The Kitchen God's Wife: Novel Summary:chp 21-26
Chapter Twenty-One, “Little Yu’s Mother,” pp. 347-357
Winnie at last finds Peanut, who is very happy to see her. Winnie tells her about her marriage to Wen Fu, and Peanut tells her that her rich husband turned out to be homosexual. Peanut tells how she went back to visit the old school she and Winnie had attended as girls. There, she sees the grave of an old schoolmate, Little Yu, who had committed suicide after one year of marriage to a man who turned out to be retarded. Peanut also visits Little Yu’s mother, whose life mission now is helping girls escape bad marriages. In fact, Peanut now lives with Little Yu’s mother and other women who have left their marriages. Little Yu’s mother agrees to help Winnie leave Wen Fu. She tells Winnie to get all her assets together, take Danru, and come to her.
Analysis, chapters 20-21
At last, Winnie’s luck is changing. Her story may turn out to be like a fairy tale, after all. First, she discovers that she is not alone in wishing to leave a bad marriage; other women have had the same desperate wish. Second, she has found someone to guide her in how to leave her marriage. And third, she has a prince waiting to marry her and make her happy.
But fairy tale or not, Winnie’s situation is quite serious. The girl she once was, when newly married, would never have considered running away. She was too innocent, and she was brainwashed to believe that she had no rights. Now, she is willing to go against both law and custom in order to leave Wen Fu. She is going to take her luck into her own hands as much as she can. Although Winnie believes in Fate, she also sees that one can partly determine Fate by one’s actions. Fate offers chances; humans can make choices.
Chapter Twenty-Two, “One Season Left,” pp. 358-363
Winnie meets Jimmy after she leaves Peanut’s apartment. She tells him of her plan to leave Wen Fu, and he agrees to help.
When Winnie returns home that night, she is happy until she remembers her father. If she leaves, Wen Fu will turn him in as a traitor. She remembers that her father is partly responsible for her own misery, for mistreating her mother and ignoring her, then arranging what he knew was a bad marriage for her. Winnie stops herself from thinking this way, however, because such thinking “only made me feel I was as evil as Wen Fu. So I emptied those feelings from my heart.” She decides that her father is old; his life is nearly over. She has suffered almost all her life, and now she has a chance at happiness, and she intends to take it.
She follows her father into his study and tells him that she is leaving Wen Fu. She looks at the painting he once ruined by throwing tea on it, to keep it from the Japanese, before he gave in to them. It was one of four, each depicting a different season, but Wen Fu sold away the others. Winnie says, “‘My life has been like that painting nobody wants, the same season, every day the same misery, no hope of changing.’”
Her father grows agitated, and she thinks he is angry. But then he gestures to the rod holding the painting in place. From it, he retrieves three gold ingots and gestures that she must have them. She thinks that maybe he does love her after all, or at least he is sorry for his part in ruining her life.
The next day, Winnie tells everyone that Old Aunt is sick, and she must go visit her. No one protests. Winnie retrieves the gold ingots that afternoon and plans to leave the following day, with Danru.
Although Winnie still makes the decision to leave her father behind, the reason for her decision shows much about her character. She has every right to be bitter about the way her life has turned out. She could easily be so bitter that she has no goodness left in her. But the fact that she does consider her father—and she feels pain over her decision to leave him—show that Winnie has kept true to herself inside, even after all she has suffered. She is still a good person, someone deserving of good luck. Like the Kitchen God’s wife, who is wronged by her husband, yet who pities him when she finds him down and out, Winnie finds pity and empathy for her father, the author of many of her own woes.
Chapter Twenty-Three, “Sincerely Yours Truly,” pp. 364-382
Winnie narrates this part of her tale while showing Pearl a photo album. At first, the pictures of her show a young, beautiful woman, a happy woman. These pictures were taken after she and Danru moved in with Jimmy, who proved to be a kind father to Danru, as well as a patient husband to Winnie, waiting until she was ready to make love rather than forcing her, as Wen Fu had.
In another picture, Winnie is happy, but also worried. She had heard that Wen Fu had another woman, who was pregnant. Winnie believed he would divorce soon. Instead, he sent thugs to tear up her lawyer’s office and the old divorce papers, the ones he had made her sign when he put a gun to her head.
In a last picture, Winnie is thin and sad. She had sent Danru to live with Hulan and Jiaguo because she was afraid Wen Fu was about to find them. Unfortunately, Danru died of a plague-like illness that swept Harbin, where Hulan lived. Auntie Du had come to deliver the bad news, while Hulan stayed behind, tending both Danru’s and Jiaguo’s graves.
There are no more pictures after that, Winnie tells Pearl, because Wen Fu finally found her and had her arrested. She is convicted of “stealing my husband’s son and letting him die, for stealing from my husband’s family, for deserting my Chinese husband to run off with an American soldier I had met during the war.” Although Winnie defends herself against Wen Fu’s lies, she no longer has the original divorce paper as proof of her divorce, so she is sentenced to two years in jail. The courtroom is full of reporters who take pictures and write down every word. But Winnie has the last laugh. True to his usual pattern, Wen Fu then tells her that he will drop charges if she apologizes and goes home with him. Winnie, in front of everyone, says she would rather go to jail.
