The Kitchen God's Wife: Metaphor Analysis
The Kitchen God’s Wife
In the story that Winnie tells about the Kitchen God, the Kitchen God’s wife is a good, but unrewarded woman. For Winnie, she symbolizes all women who lack value in a male-dominated world, just as Winnie lacked value in the world she was born into, China before World War II. No matter how hard she tried to be a good wife, she was never rewarded with happiness; instead, Winnie was humiliated and devalued by her husband, whose lies and cruelty only elevated him among others. Winnie fought to make sense of a world in which the undeserving were given the highest value, and the story of the Kitchen God’s wife symbolized her conclusions: a woman must value her own strengths and make her own rewards.
Lady Sorrowfree, unlike the Kitchen God’s Wife, is a goddess that Winnie makes up to symbolize the strength and hope that women possess. She gives this goddess to Pearl in order to give her strength and hope. Lady Sorrowfree, like a female Christ figure, absorbs sorrows and sins, and she offers comfort and understanding. She is a figure of a woman’s healing power.
A powerful motif in The Kitchen God’s Wife centers around the various objects or events that pertain to luck. Winnie constantly analyzes her life in relation to the luck she has had—or not had—and sees certain events (abandonment by her mother, the fortune teller’s prediction) and objects (the fallen scissors) as omens or signs of the luck she will have, based on the choices she has made. Pearl does not believe in such superstitions, yet at the same time, she cannot quite let go of the idea that perhaps certain objects do influence one’s luck. She is uncomfortable with the idea of giving Auntie Du’s altar to her children for a doll house; to do so seems irreverent and might invite bad luck.
The work women do—cleaning, sewing, cooking—forms an important motif in The Kitchen God’s Wife. When Winnie describes herself, she often describes not only her youthful beauty, but the work she does. Work gives her value, just as work gave the Kitchen God’s wife value. She describes her cooking skills and sewing skills in particular when she wishes to show what a good person she was. When she bestows her sewing machine on Wan Betty, she is bestowing something that gave her value—and that in turn gives Wan Betty value. As an old woman, work still gives her value. And after the news of Wen Fu’s death, Winnie engages in a cleaning frenzy to clean away all the bad memories of Wen Fu, memories in which he made her feel she had no value.