Mostly I see my mother sitting one table away, and I feel as lonely as I imagine her to be. I think of the enormous distance that separates us and makes us unable to share the most important matters of our life. How did this happen?
Pearl thinks this to herself in the first chapter, while she is at Bao-Bao's engagement party. This quote illustrates the distance that there is between Pearl and her mother, much of it having to do with the fact that Winnie's heart is linked to China and Pearl's to America. This cultural distance is never expressed straight out in one sentence, but it is implied through recollected stories that are told and remembered throughout the novel which illustrate the cultural gap between mother and daughter. And yet, the two do share one thing: loneliness. Pearl says she feels "as lonely as I imagine her to be." This sentence forges a connection between mother and daughter that will be explored in the novel, and it illustrates that even what separates can bring them together, because even when they are furthest apart, they are together in their loneliness. Also, it illustrates that even if Pearl does not understand her mother, she feels love for her because this statement is not one of pity but one of empathy.
Just as later on Winnie will take the hurt from her daughter's heart and put it into her own, Pearl is doing that with her mother's pain here, which is a pain she knows very little about, only that it exists. It is important that this is said in the first chapter because it lays a roadmap for the necessary work that will be done in Winnie's other story. It will bridge the distance.
I will call her, long, long-distance. Cost doesn't matter, I will say. I have to tell you something, can't wait any longer. And then I will start to tell her, not what happened, but why it happened, how it could not by any other way.
Winnie tells herself this at the very end of the fourth chapter. These words seem to be a direct response to the first quote in this section. The first quote illustrated that Pearl felt distance between herself and her mother, and this quote illustrates that Winnie feels that distance as well. Winnie takes this feeling one step further and lays out a plan on how to solve the problem. The "long, long-distance," is emblematic of how far apart they are. Even when they are not physically very far away—either a table away, as in the engagement party, or a couple of cities away—they have a distance that, in the past, has been impenetrable. Now, Winnie plans to tell Pearl her story. Importantly, Winnie says that she will not only tell her "what happened" but "how it happened." This is important because it shows that Winnie is not only going to tell her daughter things but explain them, so that they may understand each other. In the past, Winnie has released facts which did not help bridge the distance; if the distance must be bridged the entire story must be told, not just the pieces.
I saw a little spot of mold growing on her pale painted cheek. I took a soft cloth and dipped it in water, washed her face. But her cheek grew darker. I washed harder and harder. And soon I saw what I had done: rubbed half her face off completely! I cried, as if I had killed her. And after that, I could not look at that picture without feeling a terrible grief. So you see, I did not even have a painting anymore to call my mother.
Winnie speaks these words in chapter five, as she talks about the portrait of her mother, who had already been gone for several years. This quote is significant because if this book deals with the relationship between mother and daughter, then it is important to understand Winnie's relationship with her own mother, who had abandoned her. Winnie wants to clean the "image" of her mother, which may be related to the image she has in her mind of her. And yet, when she tries to do this desperately and by herself, she is unable to and, instead, she mars the image and the image begins to disappear, just as the memory of someone's face that has died can begin to fade in a person's mind. Thus, what happens in this recollection is what had happened to Winnie in real life: she had been forced to remember her mother on her own, without anyone helping her to remember the good things, only gossiping behind her back. As a result, her mother began to fade away from her, and this scene is symbolic of their relationship. Winnie's mother disappears physically from her life, and she is left with only a semblance of a mother, which soon also disappears as the years go on. And yet, she will forever remember that that piece of portrait of her mother—even though her mother was not in her life for very long—has had an impact on her life.
I don't know why he thought this was good, to imitate what foreigners did, as if everything Western were good, everything Chinese not so good.
Winnie says this about her uncle in Chapter 6. Winnie's uncle takes on foreign hobbies, like English gardening, and has even built a part of his house in China to look like an English Manor. This illustrates the foreign influences that existed in China during the 20s and 30s and also links Winnie and Pearl's experiences of growing up. Where Pearl had grown up in America with her parents' "foreign" influences, so had Winnie grown up in China with English and American influences.
There is a whole scene in which Winnie's mother takes her out into the city and shows her foreign things like American Sundaes, which, significantly, her mother does not eat herself because they are "too sweet." However, Winnie's mother is not showing her just what the foreigners have brought but is also showing her the Chinese Market and allowing her to experience things particular to her home. This mixture is what makes the day so wonderful.
Later, serious issues of colonialism and right to rule will arise during the war, and many will protest against foreign interference. These are issues that show themselves in different guises all throughout history and appear even today in the relationship between England and Ireland, the United States and Afghanistan, Israel and Palestine.
We were always ready to squeeze out one more moment of fun. We liked to think we were just like those people in Berlin. We had heard it was a crazy kind of place, where people did not think about the war .
Winnie expresses these feelings in Chapter 14, talking about the time during the war when they (she, Hulan, and their husbands) were in Kunming. It illustrates the stolen moments of happiness that exist within the misery and suffering of the book. The happy moments are always heightened and wonderful because they lie beside the bad moments of war and abuse. Winnie refers to two countries that exist in a state of war, China and German, and she makes comparisons between them. She draws on the spectacle and exotic foreign qualities of Berlin, and she longs for them, for a "crazy life" in which there is only pleasure but then she says: "of course, that was Berlin. We were in Kunming" where Winnie was slowly becoming bored of mah jong and becoming sad. This quote brings together the ideas of foreign influences, the war, happiness, and suffering—which are all important subjects throughout the novel.