The Kitchen God's Wife: Novel Summary:chp 6-10
Chapter Seven, “Dowry Counting,” pp. 131-151
Winnie continues to carry the lovers’ letters and to keep watch when the secretly meet, although she does not approve of Peanut’s carelessness. Eventually, she refuses to be their go-between, because she knows that the aunts will punish her, not Peanut, if they find out about the affair. Wen Fu instead enlists a matchmaker, Auntie Miao to help his cause. Auntie Miao, however, harbors a grudge against Wen Fu’s family, and she thus tells the aunts that Wen Fu is not rich enough for Peanut. Meanwhile, she tells Wen Fu that Winnie comes from an even richer family—which is true; her father is richer than her uncle. Suddenly, Winnie finds that a marriage has been arranged for herself and Wen Fu, because Winnie is older than Peanut and must marry first. Winnie is bewildered at what she thinks is her good luck. The aunts praise Wen Fu and his family to her. She believes her aunts have arranged a good marriage for her after all, like a good mother would. She admits that in her happiness she did not consider that perhaps the aunts were simply finding a way to keep their precious Peanut from making a marriage to an unsuitable man. They did not care that Winnie might marry such a man.
The aunts take Winnie to Shanghai to see her father and get his permission. Her father is polite to her, even letting her play hostess to her own aunts, as if she had always lived in his house. He says he has already looked into Wen Fu’s family, and if this is what Winnie wants, then he will approve the marriage. Her father and the aunts then talk about the dowries, what Wen Fu’s family will contribute, what Winnie’s father is expected to pay. Winnie is amazed at the amount of money.
The aunts leave, and Winnie is invited to talk with her father in his study. He shows her a painting that she, as a child, said was a bad painting, because she could not tell if the woman in it was waiting on a balcony with fear or hope. He says that he liked the way she spoke her mind as a child, but now, her opinions must be second to her husband’s.
Winnie spends the week in her father’s house, shopping for her dowry with one of her father’s wives, San Ma, who has already married off her three daughters and knows about dowries. Under San Ma’s encouragement, Winnie chooses furniture and practical household goods and dishes and silverware, including a set of silver chopsticks. Winnie is overwhelmed at her luck—that she is marrying and choosing such beautiful things. She dreams of using them to make her husband happy.
“I found out later,” Winnie tells Pearl, “San Ma had bought a dowry five times bigger and better for Sz Ma’s daughters. I found out: My father knew all along the Wen family character was not so good. So by allowing me to marry into the family, he was saying I was not so good either.”
Winnie’s story seems like a fairy tale at first: neglected but beautiful girl meets handsome prince and lives happily ever after. She is young enough and ignorant enough to believe it. Yet the sins of her mother direct her luck otherwise. Winnie, because of her mother’s actions, has no value in her family’s eyes. Her story is not a fairy tale, but a cautionary tale about how what happens when a woman dares to take charge of her own life and disobey her husband in Chinese culture. Winnie must pay for her mother’s sins.
It is important to note, also, the emphasis on money surrounding marriage in Winnie’s culture. A woman comes with a price tag; if the price tag is too low, then she must see herself as having no value. This lesson will stick with Winnie into her old age. Pearl does not understand her mother’s obsession with money and bargains, but perhaps her obsession has its roots in her past, where Winnie discovered that being considered a “bad value” was tantamount to being worthless as a person.
Chapter Eight, “Too Much Yin,” pp. 152-163
Winnie prepares for her wedding day. Peanut, who has forgiven Winnie for marrying Wen Fu because the fortune teller predicted she would marry someone even richer, tries to help Winnie, but her efforts only make Winnie more nervous. First, Peanut criticizes Winnie’s traditional Chinese wedding gown, telling her she must have a Western, white gown or her father’s fancy friends will laugh at her. Second, Peanut tells her that the elders look down on Wen Fu’s family because they make money in disreputable ways, mostly by passing off worthless items as antiques to foreigners. Worse, they take advantage of poor, desperate people by buying their precious ancestor portraits for pennies, then selling them to foreigners at great prices. Last, Peanut tells Winnie a “sex story” she overheard the men gathered on the porch telling. Neither girl has a realistic understanding of sex, so the story of a newlywed couple getting “stuck together” during intercourse horrifies both of them. Worse, Peanut tells her that the groom died from the encounter, because the woman had too much “yin,” too much strength, and drained all her husband’s “yang” or life-giving force (semen).
On Winnie’s wedding night, she is terrified of Wen Fu, thanks to Peanut’s misinformation about sex. She tells Pearl that now, looking back, she can see that she was stupidly innocent for letting Peanut sour her marriage before it even began. “Why do people say these things?” she asks Pearl. “How does anyone know who you are supposed to believe? And why do we always believe the bad things first?”
The roots of Winnie’s present-day belief that the actions of others can alter one’s luck for good or bad are apparent in this chapter. From the fortune teller’s sending Wen Fu to her, instead of to Peanut, to the worries Peanut maliciously plants in Winnie’s head, Winnie’s marriage was doomed from the start. At least, this is what she believes. She also attributes her bad marriage to her youthful ignorance. If she had had a proper mother to guide her, she would never have been so innocent and unprepared. And she might have chosen a different man. Again, her mother’s sins are the origin of Winnie’s bad luck.
