The Kitchen Godís Wife by Amy Tan is story of discovery and acceptance of oneís past.† Pearl Louie Brandt is a middle aged, Chinese-American who is having difficulties coming to terms with her own heritage and identity.† Her mother, Winnie Louie, tells the story of her cruel past and reveals her secrets to her daughter.† Through this story, Pearl and Winnie embark together on a journey of self-discovery and come to a mutual understanding.† This story uses unconventional archetypes and gender roles to show the differences between appearance and reality and how the events of the past have a profound impact on the people of the future.
Winnie Louie is by far the most developed and three-dimensional character in the story.† She is a hero in her own right though not exactly the archetypal hero.† The story centers on her life, from her childhood to the present, and shows her trials and triumphs.† The changes in her name symbolize the developments of her character as she matures.† In the beginning of the story, she is called Ďsyinkeí by her mother and Wei Wei by Peanut and other such endearments.† She is naÔve and completely trusting in her relatives judgment.† When she marries Wen Fu, she is young and optimistic.† She thinks that she is very lucky that her father is willing to give such a generous dowry, though in reality, her siblings all received much more.† She knows nothing about Wen Fuís real nature and accepts his abuse without question.† As her life with Wen Fu becomes more cruel, Winnie becomes cynical and pessimistic.† She is both weak and strong.† At times, too weak to stand up to Wen Fuís cruelty she is always strong enough to bounce back and protect her children.† When her name changes to Winnie and then finally Winnie Louie, she again begins to regain hope for her life.† She makes attempts to escape Wen Fu and finally finds love in Jimmy Louie.† Her personality is a reflection of the hard times she has survived.
Winnie Louie is a dilemma when it comes to classifying her gender role.† To the casual observer, she is the perfect wife and mother.† She cooks and cleans, submits to her husband, and does not concern herself with world events or things outside of the household.† This is the image that the reader is presented at the beginning of the story and the person that Pearl believes is her mother.† However, one must delve deeper and know the story of her past to understand who she is underneath and how she became that way.† In Winnie, one can find a strength of character and will that is uncommon in many people.† Others would have bowed to the pressure, lost their will to live and to carry on.† Winnie fought through every situation that cropped up.† She had the determination to continue, to succeed, to live and to love.† She does not give up on herself, innately believing that there is something better for her out in the world.† Though her appearance is that of an old-fashioned superstitious woman who is forever caught in the past, reality is vastly different.
Hulan, Pearlís Aunt Helen, also defies her appearance.† At first glance, she seems foolish and petty.† It is Helen though, that brings Pearl and Winnie together to reveal their secrets.† She uses a transparent excuse and plays on their guilt so that they will clear up the mysteries and misunderstanding between them.† This shows to the reader that, though Helen can be stubborn and sneaky, she does things in the best interests of everyone involved.† She always makes the best of her situation and always has a positive outlook on life.† Helen plays the role of helper, confidant, and occasionally teacher to Winnie.† Though she is uneducated and course, her good nature and knowledge of worldly things gives her an advantage over the naÔve Winnie.† When Winnie first meets Helen, they become fast friends because Helen helps her throughout her pregnancy.† Helen and Auntie Du are always by Winnieís side, supporting her even when the going gets rough with Wen Fu.† Winnie and Helen are able to share their secrets and relieve some burdens by telling it to another.† Helen at first may not seem like much, but her appearance is a mask for her clever and practical nature.
The Kitchen Godís Wife is a story of a daughter reconciling with her mother and of two vastly different cultures assimilating in one person.† Winnieís storytelling brings the two women closer and finally allows understanding.† Pearlís longtime separation from her mother symbolizes the gap between her Chinese heritage and her new American identity.† The dilemma she grew up in with an American-born father and a traditionally Chinese mother is finally resolved through sharing.† She can see the masks that her mother and aunt wear and is able to look underneath at who they truly are.† Though Winnieís past is at times dark and cruel, the story ends happily.† The tale of Lady Sorrowfree brings joy and uplifts the soul.† Amy Tan is able to bring to life this tale of cruelty, strength, love, and above all, understanding.