part of her life cleverly leads to the next major occurrence in her life.
In The Kitchen God’s Wife, I noticed that Tan uses various sentence structures to show the characters’ depth and the style of speech. Tan writes the first two chapters and the second to the last chapter from Pearl’s perspective, and the middle and concluding chapters from Winnie’s point of view. When Pearl narrates the story, Tan uses different sentence structure from the one she exerts when Winnie writes. For instance, the chapters in which Winnie transcribes, she speaks directly to me, ” this kind of bargain you don’t want. That fish is already three days old” (201). Winnie speaks in short, simple sentences with one verb and one subject. Winnie grows up in China and learn English as a second language, whereas Pearl speaks English her entire life and of-course knows more grammar and vocabulary than Winnie.
For example, when Pearl narrates what occurs in her life, I easily see Pearl’s attitude towards her mother through Pearl’s actions and thoughts, “whenever my mother talks to me, she begins the conversation as if we were already in the middle of an argument” (115). Pearl’s sentences seem to me more eloquent and lengthy, while Winnie’s is more unblended and choppy, to the point.
Tan creatively varies her sentence structure so that I can identify which character narrates a specific section, without even her telling me who in reciting. Thus, when Pearl concludes that Wen Fu is her father and then has her misgiving confirmed, Tan shifts back to pearl’s point of view for resolving the struggle. This shows me unmistakably the switch and how Pearl reacts to her mother’s story. In addition, Tan also uses multiple structures to highlight Pearl and Winnie’s individual personalities and distinct backgrounds. For example, when Winnie calls out ” Pearl-ah,” Tan truly helps me remember that that Winnie is Chinese because her words sound Chinese.
The novel The Kitchen God’s Wife concludes with grief and optimism. Tan lets Winnie to narrate once again, so that I can comprehend the blame and melancholy she feels upon hearing about Pearl’s illness. Winnie also has a chance to recount how she defeats Wen Fu and the kitchen god, with his wife voicing her preference. The finale gives birth to an empty but somehow conclusive and acceptable feeling in my heart. Winnie gives Lady Sorrowfree to Pearl so that Pearl can “tell her everything” (629) and have no apprehensions. Although Pearl has grown up, Winnie perceives that she still needs someone to “wash away everything sad” (639), and Winnie herself feels the necessity for someone to help her overcome her regrets. The gift of Lady Sorrowfree signifies the comfort that mother and daughter can now accommodate for each other as “the smoke rises, lifting (their) hopes, higher and higher” (640).