The Kitchen God's Wife: Novel Summary:chp 16-20
Chapter 16, “The Great World,” pp. 268-280
Winnie has another baby, a boy she names Danru. When she returns home from the hospital, she finds that Hulan’s aunt, Auntie Du, has come to stay. She also finds that Wen Fu has installed a young mistress in the house, pretending that she is a friend’s sister in need of a place to stay. Instead of showing her anger, however, Winnie reasons that Wen Fu will leave her alone if he has a mistress. She allows the girl, Min, to stay, although she tells everyone else that she is a guest. She even becomes friends with Min, who entertains her with stories about her previous life as a singer in Shanghai. She teaches Min good manners, how to sew, how to write her name. Winnie actually sees that they are the same: “pretty skin, foolish heart, strong will, scared bones.”
When Min becomes pregnant, Winnie still does not show anger to Wen Fu. Instead, she tries to use Min’s pregnancy as a way to divorce Wen Fu and be free. She draws up a divorce paper, which she is sure he will be glad to sign, seeing that she will give him no trouble. Wen Fu instead refuses because he wanted to show her he was boss. He then kicks Min out, but Winnie seeks her out and gives her money. She later hears that Min has gone off with another man, and she is not bitter. Instead, she thinks, “So really, she was the lucky one. She left. And I was the one who stayed with Wen Fu. And sometimes I would dream it was the other way around. I was Min, and I had gone back to Shanghai to work at the Great World.”
Chapter Seventeen, “The Four Gates,” pp. 281-298
Winnie busies herself with Danru, who she is determined will not turn out like his father. The war begins to affect everyone, including Winnie and Hulan. Winnie turns stoic, thinking that if she dies, then her suffering will end. If she does not die, she will find a way to escape Wen Fu. Hulan, who once almost starved to death as a child, eats insatiably and hoards her money.
One day, Winnie, Hulan, and Danru go to the market to buy glasses for Hulan, whose sight has deteriorated. While they are shopping, Japanese planes bomb parts of the city. They escape without harm, and that night they feast and celebrate their luck. The planes keep coming, however, and the nightly celebrations end.
One day, Winnie leaves Danru with Auntie Du while she goes shopping with Hulan. On the way, she reads Hulan a letter that Jiaguo has sent his wife, who cannot read well. Winnie discovers that Jiaguo and Hulan had tried to have a baby, but had not had luck doing so. Now Winnie understands Hulan’s jealousy over Danru.
While they are at the market, bombs come again. This time, Winnie is almost hit. She gets up from the impact to discover that “the world had changed.” Buildings are shattered, body parts lie in the street, rubble smokes everywhere. When she and Hulan later search for Auntie Du and Danru, Winnie sees a woman digging in the rubble for her own child. Winnie makes promises to “every god and goddess,” to be a better mother, better friend, better wife.
When Auntie Du and Danru turn out to be safe, Winnie is still determined to keep her promises because she feels like they kept Danru safe. Then she remembers: Danru was already home safe when she made those promises, so perhaps she does not have to fulfill all of them after all.
Analysis, chapters 16-17
Winnie set out to tell this story so Pearl would understand how she changed into the woman who became her mother. These last two chapters show that she has begun that change, from an ignorant, sheltered girl to a woman scheming to escape a bad marriage. She is beginning to try to take her bad luck into her own hands and change it.
Chapter Eighteen, “American Dance,” pp. 299-312
Winnie admits that she tried to keep all her promises, except the one about being a better wife to her husband. “That’s like buying something at Macy’s, then getting a refund,” she reasons to Pearl. She says that only the other day she got a refund on some shoes she had bought there, and those shoes remind her of shoes she once wore to an American dance during the war.
Everyone has been invited to 1941 Christmas dance given by the Americans, who have just had a victory over the Japanese in China. Wen Fu brags that he knows how to dance the American way, but he only succeeds in causing Winnie to break a heel on her shoes. She and Hulan peruse the food table, and while there they meet a tall Chinese man who turns out to have been born in America. He works for the United States Information Service because he can speak many languages. The man is Jimmie Louie. He and Winnie feel an immediate connection.
Jimmy amuses everyone by giving them American names. He calls Hulan “Helen,” and he turns Weiwei into “Winnie.” He renames Jiaguo “Jack,” and when Wen Fu insists on an “important” name, he slyly gives him the name “Judas.” Winnie, who had a convent education, knows that Judas is a shameful name. She and Jimmy laugh about it when he whisks her off to dance, right under Wen Fu’s nose.
Wen Fu calls Winnie a whore and puts a gun to her head that night. He forces her to write a divorce paper, which Wen Fu signs. Then he tells her that Danru is no longer hers, and she is forced to beg him not to divorce her. He does not agree to reinstate their marriage; instead, he rapes her all night.
Winnie shows the paper to Hulan and Auntie Du, and they sign it as witnesses. At last, someone is helping her. They help her take Danru and hide in a boarding house. Hulan tells Wen Fu where they are, however, because he promises her he will be kinder to Winnie. But instead, he is worse.
