The Kitchen God's Wife: Novel Summary:chp 11-15
Chapter Eleven, “Four Splits, Five Cracks,” pp. 190-205
The women receive news that the pilots’ attempt to surprise the Japanese in Shanghai harbor is a disaster, and several pilots have died. Hulan is happy that Jiaguo is not one of them, and Winnie chides her for so rudely expressing her happiness aloud at such a somber time. Hulan then accuses her of always seeing the bad side of things and always attracting bad luck because of her negative thinking.
The women are moved to Yangchow, where they are reunited with their husbands. Winnie and Hulan get over their argument and become friends again. Winnie takes great pleasure in providing elaborate feasts for Wen Fu and the pilots each time they return from a mission. She feels she is being a good wife, although Wen Fu does not seem to notice. Instead, another pilot, Gan, notices. He and Winnie become friends, and Winnie thinks that he is the kind of man she should have married. Gan confides that when he was younger, he was visited by a ghost that told him he would suffer nine bad fates before he died; then the ghost would come back for him. Winnie tries to comfort Gan by making light of his belief in the ghost and the fact that he is waiting for his ninth fate to come. She teases him not because she does not believe him, but because she is afraid to show how much she really cares and wants to comfort him.
When Gan is severely injured on a mission, Winnie visits him in the hospital, but she cannot touch him in front of the others. When he finally dies, she realizes something awful: “ And although I never knew what the eight bad fates were, I knew the ninth. I was the ninth.”
Winnie’s belief that somehow she was a “bad fate” for Gan, thus signaling that it was time for his death, falls in line with Winnie’s deep belief that somehow she is tainted with bad luck—she even brings bad luck to others. Her belief in Gan’s story about the ghost also reveals that, deep down, Winnie is just as superstitious as Hulan. Her belief also reveals that Hulan’s accusations are right: Winnie does always see the bad side of situations.
Chapter Twelve, “Taonan Money,” pp. 206-217
The pilots and their wives move to Nanking. Wen Fu hints that they will not be there long because the Japanese are close. Winnie prepares to become taonan, which means “terrible danger is coming, not just to you but to many people, so everyone is watching out only for himself. It is a fear that chases you, a sickness, exactly like a hot fever in your brain,” she tells Pearl. Winnie sends a telegram to Wen Fu’s sister in Shanghai, instructing her to withdraw a large amount of money from Winnie’s dowry account, and send it immediately. Winnie becomes friends with Wan Betty, a pregnant widow that works at the telegram office.
Instead the sister sends the money to Wen Fu, who spends all of it on a sports car that belonged to one of the pilots who died. He tries to convince Winnie that he was wise, that they would have an escape vehicle if they became taonan, but she is convinced that buying a dead man’s car is bad luck. Sure enough, he wrecks the car in a cemetery.
On the way to the market, Winnie sends another telegram, this time to Peanut, whom she trusts to send the money directly to her, not Wen Fu. While she and Hulan are at the market, however, Japanese planes fly over repeatedly, dropping pamphlets. The people panic and Hulan and Winnie are separated. Winnie finds herself calling for her mother, but it is Hulan who comes to her aid. She has stolen a pedicab and beat off a man with a stick to reach Winnie, whom she then takes home. She even broke a finger, but in typical fashion, she jokes about her adventure. All of them leave Nanking that day. Winnie regrets sending for money that will now never reach her.
Chapter Thirteen, “Heaven’s Breath,” pp. 218-235
Winnie says that she never thanked Helen [Hulan] for saving her life that day in Nanking, so when Helen complained about her arthritic finger recently, Winnie reminded her of what happened. Helen, however, claims she does not remember any of it, which exasperates Winnie, who remembers it all so clearly.
Then Winnie recounts how they all escaped Nanking. She recalls the harried packing and all the things they had to leave behind. She remembers giving Wan Betty her sewing machine, and Betty says she will always remember this gift; she will be able to make a living with it.
They escape in the open bed of an army truck, all of them squeezed together. They journey into the interior of China, to poor, isolated villages where life seems like “another world, a place from a long time ago, before the war,” Winnie says. Along the way, they encounter a pig that blocks the road. Wen Fu gets out and pretends he will shoot it, and when the owner appears, Wen Fu actually does shoot the pig. Then he points the gun at the protesting owner, until Jiaguo tells him to stop. Everyone is wary and quiet the rest of the day.
They find out that Nanking has been taken by the Japanese, and Winnie worries about Wan Betty. The group then begins a treacherous journey up a steep mountain. One night, they have to sleep by the side of the road. In the dark, Hulan and Winnie feel their way along the mountainside to find a place to use the bathroom. They see the stars above, and they make up stories about the constellations. Hulan’s stories involve princesses and heroes, while Winnie’s involve “lessons learned too late.” For the rest of the journey, the women looked hard for “signs of contentment in the world, a peace that would never change.”
Finally, they reach a dangerous part of the mountain, a pass that is wide enough for only one vehicle and that involves numerous turns, until the truck encounters fog so thick, the driver cannot see. Jiaguo walks in front of the truck, his hand along the mountainside, clutching a red skirt the driver can follow. When the truck finally escapes the fog, everyone is amazed. “Because where we now were was like a place you read about only in a story—the blue heavens above, the white clouds beneath, all the problems of the world forgotten,” Winnie says. Even Wen Fu is touched, and Winnie laughs when he sings out loud. She feels unaccountably happy and lucky right then.
