The Kitchen God's Wife Study Guide (Choose to Continue)


The Kitchen God's Wife: Top Ten Quotes

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  1. “I was born with good luck. But over the years, my luck—just like my prettiness—dried out, then carved lines on my face so I would not forget.“I cannot explain exactly how this happened, these changes in my life. If I try to say what happened, my story would not flow forward like a river from the beginning to the end, everything connected, the lake to the sea. If my life had been that way, one thing leading to another, then I could look back and I would know the lessons of my life: the fate that was given me, the choices that I took, the mistakes that are mine. And perhaps I would still have time to change my luck.”p. 62 Winnie contemplates her life and why it turned out as it did. She seems to believe that fate plays a large role in determining one’s life, and even though people are free to make choices and mistakes that influence their lives, those choices are often made blindly. One cannot know if he or she is changing one’s fate, or simply going along a predetermined course. Luck seems to occur when someone makes a good choice; bad luck seems to occur when someone makes a bad choice. If one can know his or her fate, then one can make the right choices and become “lucky.” Luck, then, determines one’s happiness within the confines of one’s fate.
  2. “And how can you say luck and chance are the same thing? Chance is the first step you take, luck is what comes afterward. Your kind of chance makes no sense, it is only an excuse not to blame yourself. If you don’t take a chance, someone else will give you his luck. And if you get bad luck, then you need to take another chance to turn things from bad to good.”p. 123Winnie explains to Pearl that in her system of belief, chance is the opportunity to make a choice. Even when one knows what fate might be coming, as Winnie did when the fortune teller predicted she would be unhappy, one can make choices that might prevent that fate. If Winnie had insisted that Peanut give her money to pay the fortune teller to change that fortune, she might have avoided her bad marriage. But she did not make that choice; she let Peanut lead her away. And what came after that was bad luck. Luck is the result of choices people make
  3. “You can see how none of us was thinking that this small bit of luck—of arriving at just the right time—would soon pass, and perhaps something less kind would take its place.“All that beauty was almost enough even for me. I would often walk around the lake by myself, and I would not be thinking about my past unhappiness, or my future life with my husband. I was only watching the birds who floated about the lake, then landed so lightly on the water that no ripples appeared. Just that moment. Or I would be admiring the web a spider had woven on a bush, perfectly formed and sparkling with pearls of dew. And I was wondering if I could later knit a sweater in that same design, using only this memory as a pattern.
  4. “But then the birds would suddenly call to one another, and they sounded just like a woman crying. Or the spider would fell my breath and clench its body small and tight before scurrying away. And I would be thinking about my fears, the questions I already had in my marriage.”p. 167Winnie is describing the early days of her marriage to Wen Fu, when they were sent to the monastery in Hangchow. Although she speaks of her own optimism and her own doubts about her marriage, she also speaks of something larger. World War II seems to loom, ready to pounce on this idyllic place and the unsuspecting people there. Even nature seems aware of this coming menace brought on by humans. 
  5. “But then I also think, When Jesus was born, he was already the son of God. I was the daughter of someone who ran away, a big disgrace. And when Jesus suffered, everyone worshipped him. Nobody worshipped me for living with Wen Fu. I was like that wife of Kitchen God. Nobody worshipped her either. He got all the excuses. He got all the credit. She was forgotten.”p. 255Winnie’s marriage to Wen Fu has deteriorated. He beats her, verbally abuses her, and is unfaithful to her—yet no one does anything to stop him, not even her close friend Hulan. By mentioning Jesus, Winnie is pointing out a double standard in which women are expected to suffer without reward—that is just their lot in life—while men are rewarded and revered for their suffering. Whether a good man like Christ, or a bad man like Wen Fu (or the Kitchen God), the system favors men.
  6. "It was like this: For the rest of the war, I lived a life without hope. But without hope, I no longer despaired. I no longer fought against my marriage. Yet I did not accept it either. That was my life, everything always in between—without hope, yet without despair; without resistance, but without acceptance. So you see, weak and strong.”p. 313 Winnie wants Pearl to see that, sometimes, survival is a matter of simply existing, of balancing weakness and strength so that one is perfectly still. Although her life was terrible and she had lost hope, Winnie preserved herself by retreating into numbness. She wants Pearl, who comes from such a different world, to understand why she had to exist this way in order to stay alive.