From that point on, Winnie gets abortions every time she is with child. She felt that she could not bring any children into such a world. In fact, she tells Pearl, she considered killing herself, but something kept her going.
This important chapter shows how thoroughly Winnie has transformed from an innocent girl into a bitter woman. She has gone from a girl who had no idea how babies were made to a woman who knows how to cause an abortion. She has gone from a girl wanting to be a good wife to a woman seeking escape from an abusive husband. She has gone from a sheltered, wealthy upbringing to the deprivations of war.
Chapter Nineteen, “Weak and Strong,” pp. 313-331
Winnie settles into a state of numbness. She is both weak and strong, she says. She had no hope, but neither did she despair. She just existed.
Someone comes to the house in the summer of 1945 and announces that the war is over. In that moment, Winnie allows herself to hope again. She plans to go back to Shanghai and get her family to help her leave her marriage. The very next day after hearing the war is over, she and the others leave Kunming on a bus. As they do so, Winnie suddenly notices the beauty of the place where she has spent the past seven years. “I saw all this for the first time,” she says, “and I was not happy to see it. I was bitter—that I had never felt this kind of beauty until now, too late.”
Once in Wuchang, the two couples go separate ways. Jiaguo has been stationed in Harbin, while Wen Fu is going on to Shanghai. Hulan and Winnie say a tearful goodbye and give one another gifts.
Shanghai is a refreshing bustle of people and cars, nothing like the broken villages Winnie has just seen. Wen Fu decides to go to her father’s house, first. Winnie plans to ask her father for help.’
However, when they arrive, Jiang Sao-yen’s house is run down and silent, the servants all gone. Winnie finds her father much changed. He seems scared of Wen Fu’s Kuomintang uniform, which Wen Fu has worn only to look impressive. Winnie learns that the Japanese pressured her father into supporting them. In return, he could keep his textile business. His support of the Japanese labels him as a traitor, however. He suffers a stroke. When the war is over, Chinese Kuomintang soldiers shut down his business and people vandalized the house. The soldiers threaten to execute Jiang, but his San Ma speaks for her stroke-ridden husband and gets a reprieve.
Wen Fu at first pretends to be outraged that Jiang is a traitor, but Winnie sees he is only trying to gain power over her father. Sure enough, Jiang turns everything over to Wen Fu, who promptly installs his mother as head of the household. Wen Fu and his family proceed to spend Jiang’s money, sell off precious family possessions, and run down the estate.
No one can stop Wen Fu’s family from ruining the estate, but Winnie has small, satisfying moments of revenge. She steals a tile from her mother-in-law’s mah jong set; she puts little bugs in Wen Fu’s bed. She tells Wen Fu’s mother that a woman once died in the room she took over, the one that used to belong to Winnie’s mother, and Wen Fu’s mother immediately moves out.
Winnie’s luck has gotten even worse. Her father cannot save her; instead, she must look after him. And once Wen Fu’s mercenary family moves into her childhood home, Winnie becomes lowest in rank. And Wen Fu continues to abuse her, using her like a “machine” each night.
But there is a spark left in Winnie yet. Her small acts of revenge, in effect, keep her going. Other women might have run away or taken their lives by now.
Chapter Twenty, “Four Daughters on the Table,” pp. 332-346
Winnie vows that, even though she has nowhere else to go, she will still leave Wen Fu. She is so desperate she is willing to risk living on the street. “I don’t know what this was, stubbornness maybe. I only knew I could not survive living with Wen Fu that way. So you see, my mind was made up long before I found something to hope for,” she tells Pearl.
Winnie takes Danru to visit her family back on Tsungming Island in 1946. She is curiously happy to see them, and they are happy to see her. Her uncle’s business has failed, the house has become shabby, the aunts seem old and tired. Winnie learns that Peanut has left her grand marriage and become a Communist. Winnie suddenly feels hope: if Peanut found a way to leave her marriage, then perhaps Winnie can, too.
New Aunt and Old Aunt pretend to disown Peanut, but when Winnie wants to see her, they help her do so. When Winnie returns to Shanghai, she looks for Peanut, but as she is searching for her apartment, she runs into Jimmy Louie. They have tea and catch up on their lives. Jimmy shows her a picture of four daughters, prospective wives for him, but he says he wants to marry her, not those daughters. Winnie is too late to see Peanut that day, so she agrees to meet Jimmy again tomorrow on her way to seek Peanut again.
The next day, various domestic crises make Winnie late for her meeting. But Jimmy Louie has waited for her. “We said no words,” she tells Pearl, “He took my hands and held them firmly. And we both stood in the road, our eyes wet with happiness, knowing without speaking that we both felt the same way.”
Winnie tells Pearl that she believes Fate brought Jimmy back to her. “If I had not gone to see Peanut, if I had not stopped to read a silly magazine, if he had not been looking for a newspaper—one minute later, and our lifetimes would have missed each other,” she says.