Sui Sin Far Essay - Critical Essays

Essays and Criticism

. . . Printed four months apart in Hampton’s Magazine (January and May 1910), ‘‘Mrs. Spring Fragrance’’ and ‘‘The Inferior Woman’’ deal with many of Sui Sin Far’s central themes and develop her most obvious trickster figure. Mrs. Spring Fragrance is the main character in both stories. ‘‘Mrs. Spring Fragrance’’ presents a comic fantasy world, ruled over by the ‘‘quaint, dainty’’ Mrs. Spring Fragrance, or ‘‘Jade,’’ a young immigrant wife who, when she ‘‘first arrived in Seattle . . . was unacquainted with even one word of the American language’’; ‘‘five years later, her husband speaking of her, says: ‘There are no more American words for her learning.’’’ Unlike Chinese Americans in other Sui Sin Far stories, the Spring Fragrances live not in a Chinatown but in an integrated middle-class Seattle suburb with white neighbors on one side and Chinese on the other. Mr. Spring Fragrance, ‘‘a young curio merchant,’’ is what westerners call ‘‘Americanized,’’ and ‘‘Mrs. Spring Fragrance [is] even more so.’’ Appropriately pluralistic, Mr. Spring Fragrance, when he gets home from his commute, sits in a bamboo settee on the verandah reading the Chinese World and feeding pigeons lichis out of his pocket. At the center of their blend of ‘‘East’’ and ‘‘West’’ life-styles is a marriage that combines elements of ‘‘arranged’’ and ‘‘romantic’’: ‘‘He had fallen in love with her picture before ever he had seen her, just as she had fallen in love with his! And when the marriage veil was lifted and each saw the other for the first time in the flesh, there had been no disillusion, no lessening of respect and affection, which those who had brought about the marriage had inspired in each young heart.’’

Desiring this same goal for others, Mrs. Spring Fragrance assumes the role of arranging marriages in both stories. She thus evokes a traditional figure out of Chinese culture, the matchmaker, who traditionally worked for the parents of the bride and groom to arrange marriages in which romantic love played no part. In this instance, however, the matchmaker becomes a catalyst to the Western romantic convention by helping young, second-generation Chinese American lovers outwit their more traditional immigrant parents. In ‘‘Mrs. Spring Fragrance,’’ she conspires with the young woman Mai Gwi Far (Laura) to help her marry her ‘‘sweetheart’’ Kai Tzu, a young man whose Western ways are represented by his being ‘‘one of the finest [baseball] pitchers on the Coast’’ and his singing the British classic ‘‘Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes’’ to Mai Gwi Far/Laura’s piano accompaniment.

In the midst of Mai Gwi Far and Kai Tzu’s romance, Mrs. Spring Fragrance takes on another romance when she travels to San Francisco and introduces Ah Oi—‘‘who had the reputation of being the prettiest Chinese girl in San Francisco and, according to Chinese gossip, the naughtiest’’— to the son of a Chinese American schoolteacher and then accompanies the couple on their impromptu elopement. Ironically, the San Francisco matchmaking visit puts Mrs. Spring Fragrance’s own marriage in jeopardy, because her husband misinterprets her absence and thinks she is having an affair. In a comedy of errors, however, Mr. Spring Fragrance’s fears are allayed, and all three matches are happily resolved. When Mai Gwi Far’s father, Mr. Chin Yuen, who has been adamantly opposed to his daughter’s marriage to Kai Tzu, suddenly accepts her romantic choice with scarcely a hint of dissension, the story’s verisimilitude is strongly tested. The metaphor Mai Gwi Far’s father voices in consent to the marriage is, however, overtly thematic: ‘‘‘the old order is passing away and the new order is taking its place, even with us who are Chinese’.’’. . .

As in ‘‘Mrs. Spring Fragrance,’’ the verisimilitude of ‘‘The Inferior Woman’’ also is challenged by a too facile ending. When...

(The entire section is 1649 words.)