Amy Tan's The Kitchen God's Wife
Amy Tan's The Kitchen God's Wife is the story of a relationship between a mother and daughter that is much more than it seems. This touchingly beautiful narrative not only tells a story, but deals with many of the issues that we have discussed in Women Writers this semester. Tan addresses the issues of the inequality given women in other cultures, different cultures' expectations of women, abortion, friendship, generation gaps between mothers and daughters, mother-daughter relationships, and the strength of women in the face of adversity. Tan even sets the feminist mood with the title of the book, which refers to a woman in Chinese Mythology who cared for a selfish man who became a minor god. She pulls from her own life experiences, relatives, and emotions to write this story, a factor that probably contributes to the realness of the plot and the roundness of the characters. Tan's mother's previous marriage to an abusive man, her father's death, and her loving relationship with her relatives (specifically her mother) all show themselves in the intricately woven story of a mother named Winnie, and a daughter named Pearl, and their struggles as Chinese-American women.
Much of this story stems from Tan's love for her own mother, Daisy Ching, who gave birth to the brilliant Amy in 1952 in California. Daisy Ching, a great inspiration for this novel, has a vividly detailed recollection of her life in China which she shares with her daughter. Tan, in turn, shares some of this with her readers in The Kitchen God's Wife through the voice of the mother-figure, Winnie. Like Daisy Ching's eldest son (Amy Tan's brother), the main character, Winnie, experiences the deaths of her own children. These deaths could have been prevented by Winnie's evil husband, Wen Fu, a character also much like Daisy's own first abusive Chinese husband. Ching also made the life-altering decision to travel to America to escape the oppressive society of China. So does Winnie. Much of Winnie's story is revealed to her daughter only at the end of the novel through the intervention of Auntie Helen, but brings the mother and daughter to a higher level of understanding of each other and their respective customs. One can only imagine a similar exchange between Tan and her own mother, an experience obviously worthy of publication.
One of the most striking parts of the novel (that is also similar to previous discussions in Women Writers) deals with abortion. Winnie, after having two children, refuses to bring any more lives into the world because of her abusive husband. She feels for her first two children, Yiku and the late Danru, with such passion, that she aborts her babies rather than subject them to a tortured life with her evil and dominating husband, Wen Fu. Winnie later tells her daughter, Pearl, "I cried to myself, this is a sin - to give a baby such a bad life! . . . In my heart,...