Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1000
Lindo’s helper in Peking: never named, she gives Lindo advice about coming to America
Lindo’s helper in San Francisco: never named, she helps Lindo get an apartment and job
Lindo narrates this story, set in the present. Waverly has second thoughts about going to China on her honeymoon with Rich. Lindo assures her that everyone in China will know she is not Chinese by the look on her face.
Lindo wanted her children to have “the best combination: American circumstances and Chinese character.” She did not realize that the two don’t mix. She was able to teach Waverly the American part about opportunity but not the Chinese part about personal integrity.
Lindo and Waverly are at Mr. Rory’s, having Lindo’s hair styled. When Mr. Rory mentions that Lindo and Waverly look alike, Lindo tells Waverly a person can see someone’s character and future in their facial features.
Lindo recalls coming to America. She had paid a woman to advise her on how to deal with American immigration officials and how to complete paperwork. The woman had also given her the address of someone in San Francisco’s Chinatown who would help her after she arrived. The woman in Chinatown charged Lindo $3.00 for a hastily jotted list of addresses. Lindo used the list to find an apartment and a job in a fortune cookie factory, where she made a friend, An-mei Hsu.
An-mei introduced Lindo to Tin Jong. At first Lindo objected to An-mei’s introducing her to someone from a different region of China, but An-mei pointed out that, in America, “everybody is now from the same village even if they come from different parts of China.” Because Lindo and Tin spoke different dialects of Chinese, they couldn’t really speak to each other. They attended English class together, and sometimes wrote in Chinese. Lindo was sure Tin really liked her, though, because he would act out what he was trying to say. Lindo used a carefully planted fortune cookie to let Tin know she wanted to marry him. Nine months after their marriage their first child, Winston, was born.
When Waverly was born, Lindo started thinking about things differently. She wanted everything to be better for her daughter. She named her after the street they lived on because she wanted Waverly to know she belonged somewhere. She also realized that one day her daughter would move away “and take a piece of me with [her].”
The story returns to the present, as Mr. Rory puts the finishing touches on Lindo’s hair. Lindo compares her reflection to her daughter’s and notices Waverly’s nose is crooked. Waverly says it has always been this way, just like Lindo’s; and she likes it. It makes them both look devious.
Lindo remembers that when she returned to China last year, everyone could tell she was a foreigner. She wonders what she has lost and gained, and decides she will ask Waverly’s opinion.
The title “Double Face” returns the reader to the motif of yin and yang, which dominates the novel. In this story, however, more attention is placed on the search for balance between the two. The title works on several levels, suggesting the duality of Lindo and Waverly, of American circumstances and Chinese character, of Lindo’s “American face,” which hides her thoughts, and her “Chinese face,” which is sincere, and even the duality of a straight nose and a crooked one.
One of the important images in this story is the reflection in the hairdresser’s mirror. Waverly is a reflection of Lindo, and Lindo is proud of her. Lindo, on the other hand, will reflect on Waverly at the wedding; and Waverly is not proud of her. Lindo is disappointed. Reflection also serves as a metaphor as Lindo thinks about the events of her life before Waverly’s birth.
When Mr. Rory remarks on how much the two women look alike, Lindo is pleased, but Waverly is not. The reader will recall that young women often resist identifying with their mothers from the discussion in “Best Quality.” Waverly certainly fits that pattern. She refers to Lindo in the third person while she is present, for example, and asks her a question and then answers it herself. She does not treat her mother as she would treat anyone else she respects.
Lindo’s reflection on the day her mother told her fortune by reading her face points indirectly to Waverly, too, since the two women look so much alike. Her mother warns that a twisted nose leads to bad luck. A woman who has a crooked nose, she says, “is always following the wrong things, the wrong people, the worst luck.” Lindo’s nose is straight until the bus accident, but Waverly’s has always been crooked. She likes it, saying it makes both women look “devious,” which she defines as “looking one way, while following another….We mean what we say, but our intentions are different…we’re two-faced.” As long as she gets what she wants, Waverly is happy to be two-faced.
This is a very un-Chinese way of thinking. Lindo has to get used to it. She remembers that, on her recent trip to China, everyone knew just by looking at her face that she was a foreigner. Lindo wonders what she has lost and gained from her American circumstances. In a move that suggests that she has come to value Waverly’s opinion, she decides to ask her.
One of the strengths of this story is Lindo’s voice summarizing her life. The author grants the older generation a respect that her character Waverly does not. The daughter will have the last word only because her mother values her opinion. The stories of the mothers do not end just because the daughters are adults. Wisdom continues to develop. In this sense Tan is using a Chinese character trait, respect, to illustrate American circumstances.
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