Then the group meets a group of soldiers at the top of the mountain, at “Heaven’s Breath.” The good spirits of the group are immediately dampened when they hear of the atrocities the Japanese committed in Nanking. Winnie has bad dreams after that. She tells Pearl that even now, she cannot eat eels, which they ate on that mountain journey, because they make her remember what happened in Nanking.
Analysis, chapters 12-13
Chapters Twelve and Thirteen take Winnie’s tale in another direction. Her tale about her marriage is suspended in order to tell about her experiences in the war. Her description of the Japanese invasion and their escape into the mountains has a fairy tale quality to it. It does not seem real—or at least, Winnie did not want it to be real as it was happening. She paints a portrait of herself and Hulan as two women swept into a nightmare, but desperately looking for the happy ending, in the stars, in the eels, in the storybook scenery. Reality, however, intrudes, in Wen Fu’s act of animal cruelty, in the soldiers’ report about Nanking.
This story describes things that happened to Winnie and shaped her into the woman she has become. These memories, she tells Pearl, “stay in your heart.”
Chapter Fourteen, “Bad Eye,” pp. 236-253
They arrive in Kunming, a crowded, dirty city full of peasants. They share a house, and Winnie uses her dowry money, sent by Peanut, to make them all as comfortable as possible. Wartime prices are extravagant, and Winnie is annoyed that Hulan does not acknowledge Winnie’s favors.
Winnie is ready to give birth, but the baby does not come. One day, while she is sewing, she drops her scissors, which land with their points stuck in the floor. After this, she no longer feels the baby moving, and sure enough, she gives birth to a stillborn girl. Winnie blames her bad luck: “If this baby had been born in Shanghai. If this baby had been born when it was not wartime. If I had not dropped those scissors.” She names the baby Mochou, “Sorrowfree.”
Winnie had told a servant to toss her old scissors in the lake, and now she seeks a new pair. She finds a pair shaped like a crane, but she finds out they are made from steel taken from a truck that has toppled off a mountain. Even though they were made from bad luck, Winnie buys them, but as she gets her money out, she bumps the vendor’s table and all the scissors fly into the air, “all their bird mouths open, all that bad luck pouring out,” Winnie says.
After that incident, Wen Fu has an accident. Winnie believes it happens because she unleashed that bad luck. Then she discovers that he had been out driving with another woman, who was killed when he crashed the jeep. In her anger, Winnie is almost glad he will go to jail and she will be free of him. However, Hulan persuades Jiaguo not to charge Wen Fu, and so Winnie must pretend to be grateful. Secretly, she chafes under the debt she now owes Hulan.
Wen Fu returns home, blind in one eye. The accident has damaged his brain somewhat and made him even more foul-tempered than before. One night, he slaps Winnie in front of everyone and commands that she beg his forgiveness on her knees. No one stops him. Winnie does not understand why no one helps her, even Hulan.
Chapter Fifteen, “ A Flea on a Tiger’s Head,” pp. 254-267
Before Winnie continues her story, she tells Pearl that she believes she has tried to live a Christian life of forgiveness, but she has never forgiven Wen Fu for the accident or for what happened later. She feels guilty, but at the same time, she feels like the Kitchen God’s wife, a woman whose goodness was never acknowledged, while her no-good husband became a god.
Winnie then continues her story. She recounts how, when she gave birth to a second baby, Wen Fu showed up at the hospital and got upset when the baby did not seem to like him. He went into a rage and tore up the hospital kitchen. Winnie asks the nurse to “forgive me for bringing this trouble into the hospital.”
After Winnie and the baby, Yiku, return home, Winnie discovers that Wen Fu has raped the servant girl. Winnie is upset, but she talks herself out of accusing Wen Fu, because she feels no one will back her up, just as they would not defend her when Wen Fu shamed her in public. To ease her conscience, Winnie dismisses the girl with generous wages, but later she finds out the girl died trying to give herself an abortion. Winnie then confronts Wen Fu, who retaliates by hitting Yiku. From that moment on, Yiku is not normal.
One night, Yiku becomes sick. The doctor is playing mah jong with Wen Fu, and when Winnie tries to get the doctor to come look at the baby, Wen Fu gets angry at her. He says that he would not care if his daughter died, and no one chides him. No one sides with her.
Later that night, Yiku dies. In front of the doctor and others, Wen Fu accuses Winnie of being a bad mother. No one corrects him this time, either. Winnie tells her dead child that she is lucky to have escaped such a life.
Analysis, chapters 14-15
That Winnie likens herself to the Kitchen God’s wife is important. The story of the Kitchen God is a story about how unfairly women are treated in a culture that allows men to be all-powerful, even when they do not deserve that power. Women, like the Kitchen God’s wronged wife, may be wise and good, but they have no power. Winnie is powerless to get justice in a world that allows Wen Fu to rule her, even when others see that he is insane. Like the Kitchen God, who is rewarded after his misdeeds, Wen Fu is given wary respect—no one dares defy him, even when he practically kills his own child.