Amy Tan’s novels serve as cultural documents that describe the immigrant experience in terms of communality and identity. They contain the customs and rituals of China that might get lost in the new country in the process of cultural assimilation.
The Kitchen God’s Wife (1991) is her second novel and presents a mother-daughter relationship complicated by secrets- the mother withholds information about the daughter’s real parentage while the daughter hides her progressive multiple sclerosis from her mother.
The novel begins in the present time when the daughter Pearl is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her mother Winnie reveals about her first marriage in China to a pilot named Wen Fu. Winnie had lost her mother when she was a child and was brought up by her uncle’s family. She discloses her sorrowful past, her unhappy marriage, the deaths of her three children, her meeting Jimmy Louie, her escape from her first marriage and her marriage to Jimmy, whom Pearl calls father.
Her bitter experiences at home after her mother’s escape make her angry towards her father. Later, when her marriage is fixed, her father asks her to spend a week with him. He asks her opinion about a painting in his study that she used to dislike. He asks her to take into consideration her husband’s opinion in the future.
During times of trouble, she is helped by Auntie Du, Jimmy Louie and Helen. She was like the Kitchen God’s wife, who got no credit for her faithfulness and loyalty to her husband. Winnie, however decides to move and discards the image of the Kitchen God’s wife from her home because she feels that now that she has divorced her husband Wen Fu, this God has no value for her.
Once the secrets are out, both women try to come to terms with what they are entrusted with. Winnie wants to take Pearl to China to find a cure for her incurable disease. She brings the altar that Auntie Du had left for Pearl and finds a new goddess for it, a goddess with no name, obviously a factory error. She names the goddess Sorrowfree.
Tan portrays the miserable life of Winnie, who leaves China in search of a new life. She shows the patriarchal Chinese society that values boys over girls does nothing when a man hits his wife in public. There is no one to stand up for the woman as it is considered to be her fate. Tan also critiques the generation gap that comes out of the prejudices that the old and the young feel toward each other. In the novel, the mother-daughter relationship becomes warm only when all secrets are let out and the prejudices overcome.
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