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Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Throughout the novel, Winnie describes moments when she finds herself cleaning away. This cleaning becomes symbolic of cleaning away the past or bad luck. Winnie has tried to "clean away" her past from her memory, but the dust keeps coming through. For example, at the beginning of the novel, when Helen tells Winnie that she must let go of her secrets and tell her daughter the truth, Winnie spends the entire night cleaning. She is cleaning as a sort of ritual in order to forget and "wipe away" what she does not want before her—things that are as difficult and unappealing as dirt.
Names change throughout the novel. Many of the important characters have more than one name, depending on the time and place in which they are. Winnie was once Weili, and Helen was once Hulan. A name change is always emblematic of a change in character, as in a sense of growth, for example. "Weiwei," for example, is more innocent than Winnie Louie, who knows more about the hardships of the world. Also, when Jimmy Louie dons Weili with the name of Winnie, it is very much as if he is offering her a new beginning and baptizing her anew into another world.
Luck comes into the dialogue and ideas of The Kitchen God's Wife constantly. These ideas, as discussed above, in the Theme section, are constantly at odds with the Western ideas of logic and self-determination. Winnie attributes much of her life and the life of others to luck, but at the same time she sees herself as having achieved what she wanted or needed through action and free-will. Winnie is most definitely superstitious, unlike her daughter, and yet, in the end, the superstition and self-determination that has been expressed by the repletion of this motif is perfectly combined when Winnie decides to create her own religious statuette.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Kitchen God's Wife!