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The Kitchen God's Wife

Amy Tan

Chapters 4–6

Chapters 1–3

Chapters 7–9

Summary

Chapter 4: Long, Long Distance

Winnie continues to narrate the story as she recalls a conversation between herself and Helen. Helen had been talking about speaking to her daughter "long, long distance." It is during this conversation that she tells Winnie that she no longer has to hide because her first husband, Wen Fu has died. She has received this from an old friend named Betty Wan, Helen says, and then she proceeds to tell Winnie that there will be no more secrets and gives her the same reasons she had given Pearl (her brain tumor). Winnie is disconcerted by Helen's desire to expose her, and she argues with Helen, departing upset.

When she gets home, Winnie cleans her house during the entire night, trying to forget her conversation with Helen. The next day she goes into her children's old rooms. While in Pearl's room she finds a hidden and locked box. Winnie had given her daughter this box for her tenth birthday so that she could place her secrets inside. Upon opening it, Winnie finds the typical paraphernalia of a boy-crazed teenage girl, but she also finds a small card, a reminder of Pearl's father's funeral with many black marks crossing out the date on which he died. It is at this point that Winnie remembers the same anecdote told in an earlier chapter by Pearl. Pearl had not cried for her father, and it is not until now that Winnie realizes that Pearl had, in fact, loved and missed her father.

Winnie begins to think of all the things she would have to tell her daughter if she were going to unveil her secrets: that she had a first marriage and children that died from that first marriage; that she had survived a war; that Wen Fu is Pearl's real father, not Jimmy Louie. She decides that she will call her daughter and that she will tell her these things.

Chapter 5: Ten Thousand Things

Pearl is at her mother's house. Winnie had called her over, telling her that she had a pain in her heart that is now better. Pearl is worried, until her mother begins to tell her story, claiming that the pain in her heart is the one she has always had. Winnie begins by telling the story of being abandoned by her mother as a little girl. Winnie says that her mother had been a modern, educated Shanghai woman—whose father was a scholar—and who had wanted to marry for love. Her plan to marry a Marxist named Lu was forbidden, and instead she was forced to marry Jiang, Winnie's father, to replace his second wife who had committed suicide. It is for this reason that Winnie recalls her mother staring at herself in the mirror, calling out "Double Second, Double Second." Winnie's father already had five wives who did not get along with Winnie's mother, and so she had always felt unhappy and trapped.

Winnie recalls the day before her mother left. It was a day in which her mother had taken her into the city to eat fish and American Sundaes and had taken her to the movies and on a walk around marketplaces and through city streets. Winnie remembers this vividly, also remembering that the next morning her mother was no longer there. It was a mysterious disappearance to her, never knowing what had actually happened to her mother—whether she had died or escaped—trying to put together the pieces of gossip that she could gather from her relatives.

After her mother left, Winnie's father sent her to live on Tsungming Island with his younger brother and his two wives, New Aunt and Old Aunt..

Chapter 6: Peanut's Fortune

Living with her aunts, her uncle, and her cousin Peanut, Weili (as Winnie was known in China) had never felt loved or as cared for as Peanut. The house she lived in was divided into what they called Old East and New West; Old East being the traditional Chinese part of the house, and New West being the part of the house modeled after an English manor house. In this house Weili had a secret place: the greenhouse where she spent many of her days.

On Chinese New Year of 1937, Weili's fate changed because it was the day that she and her cousin met Wen Fu. Her aunts promised her and Peanut that if they finished their chores and responsibilities they could go, with Weili's younger boy cousins, to the special stalls in the marketplace set out for the New Year to buy gifts. Peanut had put on face powder, looking ridiculous to Winnie. Once at the marketplace, Peanut had her fortune read by a fortune teller who told her she would be married within the year, that she would have a good mother-in-law, and that she would have many children. But, when Peanut complains about it being a man from nearby, the fortune teller changes her fortune and tells her that she will call a man from further away, maybe even from Shanghai.

Also while at the marketplace, the girls watch a play parodying the debtor who must pay all his debts before the New Year. Wen Fu was playing the dragon in the play. He approached them later and seemed to them a charming man, flirting with Peanut. He walks around with them for the remainder of the night and takes them home, singing and talking to Peanut the whole time. Wen Fu asks if he may come to the celebration that Peanut's family is holding four days from the New Year. When the day of the party comes, however, Peanut hides because she fears that Wen Fu will not find her beautiful without her face powder, and it is because of this that Winnie becomes their messenger, passing love notes and messages between the two.

Analysis

The most important aspects of these chapters are the evidence of Western influence on China, especially Shanghai, during the thirties and forties, as well as the way in which Amy Tan has decided to tell the story of Winnie and Pearl.

The China of Winnie's childhood was one in which the West and its influences were already beginning to permeate, and these influences were often thought of as negative. Winnie's mother is criticized for her "Western thought," and her "anti-Confucius" learning at the missionary school. And yet, there are others who embrace the West in some ways. Winnie's uncle, for instance, has built an entire section of his house modeled after the West and has also taken on Western "hobbies" such as gardening. But he will give-up on these hobbies one by one. There are also the English biscuits that Winnie and her mother so loved and the face powder that Peanut lathers onto her face, mimicking the look in magazines. And so, the mixture that exists in Pearl's life is not altogether foreign to Winnie, who lived with a mixture as well. In other words, whereas Pearl lives in an America filled with Chinese influence, Winnie lived in a China filled with American/English influences.

It is because of Western influences that the symbol of the greenhouse arises. The greenhouse is where all the unwanted implements of Uncle's abandoned hobbies are left. It is where all the storage and the refuse goes, and it is also where Winnie, who herself feels unwanted, goes to find solace and to be in solitude. The place is a double metaphor because, while the greenhouse is a place for growth, it is also one in which people have stopped caring for and nurturing. In fact, the flowers that grow there, like Winnie, will have to learn to grow on their own. It also foreshadows where Winnie will eventually end up. As a symbol of Western influence, Winnie's time in the greenhouse signals her forthcoming immigration to America, much later in her life.

Finally, there is the storytelling aspect that arises out of this chapter. As Winnie tells her story to her daughter within the novel, Amy Tan is combining storytelling traditions in order to tell her story. She is combining the traditional gong gu tsai or "talk-story" with the form of the novel, which is, in itself a Western form. The talk-story is a combination of different genres within the Chinese tradition, which combines narrative with vernacular. The stories are crafted as a combination of myth, folklore, comedy, tragedy, allegory, and traditional narration. English becomes the language in which it is told, but even within this English language there are signs of an ethnic mixture that can be traced alongside the accents with which this English is spoken. This is further evidence of one of the threads that unite the book: the mixture of east and west that permeates the lives of the characters as well as that of the author.

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