(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Like Pearl in The Kitchen God’s Wife, author Amy Tan spent years in cultural conflict with her mother. She decided to learn more about China by visiting there with her mother Daisy in 1987, and she met the two half sisters whom her mother was forced to leave behind when she chose to divorce her husband and leave China. Inspired by the insights she experienced listening to her mother’s history, Tan expressed some of them in the vignettes that constitute The Joy Luck Club and then decided to write one unified story, The Kitchen God’s Wife.

In The Kitchen God’s Wife, there is a striking contrast between the educated, sophisticated but harassed voice of daughter Pearl in the opening and concluding chapters of the novel and the strident voice of her mother. Pearl’s annoyed, long-suffering tone dominates from the opening sentence, where she says, “Whenever my mother talks to me, she begins the conversation as if we were already in the middle of an argument.” The stress of being split between loyalty to her Chinese mother and loyalty to her American husband is evident in her efforts to find compromises. What is amazing is that the reader who is initially sympathetic to Pearl’s forebearing, educated tone succumbs so quickly to the appeal of Winnie’s linguistically halting narrative.

When the mother’s voice begins her narrative, her domineering tone shifts to that of a wounded, lonely, naïve person. It contains a sense of wonder as Winnie recalls her ongoing efforts to please her self-centered husband and later becomes poignant when Winnie realizes that one of the soldiers, Gan, actually believes that she is worth his attention and admiration. Frequently, Winnie returns to the fatalistic tone and view of life that she identifies with females—specifically, her mother and herself—and with Chinese culture. Most...

(The entire section is 771 words.)