The Kitchen God's Wife
Chapter 7: Dowry Counting
Winnie continues to arrange her Peanut's meetings with Wen Fu but becomes worried that she will be punished for Peanut's behavior and so refuses to continue being their messenger. It is at this point where Auntie Miao, the matchmaker, comes into the picture. Wen Fu had decided to marry into the family, and Winnie is sure that Auntie Miao had told him and his family the story of Peanut and Winnie's respective families, because Wen Fu's family came over to Winnie's Uncle's house not to ask for Peanut's hand in marriage, but for Winnie's. Winnie is convinced that Auntie Miao must have told Wen Fu about Winnie's rich father.
After the decision has been made for Winnie, New Aunt and Old Aunt decide they must go to Winnie's father to ask his permission. They do this and are welcomed in his house. They speak highly of Wen Fu, but the father has already done his research. Wen Fu's family has offered Winnie 4,000 Yuan, the equivalent of 2,000 US dollars, which was a large amount of money at the time. What is supposed to be done with this money is that Winnie's father is supposed to give the money back to Wen Fu's family on the day of the wedding, claiming that it is enough that they are "sharing a lifetime of [their] families wealth with [his] daughter." In return, the father of the bride was supposed to provide a dowry that equaled that of the gift offered by the groom's family. This money would be the bride's money and only hers, but it would be the only money she would have for life. It was also a custom that the bride's family would buy furniture and other accessories for the couple's new home.
Winnie stays in her father's house for a week and goes shopping with one of his wives, San Ma, for her dowry. Winnie feels as if she is being pampered because San Ma buys her one thing after the other: a bed, an armoire, a dresser, and so on. However, she later finds out that her father's other daughters had received a much larger dowry. Winnie also says that this furniture was gone soon after her marriage—Wen Fu's family had sold it to the foreigners as part of their export business. It was because of this act on behalf of her new in- laws that Wen Fu stole ten pairs of silver chopsticks from Wen Fu's mother. And yet, despite all of this, Winnie was still hopeful.
Chapter 8: Too Much Yin
Three days before Winnie's wedding to Wen Fu, Peanut overhears two stories: one is about Wen Fu's family and the other is about sex and about a young girl who had "too much Yin."
The story about Wen Fu's family was that they were in a dirty la- sa—garbage—business. They sold Chinese "garbage" to foreigners. For example, they would approach the very, very poor and ask to buy the portraits of their ancestors, which they would have to sell in order to eat. Wen Fu's family would later sell these portraits overseas to the British, the Americans, or the French. This was a terrible thing to do, and it made Winnie think of her new family in a less optimistic way.
The other story was about a man who had married a woman of whom his family did not approve. One day the man and the woman were in their room, and the man died during intercourse with his wife. She began to scream and when she was found, it was discovered that the man was still inside of her. It took a trip to the hospital to separate the dead man from his wife. Everyone said that the man died because the woman had too much "yin," (female essence) and that the "yin" had drawn out all of his "yang" (male essence). Winnie was innocent and knew nothing about sex and, on her wedding night, was afraid to sleep with her husband.
Chapter 9: Best Time of Year
After their wedding, Winnie and her husband stayed for one month in his family's home, and the true character of Wen Fu began to unfold. He was sexually abusive towards her, forcing her to do things she did not want to do. Later, however, the couple moved to Hangchow for five months while her husband finished training as a pilot at an American-style air force school.
It was in Hangchow that Winnie met Helen. Winnie tells her daughter that Helen was not her sister-in-law but in fact just a friend. The story of how they came to know each other well is the story of the bathhouse of the monastery where they were staying in Hangchow. The men, the unmarried pilots in training, had brought in a prostitute that had infected the whole bathhouse with lice, so the women (the few wives that were there with their husbands) refused to use it after that point. Instead, they found a room that had once been used as a tealeaf storage room, and they converted that into their own bathing room. Helen (named Hulan back then) and Winnie carried buckets of water to the bathhouse together.
Helen was about eighteen years old and the wife of the vice-captain (WenFu's boss), Long Jiaguo. Helen and Winnie become good friends, they go on walks, and sit by the spring during the most beautiful time of the year to eat and talk. By the end of the chapter, we also discover that Winnie has become pregnant.
The character of Winnie is beginning to unfold. Whereas, in the beginning, there are other characters that see her as pessimistic or difficult, these chapters shed light on the fact that Winnie was not always so. Winnie had once been an optimistic young girl who had been changed only by her suffering and her circumstances. The story of the woman with too much Yin is told in order to serve as a juxtaposition to Winnie's innocence. She was young and unknowing, unaware of the fact that she did not have to accept her husband's sexual abuse mostly because she knew nothing of sex and the way it was supposed to be.
Winnie was also innocent about the intentions of those that surrounded her. There are certain stories in this book that remain enshrouded in secrecy, even after they are told. For instance, we are never quite sure (just as Winnie is never quite sure) whether her father had known he was submitting his daughter to such a horrible family in marriage or whether he thought he was doing the right thing. Winnie feels lucky to be given the dowry she is given because she is being given the attention she had never been given before, not since her mother had left. And yet, it is not until later that she discovers that San Ma had bought her father's other daughters much larger dowries. And in many ways it can be said that Winnie had passed on this idea of secrecy to her own daughter. She had, as described in an earlier chapter, given her daughter a box in which to keep her secrets, as if passing down a custom of secret keeping. This custom would later cause her daughter to keep her feelings about her father's death from Winnie as well as her multiple sclerosis.
To return to Winnie's early innocence, however, it is important to realize that even after her in-laws take apart her dowry in order to sell it abroad—even then—Winnie keeps her faith that things will be better one day. And it is a combination of innocence and ignorance that keep Winnie hopeful in the early days of her marriage.
Also, in these chapters, it becomes evident that Amy Tan is a master storyteller, giving her readers a seemingly endless pool of narrative memories, all richly described. An example of her eye for descriptive detail comes when she is describing the scenes in the abandoned tea storage room-turned bathhouse. Also, it is important that although Winnie tells her story to her daughter as if she were telling it to us, Tan never forgets that she is actually talking to her daughter, and so there are interjections. These interjections, such as Winnie telling her daughter why she had bought her that dresser long ago, serve to show the reader the progress of how mother and daughter will close the gap between them through understanding.
Another interjection comes when Winnie begins to talk about the war and begins to remind Pearl about when Winnie had tried to talk to her about the War in the East and how WWII had not begun with Pearl Harbor. Pearl had just complained and said that that was "Chinese History" and not "American History." This interjection is important because it establishes how wide the gap is between the two generations and also provides space for an understanding that will shorten the distance.
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