Illustration of the profiles of a young woman and an older woman facting away from each other

The Joy Luck Club

by Amy Tan

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The Red Candle Summary

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Lindo Jong begins her story with the observation “I once sacrificed my life to keep my parents’ promise.” She reflects on how daughters do not keep their own promises now, and she worries that her granddaughter will forget her.

Then Lindo turns her attention to the past. She was only two years old when the village matchmaker and a lady with a painted face came to visit. The lady was Huang Taitai, and she would be Lindo’s mother-in-law. Huang Taitai wondered if Lindo was bad-tempered, but the matchmaker assured her that the girl was as strong as a horse and would make a good match. Lindo had no choice but to marry Tyan-yu, a spoiled boy who cried easily and demanded his own way.

Lindo grew up with two mothers, and she was usually obedient to both. When she was twelve, her family’s home was flooded, and the family lost nearly everything. They moved to the city, but Lindo did not go with them. She would now live with the Huangs. Her mother told her that she was “very lucky” and must act happy.

Lindo was little more than a servant in her new home, a sprawling house that contained many generations of relatives. Lindo worked hard, and her betrothed complained constantly and tried to make her cry. Lindo learned how to do every kind of task, and she did not really think she had a terrible life. She obeyed her future mother-in-law and accepted her lot.

When Lindo was sixteen, Huang Taitai told her that the time had come for her to marry Tyan-yu. Very few people actually attended the wedding for fear of the Japanese bombing. As Lindo waited at a neighbor’s house, she cried and regretted her parents’ promise. She even thought about drowning herself in the river. But then she realized that she was strong and pure and could think for herself. She would be the person she was and never forget herself no matter what she must do.

The matchmaker lit a two-ended candle at the marriage ceremony. It was to stay lit all night. Then the marriage would be permanent, and Lindo would never be able to marry another. Tyan-yu made Lindo sleep on the sofa, and in the night, Lindo went for a walk. She saw the servant who was supposed to be minding the candle leave her post. Both ends of the candle were burning, but Lindo blew out her husband’s end.

Lindo came to love Tyan-yu, but only as a sister. They never consummated their marriage. Huang Taitai became upset when she received no grandchildren, and she tightened her control over Lindo’s life. Lindo decided that she would get out of the marriage, and she claimed to have a dream in which the ancestors were displeased with the marriage and threatened Tyan-yu with death. She claimed that the ancestors had told her that a servant girl was of imperial blood and was pregnant with Tyan-yu’s child. Lindo’s plan worked, and she escaped her situation.

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