The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates, Vignette Summary and Analysis
A mother tells her seven-year-old daughter not to ride her bicycle around the corner. When the daughter wants to know why, the mother says the daughter will fall and the mother will not see or hear her. When the daughter asks how her mother knows this will happen, her mother replies that it is written in The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates, as are all the bad things that can happen to children who are away from their mothers. The daughter wants to see the book, but the mother says it is written in Chinese and she will not understand it. The daughter asks what the 26 bad things are in the book, but her mother does not answer; she sits and knits. The daughter repeats the question, and still her mother does not answer. The daughter decides her mother doesn’t know what they are and, further, doesn’t know anything at all. She jumps on her bike, pedals furiously toward the corner, and falls before she gets there.
This vignette, like the first one, consists of archetypal characters. Readers should resist the temptation to identify the mother of this piece as Suyuan or Lindo, the daughter as Jing-mei or Waverly.
The young woman who brought the swan and all her good intentions to America now has the daughter she dreamed of. Her Chinese approach to motherhood insists upon obedience; however, this trait does not come easily to her American-born daughter. The mother wants to protect her daughter from harm, but the daughter takes risks finding things out for herself. The mother is quiet and calm, a typical Chinese woman; her daughter is loud and active, a typical American child. The mother wants her daughter to trust her; she says, “You must listen to me.” The daughter, though, wants to make up her own mind; she tells her mother, “You don’t know anything!” In her rebellion she discovers just the opposite.
All four stories in this section share this underlying conflict of the daughters’ desire for independence in conflict with the mothers’ guidance. We might call it, to paraphrase the title of an early 1960s sitcom, “Mother Knows Best.”