Auntie Du visits Winnie in jail, bringing her the newspapers full of the scandal, fed by Wen Fu. She also tells Winnie that Wen Fu has caused Jimmy to lose his job at the consulate, and Jimmy has had no choice but to return to America. He sends money so Auntie Du can remain and look after Winnie, and he writes letters to Winnie.
Winnie is respected by the guards and the other prisoners, who believe her side of the story. She finds time to teach the other women to read and write, and they do her favors. She reads her letters from Jimmy aloud to them. But she also suffers from doubts. What if Jimmy grows tired of waiting for her? What if he meets another woman?
One day, her father’s wives come to tell her that he has died. Before his death, however, he seemed to have a suspiciously miraculous recovery. Suddenly, he could speak again, and he seemed to have his wits about him. When everyone in the house gathered around him, he asked where the gold was, saying he had hidden gold in the walls long ago. Wu Ma explains, “‘He was pulling a little string—pulling, pulling pulling—and Wen Fu was the cat chasing it, pouncing onto empty air!’” Wen Fu, of course, demands that he remember where the gold is, but Jiang simply says he is tired. He dies in his sleep, leaving Wen Fu to tear down the house, looking for the gold that does not exist.
Winnie then shows Pearl a telegram she sent to Jimmy, asking if she could come to America and be his wife. There is no answering telegram, Winnie says, because something happened. “This is the part I have been afraid to tell you. This is the part I always wanted to forget,” she tells Pearl.
Just when Winnie’s fairy tale seemed to be coming true, bad luck struck again. It is easy to see, now, how the old woman Winnie believes everything has a cause. Just at the time when she thought she was controlling her life, one of her decisions causes Danru’s death—or at least, this is how Winnie sees his death. She believes it is her fault, that she caused his death. And then Wen Fu causes her arrest; the chain of bad luck that was set off when she married him cannot be broken.
At the center of Winnie’s woes is the question, why is a good woman being punished so by Fate? This is the same question at the center of the Kitchen God’s wife’s story. Why does a good woman have to pay for her husband’s bad actions? Why is evil allowed to triumph over good? Why is Wen Fu, like the Kitchen God, rewarded for his evil behavior?
Again, Winnie withstands another setback. She does not fall to pieces in jail; she keeps true to herself, helping others, believing in true love with Jimmy, hoping for good luck to find her.
Chapter Twenty-Four, “Favor,” pp. 383-394
Hulan, who has remarried and has a baby on the way, comes to Shanghai. She and her new husband, Kuang An (who later changed his name to Henry Kwong), live with Auntie Du in Jimmy’s old apartment. Hulan says Kuang has connections and will get Winnie released, and sure enough, Winnie is suddenly released. She only has to sign a document saying that her incarceration was a “court error.”
Her first night home, she continually thanks Kuang for getting her released. He seems embarrassed and begs her not to mention it again. Later, Auntie Du tells her that he was ashamed because he was not powerful enough to get her out. His “connections” would not listen to him. Instead, Auntie Du went to officials and told them they should release Winnie because she was related to a high-ranking Communist official, and when the Communists took over Shanghai, he would be angry to find her jailed.
Winnie sees that Hulan, Kuang, and Auntie Du are barely scraping by. They have been hoarding Jimmy’s American money because it is dangerous to be caught with it. Winnie surprises them by revealing the ten pairs of silver chopsticks she has had hidden in her suitcase since her marriage. At last, her actions have resulted in something lucky happening.
Winnie goes to the telegraph office to send Jimmy word of her release. She is pleasantly surprised to find Wan Betty working there. She had used Winnie’s money (sent by Peanut after Winnie had left Nanking) to survive. Winnie is very happy for her.
Jimmy sends money, a complete application for her citizenship (listing her as his wife), and other papers. Winnie has to spend a lot of money and go through a lot of red tape to get a visa, since everyone is in a panic because of the impending Communist takeover. She buys three plane tickets for herself, to be safe. Hulan chooses to remain in China with her husband and Auntie Du.
Winnie wants to leave Chine completely free of Wen Fu. She wants an official divorce. She has Wan Betty send an urgent telegram to Wen Fu, saying a valuable package has arrived and it requires two signatures. When he arrives, Wan Betty asks him if he is the same Wen Fu she knew in Nanking, the one married to Jiang Weili. He says that he divorced that woman. He then says the woman with him is his legal wife. Winnie, Hulan, and Auntie Du then jump out and surprise him. He has no choice but to sign the official divorce paper in front of the witnesses who heard him claim Winnie is not his wife. But he does so with an evil smile.
Wen Fu watches the apartment, and when Winnie is alone, he bursts in with a gun. He tears up the divorce paper, then finds the visa and tickets. He holds a gun to her head and says she must beg to remain his wife. Winnie has no choice but to beg him. He rapes her, and then he puts her tickets in his pocket. When he goes to the bathroom, she sees his gun lying on the table and threatens to shoot him. She is holding the gun when Hulan comes home. Winnie pulls the trigger, but misses. Wen Fu sees that she is serious. She tells him to take off his pants, and she has Hulan get the tickets, then toss the pants out the window. Wen Fu leaves, cursing, to seek his pants.
