The Kitchen God's Wife
Chapter 25: Bao-Bao's Wedding
Pearl takes over the narration temporarily for the purposes of this chapter. She responds with shock, at first, to the secret her mother, Winnie Louie, has just told her. She tells her mother that she has had a hard life, and she laughs and feels like crying. They talk and joke, and Pearl asks her mother why she had never told her any of this before. Winnie says that she did not want her daughter to think that she was weak or that she was a bad mother.
Pearl takes this opportunity to tell her mother about her own secret, which is that of her condition with multiple sclerosis. Her mother is furious and begins to yell about what can be done abut this, about going to see Auntie Du's herb doctor, about why she had not told her sooner. Winnie allows her mother to yell and does not ask her to stop, realizing that she is comforted by the fact that, in some ways, her mother is putting all of Pearl's fear, anger, and despair "into her own heart [Winnie's heart], so that [Pearl] could finally see what was left. Hope."
After this exchange of secrets there is a jump forward to Bao-Bao's wedding, where Pearl confronts Mary about the "sympathetic attitude" she resents, which was mentioned in the opening chapter of the novel. Also at the wedding, Helen unveils her and Winnie's plans to go to China. Helen tells Pearl that she is using the pretext of buying medicines there for her own tumor, (which she confesses to Pearl to know she does not have) but the real reason why they are going is so that Winnie can resolve her past and so that she can buy medicines for Pearl. Helen tells Pearl that she too must come to China and that she must go along with the pretext of her aunt's tumor.
Chapter 26: Sorrowfree
Winnie takes the narration into her own hands once again. The chapter opens in the flower shop with Winnie and Helen having a good day. It is a day in which Helen is being particularly honest about her own faults, which seldom happens. It is also a day in which Winnie decides to buy a statuette for her daughter's altar, the altar that Auntie Du had left her in her will. She goes into Sam Fook's Trading Company and realizes she is looking for a goddess that does not exist. So, she buys a statue with a mistake: this statue does not have the name written at the bottom. Winnie fixes it and makes the statue to her own liking, creating a deity of her own: The Kitchen God's Wife. At the bottom she writes: "Lady Sorrowfree." When she gives the statue to her daughter, she tells her that Pearl should talk to her, tell her everything she feels; the statue will listen. Pearl is extremely moved by her mother's gift.
In these closing chapters of the novel there is much that happens technically and symbolically. The narration moves from a straight narrative form that is uninterrupted by dialogue between Pearl and Winnie into a section of pure dialogue between mother and daughter. We move, it seems, from a magical realm into reality. This may be because we are moving from past to present. We are taken out of the world of memory—which, because it is so fluctuating, can seem fairy-tale-like—into the world in which Pearl reacts to her mother's story.
Chapter 25 is the chapter that illustrates the result of Winnie's confession. For the first time, the reader is able to see Pearl's reaction to what her mother has told her. Tan, to emphasize this shift, has changed the point of view temporarily and shifted the narration so that the "story" is once again told by the daughter. Interestingly, this division of voices illustrates both a bringing together of mother and daughter, while at the same time showing that there is still a gap. Even though that gap between mother and daughter and between generations has closed significantly, it is still in existence. In other words, one narrative voice cannot carry both the stories the of Winnie and Pearl. Two separate voices must carry the tale, and yet, it is important to remember that where once these two distinct voices were far apart and unable to communicate, they are now in dialogue.
Also of great importance in these closing chapters is Winnie's role as "mother." Even though she has been through a great deal in her life and has, at times, lost hope in her own life, she is still able to provide her own daughter with hope. Pearl allows her mother to rant and yell and attempt solutions after she tells her about her illness because her mother is giving her hope. Winnie's role as a mother/wife is also symbolically exemplified in the story and statuette of the Kitchen God's Wife. Winnie creates a new deity for her daughter because the kind of luck she needs does not exist already, it needs to be invented. Only a mother can know precisely what a daughter needs, and so she creates a version of the Kitchen God's Wife, which is also a version of herself, and she tells Pearl to talk to the statue and that the statue will listen. From now on, therefore, the lines of communication between mother and daughter have succeeded, and the suffering woman has become the deity, not the husband.
Moreover, not only is the end moving because it is a symbolic representation of a unification between mother and daughter, but it can also be seen as a feminist ending. In the story of the Kitchen God's Wife, it is the Kitchen God who becomes the deity, even though he has been a miserable husband and man. Here it is the woman who is able to take her place in the world and in heavens. Here it is a woman who is "creating," and it is also a woman who is writing history. Storytelling is a powerful tool because it has the capacity of history and the importance of memory in its realm. A woman has told this story and a woman has listened to this story and a woman has written this story—so it makes perfect sense that the ending is one in which women are empowered.
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