Skip over navigation

The Kitchen God's Wife

Amy Tan

Context

Table of Contents

Plot Overview

In 1952, Amy Tan was born in Oakland California to two Chinese immigrant parents and was the middle child of three siblings—the only girl between two brothers. Appropriately, the Chinese name her parents gave her was "An-mei," which means, "blessing from America." It becomes evident, after reading Tan's novels, especially The Kitchen God's Wife, that her family history is highly influential to her writing. Her father John Tan, for example, worked for the U.S. Information Service during World War II, much like it is rumored that the character of Jimmy Louie in the novel was an American Spy. Also, both Amy Tan's father and the character of Jimmy Louie were ministers in the Chinese Baptist Church. The most autobiographical element in The Kitchen God's Wife, however, is the character and story of Winnie Louie, which is very much modeled after Tan's own mother, Daisy Tan. Daisy, by the time she moved to the Untied States in 1949, had already been through a great deal, just as Winnie had suffered before reaching America. Both Daisy and Winnie were motherless children, both were involved in intensely abusive traditional marriages, and both lost children of their own. Furthermore, there are the facts of Tan's own life, growing up as an American in a Chinese home, that provide an important background for the novel. This predicament causes, as for many Asian-Americans and other "hyphenated Americans" a sense of being caught in between two worlds. Tan grew up feeling as if she were an outsider at school, someone who looked different from everyone else, someone whose parents cooked different foods from the American foods of her peers. And yet, she also felt, occasionally, like an outsider within her own home—a home in which there were often times Language barriers, where a mixture of Mandarin and English were spoken. The life of Amy Tan's mother, for instance, would remain somewhat of a secret to her, until Tan was much older. It was also not until Tan was much older that she realized that having grown up between two worlds—being both Asian and American—gave her a double vision that would enrich her gift of writing. She realized that she had grown up in a world where Asian fairy tales were commingled with the American stories she learned at school, and she was able to combine these two storytelling traditions in her own work. When Amy Tan was fifteen, both her father and her older brother died within eight months of each other, both of malignant brain tumors. After the death of John Tan, for whom Daisy Tan had attempted a conversion to Christian beliefs, Daisy Tan went back to her old customs and her own Chinese beliefs. It is from this period that Amy Tan claims to have drawn much of what she knows of Chinese customs and traditions. It was also at this time that Tan's mother decided to move away from California with her two remaining children. They traveled through New York, Washington, Florida, and finally ended up in Switzerland, where Tan finished high school. Tan returned to the United States, to California specifically, where she abandoned medical studies to study English and Linguistics. She eventually received her Masters in Linguistics and, after graduation, married an Italian-American man. Tan worked a number of odd jobs through college and graduate school, later working as a Language Development Consultant and, later still, becoming successful as a freelance business writer. Tan was, however, unfulfilled and eventually left her fast-paced world of business writing and became a full-time novelist. In 1986, Tan's mother was hospitalized, which had a great affect on Tan. What had seemed to be a heart attack was really just angina, but it made Tan realize that she had not taken the time to listen to her mother's story. This was, therefore, a turning point in her life. It was what gave her the desire to know her mother better, and it is what, ultimately, along with a trip to China, helped in the creation of her first novel, The Joy Luck Club, and this, her second novel, The Kitchen God's Wife.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us