Explain the role of the first wife in Golden Child.

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In the play Golden Child, the lead character, Eng Tieng Bin, returns to China after being abroad. He has converted to Christianity, which means he must divorce two of his three wives to conform to Christianity's demand for monogamy. His First Wife, Eng Siu-Yong, is the cynical, sardonic one; his Second Wife, Eng Luan, is the schemer; and his Third Wife, Eng Eling, the youngest, is the beauty. She is Bin's beloved in this work. As the first wife, Eng Siu Yong is by tradition the most important wife and the mistress of the household. She has power over the other wives. For example, in one scene she threatens, if not seriously, to demote the second wife to the status of "concubine." The First Wife plays the role of practical realist in the play and upholds the traditional, if cynical, Chinese outlook. For instance, when the Second Wife complains that the Bin constantly goes to the bed of the youngest wife, the First Wife tells her:

Husbands always go to the bed of the youngest wife. That's what they're for. To save the rest of us all the mess and fuss.

She also tells the Second Wife that she "never complained" when the Second Wife first came into the household and Bin always went to bed with her. "Why can't you do the same?" the First Wife asks her.

The pragmatic First Wife also takes the long view—and a jaundiced view—of her husband's religious conversion, saying of "foreigners" and their ideas:

We always change them more than they change us. It won't be any different this time.

She shows her hardheaded worldview again when the Second Wife tells her that smoking opium makes her weaker. The First Wife says it makes her stronger:

It takes away the only thing that stands in the way of a woman's power—our feelings.

 

Read the study guide:
Golden Child

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