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The Kitchen God's Wife

Amy Tan

Chapters 13–15

Chapters 10–12

Chapters 16–18

Summary

Chapter 13: Heaven's Breath

Winnie, Wen Fu, Helen, Jiaguo and a group of others escape Nanking with one suitcase each on a truck driven by a man they call Old Mr. Ma. Wan Betty stays behind, and Winnie gives her her sewing machine as a gift. They are traveling toward Kunming, which is almost at the end of China, and the trip is a long and arduous one. They take cars and boats and drive through poor backwaters, and they stay in places infested with stinkbugs. For the duration, Winnie is pregnant.

At a certain point they reach the village called Twenty-Four Turnarounds because it is at the bottom of a winding pass in the mountains, which is a pass they would have to take to reach the top. At a certain point up the mountain they reach a blissful kind of place above the clouds where all of them are happy for a moment despite the danger of the trip. When they finally reach the village called Heaven's Breath at the top, they hear about what had happened in Nanking. During their journey they had heard that Nanking had been taken over by the Japanese and was closed off, but in Heaven's Breath they were told the details. The Japanese had not kept their promises of peaceful take-over, and instead they had raped and pillaged in inordinate numbers.

Chapter 14: Bad Eye

By the time the group reaches Kunming, Winnie is eight months pregnant. They stay at a house they call yangfang, which is a foreign-style house. Winnie and Wen Fu had received the worst rooms in the house because it was facing in a bad luck direction. And Winnie did not like the inspector's wife, and Wen Fu and Winnie had to suffer through the fights between the inspector and his wife, which they heard through the wall. But this was only until the inspector died of Malaria on a trip to the Burma Road. When the inspector's wife left, Winnie paid extra money from her dowry to attain the extra room. Winnie believes that Helen was jealous of this and of the fact that Winnie also paid for a servant, which no one else had—even those who had higher positions.

When Winnie is nine months pregnant, she is sewing and singing, and she drops a pair of scissors, which is supposed to bring very bad luck. After this, Winnie feels that the baby inside of her has stopped moving. By the time she goes to the hospital, it is too late, and Winnie loses the baby (a stillborn girl). She named her Mochou, which means "sorrowfree," because, Winnie says, the baby never knew suffering. After this she didn't want to use scissors for a very long time until she becomes bored of doing nothing and decides to go into town to buy another pair. When, after some trouble, she finds the young woman Helen had told her about, she buys a pair for what she believes is a good deal. However, she feels bad about this because the scissors are made out of the steel stolen from dead Americans. Before she leaves, however, Winnie accidentally knocks over the entire table of scissors, which is bad-luck multiplied.

When she arrives back home she hears that Wen Fu has had an accident, which she attributes to the dropping of the scissors. Wen Fu had, without permission taken a jeep, and had gotten into an accident in which he was badly hurt, permanently damaging one eye. There had been a girl with him, who had died. Jiaguo had told Winnie that he would have to charge him with what he had done, but Helen had convinced him not to press charges. Secretly, Winnie had hoped that he would go to jail but nevertheless tried to repay her debt to Helen, who thought she was doing the right thing.

When Wen Fu finally woke up in the hospital, he was terrible to the nurses. He yelled at them, and even punched one of them. When they arrived home Wen Fu was bedridden. One day, Winnie held a dinner for Wen Fu's fellow pilots, in which everyone was having pleasant conversation and singing until Wen Fu came down the stairs and began to yell at Winnie for being able to sing while he was sick. He called her a whore in front of everyone and tells her to get on her knees and beg forgiveness. No one stops him, and so she is forced to do this.

Chapter 15: A Flea on a Tiger's Head

In 1939, a year after Wen Fu's accident, Winnie has another baby: a baby girl whom Wen Fu does not come visit until two days after Winnie has given birth. Winnie names the girl Yiku, which means "pleasure over bitterness." After Wen Fu creates a massive disruption in the hospital, Winnie calms her baby down, telling her that she will have a good life, which she believed was a lie.

Six months after having given birth, Winnie's servant girl approaches her and tells her she is going to leave. When Winnie forces her to tell her why, the servant girl reveals that Wen Fu has raped her. Winnie does not say anything initially but sends the servant girl off with three months worth of wages and a good recommendation. But when Winnie hears of the girl's death, she confronts Wen Fu. The girl had tried to give herself an abortion when she heard she was pregnant with Wen Fu's child and had died in the process. Wen Fu becomes enraged when Winnie stands up to him, and Winnie continues to stand up to him until he begins to take his anger out on Yiku. When he begins to slap her hard, over and over, Winnie begs forgiveness so that he would leave their child alone. Yiku becomes a strange child after that: pulling out her own hair, not crying, never looking people in the eye. By the time Winnie is six or seven months pregnant with another baby, she sees that Yiku is beginning to look ill. One day when the child is very sick Winnie goes to where Wen Fu is playing mah jong with a doctor and other men, but Wen Fu ignores her and tells her he does not care if the child dies. He then tells the doctor not to go because his wife is hysterical. Winnie returns to the house, not knowing what to do, but when Yiku begins to shake she takes the baby to where the doctor and Wen Fu are. When Wen Fu sees the baby, he blames Winnie for not having told him. Yiku dies at the hospital.

Analysis

Wen Fu becomes more and more of a monster as the story evolves: he kills a pig on the road to Kunming for no reason, he beats his child, he calls his wife a whore, he rapes and rages. In these chapters Wen Fu's physical self becomes a reflection of his inner cruelty. He literally begins to look like a monster, acquiring his deformity of one bad eye. This idea of having a bad eye is symbolic and illustrates Wen Fu's ability to "see." He does not see or care to see the harm that he is doing to others.

As a result of Wen Fu's behavior and of the war that is going on during all of this, Winnie is changing. She is no longer the naïve girl who cannot go to the bathroom in front of others, and she is no longer the girl that hopes and dreams. Now she believes that when she promises her daughter a good life, she is lying. Now she believes that when Yiku dies it is "good for [her]" because she has escaped. Also, she had named her first stillborn child "sorrowfree" because it did not have a chance to suffer since life, as Winnie has come to learn, brings suffering with it.

Winnie explains that she cannot forgive. Winnie, as an introduction to the last chapter of this section, had told the story of one of Jimmy Louie's sermons. She said he had given a sermon called "Jesus Forgives, Can You?" She tells Pearl that she liked this sermon very much and that it had given her a certain amount of peace and that she had tried to forgive. She had tried to use the ideas behind it in her daily life, and she had tried to release her anger. But, in the end, she could not. By the time the chapter ends, Winnie asks her daughter that had she seen her own child die the way she did of her own children, would she be able to forgive?

Amy Tan often uses stories such as the one illustrated above about the sermon to frame her chapters. By beginning with a story that Pearl would be able to relate to and by ending with a reference to that same story, Tan is using this framing device to tie two lives together. Bringing Winnie's distant life in China into Pearl's life in America constructs a life both Winnie and Pearl share—a life they had once shared with Jimmy Louie as well.

There is not only horror, however, in Winnie's story, but there are also moments of happiness. Just as Winnie had shared, in earlier chapters, good moments with Gan, she also shared wonderful moments with Helen. While on the long and difficult journey to Kunming, they tell each other made-up stories as they look up at the star-filled sky and point out what they see. Also, while riding up the roundabout mountain pass, there is a moment when they are above the clouds when everyone in the truck seems happy or at least in awe. All of them are stunned by what they see. Even Wen Fu is singing at this point and is singing beautifully.

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