The next morning, Winnie leaves for America. Six days later, the Communists take over Shanghai, and no one can leave.
Winnie is reunited with Jimmy, who still loves her, but who has also changed. He has become Christian. Winnie has nightmares about Wen Fu finding her, and Jimmy comforts her, telling her Wen Fu will never find her again.
Nine months after she arrives, Winnie gives birth to Pearl. She had never told Jimmy about Wen Fu raping her before she left.
The end of Winnie’s story explains much about who she is—and how she became that way. Her obsession with money and bargains, the way she acts with Helen, the way she felt about Auntie Du—all of these quirks resulted from the hardships and trials she endured. Even her relationship with Pearl is partially explained by her past. Has she always been hard on Pearl because she believed Pearl was actually Wen Fu’s daughter? This bombshell revelation puts many aspects of her relationship with Pearl in a new light.
Chapter Twenty-Five, “Bao-Bao’s Wedding,” pp. 397-410
Pearl returns as narrator in Chapter Twenty-Five. She is shocked by Winnie’s revelation that she might be Wen Fu’s child, not Jimmy Louie’s. Winnie confesses that she has always looked warily for any trace of Wen Fu in her daughter. She thought she might have detected his temper in Pearl, especially when Pearl refused to cry at Jimmy’s funeral, but then she decided that Pearl’s temper was all her own. She realized that Pearl’s inability to cry had to do with love for Jimmy and anger over his death.
Pearl and Winnie begin to laugh, recalling another of Pearl’s temper tantrums. Pearl jokes that they should blame everything like that on Wen Fu. She thinks, “I was giddy. Here my mother had told me the tragedy of her life. Here I had just been told that Wen Fu might well be the other half of my genetic makeup. Yet we were laughing.”
Pearl knows, then, that the moment is right for her to tell Winnie about her disease. She begins, “Maybe we have something else we can blame on that bad man.” Winnie is, of course, terribly upset. She makes a big fuss, just as Pearl feared she would, but somehow, Pearl does not mind. She feels that Winnie is absorbing her daughter’s hurt and giving her hope.
At Bao Bao’s wedding, Pearl again finds herself alone with Auntie Helen, whom she now knows is not her real aunt. Helen says she must tell Pearl a secret: she only made the story that she was dying after discovering she had a benign tumor. She made it up, she claims, so Winnie and Pearl would tell one another their terrible secrets. She had been trying to find a way to thank Winnie for being a good friend all those years ago, and she decided to bring Winnie and Pearl together as a way of thanking Winnie. Winnie, however, does not know that Helen’s brain tumor is not real. She and Helen have planned a trip to China, supposedly to find a cure for the tumor, but they both know that the real reason they go is to find a cure for Pearl.
After the wedding, Pearl listens as Winnie and Helen clean up the mess, arguing over their memory of the magic spring near Hangchow. Pearl understands now that their arguing is actually their way of remembering together.
Chapter Twenty-Six, “Sorrowfree,” pp. 411-415
Winnie is again narrator. She tells about dining with Helen and learning that Helen has, all along, known that Wen Fu raped Winnie and that Pearl might be his child. She claims she has always downplayed Wen Fu’s bad character because she did not want Winnie to blame Pearlfor being his daughter and being bad, too.
After they eat, the two women go to Sam Fook Trading Company to buy a new god for Pearl’s altar, now that the Kitchen God has been taken out. Winnie thinks about what she did after Pearl told her about her disease; she burned the picture of the Kitchen God and told him to go to Hell with Wen Fu.
Now she wants a goddess for the altar, a special goddess, not one of the run-of-the-mill goddesses. When the saleslady brings out a statue of a goddess that was mistakenly given no name at the factory, Winnie snatches it up. She repaints it and gives it to Pearl, who cries when Winnie tells her that the goddess will listen to all her sorrows and give her hope. The goddess’s name, she says, is “Lady Sorrowfree.”
Analysis, chapters 25-26
Both Pearl’s and Winnie’s stories have come full circle. Many of the questions introduced at the beginning of the novel are now answered. Pearl understands now why her mother was strict with her, always watching for bad behavior. She now knows why her mother slapped her at Jimmy’s funeral. And she understands, too, that her mother—for all her quirks—is a remarkable, brave woman. Her bravery offers hope to Pearl.
All along, Winnie’s story has paralleled that of the Kitchen God’s wife. It has been the story of a woman struck with bad fortune, even though she did not deserve such a fortune. It has been the story of a woman who learns that she can control her fate, if she is strong enough. She can put her sorrows behind her and keep going forward. That she names the new goddess “Lady Sorrowfree” signifies that she identifies with this new manifestation of the Kitchen God’s wife. Like Winnie herself, the goddess is no longer someone’s wife (Wen Fu’s wife or the Kitchen God’s wife), but she is her own self, a woman made wise by sorrow but not defeated by it.