The Kitchen God's Wife
Chapter 19: Weak and Strong
In the middle of summer, 1945, Winnie is twenty-seven and the war has ended. Winnie has been married for eight years, and Danru is already five. The morning after they find out about the end of the war, Helen, Jiaguo, Auntie Du, Wen Fu,Winnie and other pilots leave Kunming on a bus crossing roads and witnessing the remains of war. When they reach Wuchang, Helen must separate from Winnie and Auntie Du, and it is a sad parting because they are going different ways.
When Winnie, Wen Fu, and Danru arrive in Shanghai, they go to Winnie's father's house. Wen Fu had hoped he would take them in, and Winnie, independently, had been planning to tell him about the horrors of her marriage. When they arrive at the house, however, the war had changed everything. The house was in disrepair, and an old servant answers the door, welcoming them into an empty house. When she sees her father, she realizes that he is old and ill. It is San Ma who tells her the story of what had happened to her father and to the house.
After the war had begun her father's business had begun to do poorly. In 1941, a Japanese officer came to the house and, while admiring Jiang Sao-Yen's (Winnie's father) possessions, hinted to her father that it would benefit him to join with the Japanese and serve as an example to other Chinese businesses. Jiang Sao-Yen, instead, threw his cup of tea at his own hundred-year-old scroll painting, in an act of defiance. Two days later, however, he had joined with the Japanese and displayed a large poster hanging form the gates of his house encouraging others to do the same. The business became more successful but Jiang Sao-Yen had a stroke and when the war was over, the Chinese (Kuomintang) took over the factory, pardoning his life temporarily only because he was so ill.
Wen Fu takes advantage of his father-in-law's position and tells him that he can help him since he is a "Kuomintang hero." And he proceeds to say that he will need to take over his finances in order to fully help him. It is in this way that Wen Fu's family moves into Winnie's father's house and takes over.
Chapter 20: Four Daughters on the Table
Winnie decides that she would leave her marriage, even if she did not yet know exactly how; but not before she and Danru visited her Aunts. When she sees her old house and her Aunts, Winnie is taken aback by the sentiment she feels toward them. The meeting is, surprisingly, a happy one, and she realizes that she feels more love for them than she has thought. Her Uncle and her Aunts also have their own story, since no one is left unaffected by the war.
When she sees the house it is, like her father's in disrepair, and her uncle, also like her father, is like a man "walking in his dreams." Her younger cousins have not graduated from University but are instead working, carrying steel to build ships. When Winnie asks about Peanut, Uncle claims that she is "dead." This is only figuratively speaking, however, since he says this only because he is angry with her for having left her marriage. New Aunt explains to Winnie that Peanut has left her marriage and is living with the communists and that when she left her husband had posted an ad in all of the newspapers, large and small, that he was divorcing his "deserter wife." This, of course, was an embarrassment to Peanut's family. It was also dangerous that their daughter is a communist because it puts them in danger with the current government. Nevertheless, as Winnie listens to all of this she wonders how Peanut was able to leave her marriage.
Winnie stays with her Aunts for two weeks, finally asking her Aunts where Peanut lives. Although both are outwardly outraged and refuse to give her any information, both secretly come to her and give her Peanut's address.
After being home in Shanghai for one week, Winnie goes to see her cousin. On the way, however, she is taken off route because she runs into Jimmy Louie in the Japanese, "bohemian" section of town where Peanut lives. They sit and drink tea and tell each other about their lives. Winnie tells him about her family and about Peanut but does not tell him about the horrors of her marriage. He is kind and understanding about everything, and when it is his turn to talk about himself he tells her how his mother's friend has given him a picture of her four daughters to choose from but that he chooses Winnie instead. Winnie is embarrassed, but the two agree to meet the next day. It is too late to go and see Peanut at this time, so Winnie agrees to return tomorrow. They plan to meet at 10:30, and he would accompany her on her walk to her cousin's house.
The next day, however, there are many factors that impede her from leaving her house on time, but when she finally arrives at noon, he is still there, waiting for her. This is a very happy meeting, and Winnie begins to cry at its telling.
Chapter 21: Little Yu's Mother
Winnie tells Jimmy Louie about her marriage, and when they arrive at Peanut's house he says he will wait for her outside. When Winnie finally sees Peanut again she sees how much Peanut has changed. She is no longer the young girl full of frills and make-up, she is now a plain-clothed communist with banners and slogans. Peanut tells her the story of her own marriage, and both women compare their horrible marriages.
Peanut's husband was what she called zibuyong, meaning that he had both sex organs, although, realistically, he had probably only been homosexual. She had caught him sleeping with another man. When Winnie asks her how she escaped this marriage, Peanut tells her the story of Little Yu's mother.
Little Yu was a classmate of theirs that had died—she had committed suicide because of her marriage. She had married her husband without knowing that he was mentally disabled and had "the mind of a child." Little Yu had tried to tell her mother, but her mother only told her to try harder at her marriage. After Little Yu's suicide, Little Yu's mother was filled with guilt and when Peanut found her, she listened attentively to the story of her own bad marriage. And it was like this that the house in which Peanut lived was really an underground hiding place for women who escaped their husbands, run by Little Yu's mother.
The women in the house and Little Yu's mother discuss a way to plan Winnie's escape. They tell her they will help but that she must find a way to gather her money and her jewelry and leave her house. Winnie says she will find a way to do this.
These chapters deal with the effects of the war. The war has touched everyone, as is evidenced by the stories everyone tells about themselves. Winnie's father's business does not exist anymore, and his fortune is diminishing along with his mental state and the state of his home and family. Winnie's Aunts and Uncles are also poorer than they were because the war had affected their businesses. The war had also changed Peanut, given her a new set of ideals and turned her into a communist. While driving away from Kunming, Winnie is able to see the beauty in the sky for the very first time, for many reasons. It is true that she had not been able to appreciate the beauty that surrounded her because she was caught in a terrible marriage and her mind was elsewhere. But also, now, for the first time in a long time, the sky contains something other than a flying Japanese threat.
And so the war brought with it both good and bad, in many ways. Because the war and Winnie's life experiences during that war, in a sense have made her stronger, Winnie begins to think of how to leave her husband. Therefore, although the group has to drive through the ruins of war on their way to their destinations, Winnie's destination is somewhat clearer and more optimistic than it has been in the past—even if not immediately so. Upon first arriving in Shanghai, everything seems to be in shambles, and Winnie's plan to ask her family for help has to be thrown aside because her family is, itself, in need of help. Her father is ill, and her Aunts and Uncle are poor. And yet, the chapters begin to change in mood and tone at the point in which Winnie goes to visit her aunts. When she arrives there she is surprised by their kindness toward her, and she is also surprised by her own reaction at the sight of her old home and her two aunts: she cries tears that imply a certain kind of love. The mood is becoming lighter and more full of hope as her visit with her Aunts progresses. When she finds out that Peanut has escaped her marriage, this gives her further hope: if Peanut could do it, so could she. And then there is the meeting with Jimmy Louie that provides for some of the most romantic and happiest prose of the entire novel. The two were fated to be together, it seems, and the feelings of hope suddenly increase.
Following all of this, Winnie meets with Peanut, which makes the hope even more concrete because now there is a way for Winnie to leave, and there are women that will help her. And, where once, at the beginning of these chapters, she had only had Danru to love after her parting with Helen and Auntie Du, now she has her cousin, a group of supportive women, and, most importantly, she has the beginnings of true love for the very first time in the person of Jimmy Louie. The more distance, both literally and figuratively, Winnie is able to attain from Wen Fu, the happier she is.
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