  7. “. . . I was forgiving him with my heart, feeling the same sorrow as when you believe you truly have no choice. Because if I blamed my father, then I would have to blame my mother for what she did as well, for leaving me so she could find her own life. And later I would have to blame myself, for all the choices I made, so I could do the same.”p. 327 Winnie has just found out that her father was a traitor, cooperating with the Japanese. She cannot hate him, however, because she has seen what fear and the will to survive have done to her. She cannot blame her mother, either, for saving herself. Pain and sorrow have taught Winnie that people do whatever they must to survive, and sometimes their choices are cowardly. She herself has—and will—make choices that she is not proud of in order to preserve herself against misery and unhappiness.
  8. “All eyes were watching me, to see what I would say. I think they were waiting for me to fall to my knees and beg for forgiveness. I think even Jimmy and Auntie Du were hoping this. But I had so much hate in my heart I had no room for their hopes. I was blind to everything except Wen Fu’s smiling face, waiting for my answer. And I could imagine how he would laugh at me, how he would later force his way into my bed, how he would make me miserable every day until my mind was completely broken.”p. 374 At Winnie’s trial, Wen Fu offers to forgive his wife and take her back, thus saving her from jail. This is a pivotal moment in Winnie’s emotional life. Will she give up Jimmy and the love that has given her hope because she fears Wen Fu? Will she go along with society’s judgment of her and admit she is a “bad” woman because she dared to reach out for love and kindness instead of sacrificing herself to keep an undeserving man happy? Will she be like her father, giving up her honor in order to survive? At this moment, Winnie takes a stand against Wen Fu and the paternalistic culture he represents. She has become strong.
  9. “I was going to protest, to tell her she was working herself up into a frenzy for nothing. But all of a sudden I realized: I didn’t want her to stop. I was relieved in a strange way. Or perhaps relief was not the feeling. Because the pain was still there. She was tearing it away—my protective shell, my anger, my deepest fears, my despair. She was putting all this into her own heart, so that I could finally see what was left. Hope.”
    p. 402Pearl has told Winnie about her disease. But she is at last allowing Winnie to act like a mother. Now that she knows Winnie’s harrowing story, she sees her mother not as an overprotective, interfering Chinese woman, but as a woman with wisdom and depth—a woman who knows the power of hope. Interestingly, Pearl describes her mother much like a Christ-figure, someone who takes on the pain of others in order to give them hope. Winnie’s story has taught her that women have a god-like capacity for love and forgiveness, even in a world that refuses to acknowledge them as valuable.
  10. “I watch them continue to argue, although perhaps it is not arguing. They are remembering together, dreaming together. They can already see it, the walk up the mountain, that time they were so young, when they believed their lives lay ahead of them and all good things were still possible. And the water is just as they imagined, heavy as gold, sweet as rare flower seeds.
    “I can taste it too. I can feel it. Only a little amount and it is enough to remember—all the things you thought you had forgotten but were never forgotten, all the hopes that can still be found.”p. 410 Pearl watches Winnie and Hulan together and realizes that they are not silly old women but wise women. Pearl has a new understanding of that generation of women, of what they experienced and of what they can offer younger women: hope. Their story is evidence that one can survive pain and despair, and that Pearl can deal with her disease.
    10-“But sometimes, when you are afraid, you can talk to her. She will listen. She will wash away everything sad with her tears. She will use her stick to chase away everything bad. See her name: Lady Sorrowfree, happiness winning over bitterness, no regrets in this world.
    “Now, help me light three sticks of incense. The smoke will take our wishes to heaven. Of course, it’s only superstition, just for fun. But see how fast the smoke rises—oh, even faster when we laugh, lifting our hopes, higher and higher.”p. 415Winnie has given Pearl a new goddess for the alter that Auntie Du left to her. This goddess is not the Kitchen God’s wife, a good woman who received no reward for her sacrifices. This goddess is not Christ, either, a male figure of love and forgiveness and hope. Lady Sorrowfree is a woman with a woman’s power. She is a beautiful blend of ancient tradition and modern beliefs, a blend of everything that has made Winnie a strong woman, a survivor. She stands for generations of women survivors. Lady Sorrowfree also stands for the healing that has taken place between Winnie and Pearl. They have overcome their generational distances and found common ground as women.


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