The Kitchen God's Wife
Chapter 10: Loyang Luck
The war had begun in China without them even knowing it because the newspapers were unreliable and news traveled mainly through word of mouth and through gossip.
This chapter discusses the relationship between Helen (or Hulan) and Winnie as well as the character of Wen Fu. Winnie began to notice that Wen Fu was popular with the other soldiers and that they liked him but that he also frightened them with his "scaring" games. Hulan, on the other hand, was the one who scolded her husband and not the other way around, and it was not until later that Winnie found out why Jiaguo never complained about his wife's scoldings.
Helen and Winnie had discovered a pavilion where they shared their lives and their secrets with each other. Winnie revealed her innocence and naiveté about sex and about her body, and Helen helped her to know the truth about the ways of the female body. In fact, it was Helen who informed Winnie that she was pregnant. Helen also shared secrets about herself. She told Winnie the story of a young girl who had become impregnated by a man who would not take her in as his wife and would not take responsibility for the coming child. The woman, when she was about to have the baby, went to the man's house in a desperate state, begging for him to take her in. The man refused, and the woman and child died during labor. The man was Jiaguo, and the woman was Helen's sister. It was because of this that Jiaguo had married Helen, out of pity and guilt. But it had turned out to be a good marriage, and Jiaguo proved himself a good man.
Wen Fu continues his cruelty toward Winnie and rapes her when she fears having sex because she is pregnant and asks him to stop. It is at this time in the story also that Winnie begins to think of the possibility of Wen Fu's death, wondering whether she would care if he died, since it is at this time that the pilots begin to fly off o war.
Chapter 11: Four Splits Five Cracks
The pilots were said to have come back victorious, but the truth was another story all together. The pilots had intended a surprise attack on the Japanese, but, instead, the Japanese surprised them. And in an attempt to hurriedly drop bombs on a Japanese site, the Chinese missed the target and dropped bombs on their own people, innocent ones, instead.
A tension begins to build in Winnie and Helen's friendship, and the air force is moved to Yangchow. Yangchow is a horrible place of mud and dirt, a place, as Winnie says, that the Japanese would never want. It is also, however, where Winnie and Helen become friends again, and the tensions dissipate. Another important occurrence during their stay in Yangchow is the development of Winnie's relationship with another pilot named Gan.
Gan is kind hearted and in love with Winnie. He is shy with her, he watches her, and he compliments her cooking. Winnie had taken it upon herself to cook for the soldiers when they came back from their battles. She cooked lucky dishes, using her own dowry money. These were meals that everyone loved and enjoyed, but the numbers at the table dwindled with every battle. While men were courageous in battle and dying in shot-down planes, Wen Fu was a coward, retreating when in danger. Jiaguo, who was his boss, was on the verge of court-marshalling him.
Gan and Winnie talk together, and Gan shares his secrets with her. He tells her about his dreams and about the ghost that came to him to tell him that he would die before he reached the age of twenty-four and that nine bad things would happen to him before he died. Eight, he said, had already come true. By the end of the chapter, this prophecy comes to fruition, and Gan dies. Winnie grieves for his death and realizes that she had been his ninth bad fate—that he had loved her and could never have her.
Chapter 12: Taonan Money
It is winter and the pilots and their wives are forced to move again, this time from Yangchow to Nanking. They would, however, only be in Nanking for two weeks or so because it was known that the Japanese were coming. When Winnie found out that the Japanese attack might be near, she sent a telegram to Wen Fu's sister to withdraw money from her dowry and send it to her because they were soon "taonan." Taonan meant that there was a very looming danger coming, one that would affect many. It was during the sending of this telegram that Winnie met Wan Betty or "Beautiful Betty," the telegram operator that became her friend.
When Winnie returns to get her money, Wan Betty tells her that Wen Fu's sister sent the money directly to Wen Fu even though that money was Winnie's. Wen Fu uses the money to buy the car (a "jalopy") of a dead pilot, a car that Wen Fu crashes into a poor village cemetery, causing the car to go up in flames. Because of this waste of money, Winnie is forced to send another telegram asking for money—this time to Peanut—to be sent directly to Jiang Weili (Winnie).
Meanwhile, the war continues to escalate, and the situation in Nanking becomes more and more dangerous. One day while at the marketplace, Helen and Winnie are caught beneath Japanese airplanes. Everyone believes that bombs are about to be dropped, and the marketplace turns chaotic. Instead of bombs, however, the Japanese had dropped propaganda pamphlets, trying to get the Chinese to cooperate with the Japanese government. During the chaotic run, Winnie loses Helen and becomes overwhelmed by mobs and emotion. Helen eventually emerges, on a stolen pedicab. They leave Nanking that day, Winnie forgetting about the money she had asked Peanut to send.
The character of Gan plays an important role in these chapters because of what he represents. First of all, he is the first man for whom Winnie has been able to have tender feelings. She was notin love with him, though he was in love with her. Nevertheless, it was a relationship that could have developed into love and one that serves as a foil for Winnie's relationship with Wen Fu.
Gan is a foil for Wen Fu in that Gan is the "good man," while Wen Fu is the "bad man." Amy Tan has been criticized for her lack of male character development, and it is true that her male characters are very one-dimensional. Wen Fu is villainized, while Gan is sanctified, and there seems to be no in-between. Whereas, the women in the novel are full characters capable of a range of emotions, as illustrated by Winnie's confession about wanting Wen Fu to die in battle. And, as is also evidenced by the relationship between Helen and Winnie, women can develop a relationship that is true to life and far from perfect. They have an almost familial tie that binds, so much so that their lie (that Helen is her sister/sister-in-law) is almost true. And yet, there are constant tensions between the two, which are difficult to reconcile.
Another element that Gan brings to the book is that of prophecy and luck. Gan believes that the ghost he has seen has told him the truth, which is that he will die before reaching the age of twenty-four and that he will suffer nine bad fates before that death. This prophecy does in fact come true and this "spiritualism," for lack of a better word, permeates throughout the novel. In fact, Pearl remembers a time when she had thought she saw a ghost and instead of her mother comforting her, her mother said: "Where?" Again, Tan is bringing her Chinese culture and background into the novel and mixing it with her American experiences and her English language.
To continue on the thread of language, there are many words in the book that seem untranslatable, such as the world taonan. Taonan means that a great danger is coming for many people and is a word that Winnie cannot find an equivalent for in the English language. This inability to translate is illustrative of the language/cultural barrier that Pearl and her mother experienced. It is not until these words, figuratively speaking, can be explained that there can be understanding. In other words, it is not until mother and daughter sit down and give each other time and space in which to tell their stories and reveal their secrets that their worlds can be "translated."
The subject of food, which exists throughout the novel, also surfaces in this section. Winnie uses her own dowry money to feed her husband and his pilot friends, and she chooses the foods she will serve them with care—she chooses "lucky" foods. Many of the moments in which food is shared are happy moments in the lives of the characters. In fact, Gan's friendship with Winnie develops as a result of these dinners. Food unties and brings love. And yet, at every dinner there are less and less soldiers sharing this food. And, many of them eat as if it may be their last meal. And so this joy is mixed with fear, and the nutrients and pleasure that food brings are mixed with the anxiety of loss.
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