Chapter Nine, “Best Time of Year,” pp. 164-176
A few weeks after her marriage, Winnie moves with Wen Fu to Hangchow, where he attends pilot school. Men “from the best families” were being trained to fly by Americans, in order to protect China from the Japanese. Winnie is proud of her husband for being chosen. However, living conditions are less than ideal. The pilots and their families are housed in an old monastery in the mountains. Here, despite the beauty of a nearby lake, Winnie cannot escape the fact that she has made a mistake in marrying Wen Fu.
She describes how, in her innocence, she believed that a good wife had to sacrifice herself for her husband’s comfort. Her new mother-in-law, Old Aunt, New Aunt, even the Chinese and American romance movies she has seen—all teach that a woman shows her love through her suffering. So, Winnie believed that because she was suffering, she was growing in her love for her husband.
Winnie hesitates to tell Pearl the ways she suffered, but she decides she must do so, in order for Pearl to understand how she changed. She briefly describes how brutal and cruel Wen Fu was during intercourse. She tells about finding out that Wen Fu lied on his air force application, pretending to be his dead older brother, Wen Chen, who had graduated from school with honors. Wen Fu had not had the grades to get into the air force.
Winnie tells how she met Helen at this time. Helen, whose real name is “Hulan,” was married to Wen Fu’s boss, Long Jiaguo. This marriage puzzles Winnie, because Hulan clearly comes from a low-born village family and is hardly a suitable wife for a man with rank. Despite their different backgrounds, Winnie and Hulan become friends and take walks together. One day, they search for a magic spring Hulan heard about, and when they find the spring, Winnie recognizes that it is not anything special, but Hulan convinces herself it is magic. Winnie grows impatient with Hulan’s gullible, superstitious ways. “She grew a field of hope from a little seed of imagination,” Winnie tells Pearl. Winnie, unable to grow any hope, instead found herself growing a baby.
Winnie imparts important information about the status and expectations of women in China before World War II. She had been brought up to believe that her own wishes and comforts should take second place to her husband’s needs—that is the definition of a good wife. As Pearl (and readers) listens to this confession, she must begin to see how different her own life and marriage are, and how lucky she is that she did not grow up in China.
To Winnie’s credit, she tries to be a good wife to Wen Fu. But she is rewarded, instead, with abuse from him. She is in the terrible position of being dependent upon a “terrible person.” Although Winnie does not mention it, her story is much like that of the Kitchen God’s Wife. Both women tried to be good wives to men who did not value them nor deserve them.
Chapter 10, “Loyang Luck,” pp. 177-189
World War II starts, but Winnie and Hulan hardly know it because they are so isolated at the monastery. Their only news comes from gossip. During the day, they have little to do, and Winnie suffers morning sickness most of the day, but she has time to observe things around her. She observes that Hulan’s husband is strangely meek around his wife, allowing her to berate him in public. She also observes that Wen Fu is popular among the other pilots, who play cards together at night, while the women watch. She sees that they all think Wen Fu is “clever, so funny, so charming,” even when he treats others cruelly, then says he was just joking. That is his method for manipulating people: “Of course, we were confused,” Winnie explains about herself and the others, “fooled into thinking we always wanted to please him. And when we did not, we tried hard to win back his good nature, afraid we would be lost without it.”
Winnie recalls the afternoon she discovered she was pregnant. Hulan noticed her odd appetite, and asked when her last period had been. Winnie had simply been told by Old Aunt that when a woman was a good wife, she stopped bleeding; Winnie had no idea how babies were made. Therefore, she does not believe Hulan when she tells her the truth about conception and birth. Hulan says she knows this because she once knew a desperately poor girl from her village who fell in love with a pilot, who refused to marry her when she became pregnant. During an argument, he slapped her so hard that she fell and went into premature labor. Both she and the baby died. The girl, Hulan says, was her sister, and the pilot was Jiaguo. He then married Hulan to alleviate the curse her sister had put on him as she died. She thought she was marrying him to make him miserable, but instead, she found him to be a good man.
“So that’s how Hulan and I started this telling and keeping of secrets,” Winnie explains to Pearl. “I told her the first, my ignorance about my own body. And she told me how she wished for revenge, and got happiness in return.”
When Wen Fu learns about the baby, he ignores Winnie’s fears and still insists on having sex. Winnie confides this to Hulan, who has no sympathy for her. Instead, she tells Winnie to be “grateful he still wants you!” Winnie says that years later she discovered the reason Hulan was not supportive of her that day.
Then one afternoon, the pilots are called to action. Winnie and Hulan frantically pack their husbands’ things and watch as they fly off, not knowing if they would return. “Of course, the next morning we heard what really happened,” Winnie tells Pearl wryly.
Winnie’s narrative continues to stress that luck plays a huge part in one’s life, and if one is fated with bad luck, as she believes she was, then nothing can change that. She compares her bad luck to Hulan’s luck, which seems lucky indeed, to have sprung from her sister’s bad luck. That girl’s bad luck occurred in the village of Loyang. But while her luck was bad in Loyang, Hulan’s turned out to be good. This story illustrates Winnie’s belief that luck is fickle; it is not especially something that can be earned, but it is bestowed on a whim, and sometimes it is given to those who do not really deserve it.
In Chapter Two, Winnie described how the Kitchen God bestowed luck based on his whims. Her vehement reaction to the Kitchen God—and her wish to remove it from Pearl’s altar—make more sense now, in light of her past and her history of bad luck. She grew up believing that her fate was set, that she could do little herself to change her luck, other than try to be good. By the time Pearl inherits the Kitchen God and his altar, Winnie seems to have changed. But what happened to change her from a cowardly girl into a belligerent old woman?