Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
In its simplest terms, Waiting is the story of a love triangle. The Prologue, set in 1983, introduces the major characters and outlines their dilemma. Lin Kong, a military doctor stationed in Muji, is attempting to divorce Shuyu, the peasant wife his parents chose for him years earlier. Shuyu maintains their home in Goose Village, a place Lin visits only twelve days each year. At the hospital in Muji, he has been courting Manna Wu, a nurse. Lin believes he would be happier with this modern, sophisticated woman than he is with his illiterate wife. Unfortunately, while the Chinese communist government permits divorce, military officers must either have the consent of their spouses or remain married for eighteen years in order to obtain an uncontested divorce. For more than a decade Lin has returned home each year to ask Shuyu for a divorce. With similar consistency, Shuyu refuses, so Lin and Manna must wait until he no longer needs his wife’s consent.
The major sections of the novel highlight Lin’s passivity in dealing with his situation. Ironically, what appears to be his stoic approach to life and his wide learning have gained him great respect among the hospital staff; his stature among his peers is what initially makes him attractive to Manna, who is older than most nurses. The two maintain their chaste relationship, however, less out of a sense of moral commitment than out of fear for the consequences that could befall them if they become sexually intimate; both know their careers would be ended if they were caught. When on one occasion Manna, less inhibited than Lin, arranges for them to spend a weekend in an apartment outside the military compound, Lin refuses, largely because he does not want to risk the security of his current position.
On his trips home, Lin becomes increasingly disaffected with the squalor of the family farm. Shuyu’s bound feet are constant reminders that she is tied to China’s feudal past, not its communist future. Though he displays...
(The entire section is 818 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Every summer for the past eighteen years, army doctor Lin Kong has returned to his house in Goose Village to try to divorce his wife, Shuyu, whom he had married by arrangement. Like years before, the separated couple travels to the court of Wujia Town to initiate the divorce, but Shuyu always changes her mind. On occasion, Shuyu’s brother, Bensheng, a greedy and simple-minded peasant, travels with the couple. In front of others, he shames his brother-in-law, Lin. He reminds him of Shuyu’s loyalty and her sacrificial care for his parents prior to their deaths. Defeated once again, Lin returns to his job at the hospital in Muji City and delivers the disappointing news to his girlfriend, Manna Wu, a nurse.
It is now 1964, and Manna enrolls at the hospital for studies in nursing. She is in her mid-twenties. During her studies, she gets romantically involved with a lieutenant from Shanghai. After a brief courtship based on camaraderie and celibacy, they two are engaged; but the affair suffers when they are separated by duty. Upon her graduation, Manna is assigned to stay at the army hospital, while her fiancé is transferred to a regiment on the Russian border. A correspondence ensues, during which Manna’s fiancé eventually breaks their engagement and marries his cousin in Shanghai. By that time, Manna is twenty-six years old, and because she is quite a plain woman, her chances of marriage are slim. In addition, the rules of conduct forbid the hospital’s doctors to date or marry their coworkers, so they seek their partners elsewhere.
In her first—and failed—relationship, Manna confides in Lin, her teacher and a married man of good reputation. At first, the two are no more than comrades, and she has helped him make dust jackets for his multiple books. One day, Manna’s feet are brutally blistered in a long-distance training march, so Lin takes care of her at a rest stop at a farmhouse. Because of his kindness, the young woman develops a crush on him. As a gift, she gives him a ticket to an opera of a patriotic theme, and on the day of the event, Lin is surprised to find Manna sitting in the seat next to his. Her affection for him becomes obvious: During the performance she touches his hand, a gesture, albeit bold and inappropriate, that inspires Lin to dream of the young woman that same night. The comrades begin spending more time together, but their friendship is strictly platonic.
As gossip at the hospital insinuates their affair, Lin is called into a meeting with Ran Su, the vice director of the political department at the hospital. Lin promises to maintain the propriety of their relationship until he can legally divorce his wife. Encouraged by her girlfriend, Haiyan Niu, Manna arranges for a place where she and Lin can be intimate. Lin rejects the idea, leaving Manna wondering about the nature of his affection for her. Lin is indeed uncertain about his love for Manna. The two go through a brief breakup, but after reconciliation, Lin seriously considers the option of divorce.
Lin and Shuyu’s marriage was never based on physical or intellectual intimacy. Still, he enjoys returning to Goose Village, where he finds comfort and peace in the old, simpler ways of living. Shuyu’s love for Lin is sacrificial. She is a simple woman, an obliging wife, a good homemaker and cook; she never nags him for money despite a very modest lifestyle that she and her daughter can afford on Lin’s allowance. However, she is a woman of the old ways. To Lin’s...
(The entire section is 1430 words.)