The Red Candle Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1184

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Lindo’s mother: never named

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Huang Taitai: Lindo’s mother-in-law, mother of Tyan-yu

Tyan-yu: Lindo’s first husband

The village matchmaker: she arranges both the match and later, the wedding, between Lindo and Tyan-yu

The matchmaker’s servant: her mistake gives Lindo a chance to escape her marriage honorably

Another servant girl: she works for Huang Taitai and is kind to Lindo. When she becomes pregnant, Lindo helps her

Summary
Lindo Jong speaks to her daughter, Waverly, about the importance of keeping promises, comparing them to 24-carat gold. Then she talks about the promise her family made when they arranged the marriage between Lindo and Tyan-yu.

When she is 12, flooding destroys her family’s farm, forcing them to move away. Lindo moves in with the Huangs, where she is treated like a servant. Determined that Huang Taitai will not be able to say anything against her family, she makes the best of circumstances. For the next four years Tyan-yu goes out of his way to treat her badly, and Huang Taitai makes sure she is thoroughly trained in household chores. When Huang Taitai announces that she is ready to become a grandmother, preparations begin for the wedding.

Just before the ceremony, Lindo cries about being forced into this marriage. Then she notices the wind. She says, “I realized it was the first time I could see the power of the wind.” She looks into the mirror and realizes that she is like the wind—strong, pure, and able to think for herself. She promises herself she will respect her parents’ wishes but she will also never forget herself.

During the ceremony a red candle is lit at both ends and placed in a special holder. The matchmaker’s servant is to make sure neither end goes out. According to Chinese tradition, when the two ends burn together and flicker out, the husband and wife are joined in spirit forever.

After the wedding banquet the couple is escorted to their bedroom. Tyan-yu tells Lindo to sleep on the sofa. After he is asleep, Lindo walks into the courtyard. Through a window she sees the matchmaker’s servant sleepily tending the candle. A sudden crack of thunder frightens the servant, and she runs out. Lindo impulsively runs in and blows out her husband’s end of the candle. Then she returns to her room.

The next day, the matchmaker announces that the candle had burned from both ends. Lindo notices that her servant seems “shame-faced” and “mournful.”

Lindo is a model wife in front of Huang Taitai, but every night she sleeps on the sofa. One morning Huang Taitai slaps her and says she will not feed or clothe Lindo if she refuses to sleep with her son. Lindo understands that Tyan-yu has lied to his mother about why Lindo is not pregnant, and she begins to sleep in the same bed with him. She develops a protective, sisterly feeling toward him.

A few months later Huang Taitai again becomes angry that Lindo is not pregnant and insists that Lindo remain in bed until she is. A servant apologetically serves her a bad-tasting medicine every day. When Lindo still does not become pregnant, the matchmaker is summoned. She announces that Lindo has too much metal, that she is out of balance and cannot conceive. Huang Taitai happily reclaims the jewelry she gave to Lindo as wedding gifts; Lindo begins to plan her escape from this marriage.

Early in the morning on the day of the Festival of Pure Brightness, she cries out, claiming to have a bad dream. She tells everyone the ancestors are angry. They know that the marriage candle did not burn all the way through, as the matchmaker claimed; and they will begin the cycle of destruction if this marriage is not ended. Lindo also says that they have given three signs. First, a mole on Tyan-yu’s back will grow and kill him. Second, Lindo’s teeth will fall out one at a time. Third, one of the ancestors has impregnated a servant who is Tyan-yu’s true spiritual wife.

Huang Taitai finds the mole on Tyan-yu’s back and a tooth Lindo had lost four years earlier. Eventually she finds the pregnant servant and learns the truth about the wedding candle from the matchmaker’s servant. She releases Lindo from her marriage honorably.

The story ends in the present. Lindo tells Waverly, “I know what I’m worth,” as she describes buying 24-carat gold bracelets every few years. She still observes the Festival of Pure Brightness, however, by removing all her jewelry and remembering the promise she made not to forget herself.

Analysis
At the end of “The Joy Luck Club” Jing-mei says that she doesn’t know what to tell her half sisters about their mother. Lindo says, “Tell them stories of your family here. How she became success.” This story reveals that Lindo knows the meaning of success.

The Huang house serves as a metaphor for the family. Its placement high on a hillside represents their social status. When Lindo says, “they looked down on us,” she speaks both literally and figuratively. The river rocks of the house’s first level suggest humble origins. Each succeeding level grows more ostentatious until “someone, probably Huang Taitai” adds imperial pretensions. Inside, only the room guests see is lavished with “the look of wealth and old prestige”; the rest of the house is “crowded” and “uncomfortable.” Lindo also says the house has “a confused look” to it, a parallel to the confusion she will later manipulate as she convinces Huang Taitai to find another wife for Tyan-yu. This family is only concerned with appearances, foreshadowing their treatment of Lindo and providing her with an essential element of her escape. Their facade is no match for her integrity.

Lindo rescues the pregnant servant from tragedy by claiming she is Tyan-yu’s true wife. Pregnancy without marriage was very serious in China; it caused a “loss of face,” public embarrassment, not only to the woman and her family, but also to the entire village. History records acts of violence by the village against an unwed mother and her family that could easily result in death. Lindo is apparently the only one who has noticed the servant’s condition so far.

She adds a nice touch when she announces that the servant is really of imperial blood. That claim will appeal to Huang Taitai, who will gain status by including her in the family. The servant is astute enough to go along with it; Lindo relates ironically, “they forced her to tell the truth about her imperial ancestry.” The servant also cherishes her good fortune. Lindo says she orders the servants to sweep the graves of the ancestors, demonstrating shou, once a day instead of the traditional once a year.

Lindo is able to protect Tyan-yu, whom she has come to think of fondly; provide Huang Taitai with a grandson; repay the servant for her kindness; and keep her promises while extricating herself from this abusive situation. That constitutes success by any definition.

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