Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Kitchen God’s Wife is structured around two interrelated dichotomies: between China and the United States and between mother and daughter. At first, it would seem that China has little to offer Weili and other immigrant women except nostalgic memories of its food and landscapes. As wives in prerevolutionary China, women have little voice in running their families; if they have made bad marriages, they must put up with husbands who may be sadistic or uninterested. Divorce initiated by a woman is unthinkable. Women are often forced into bad marriages, because as daughters they have limited say in whom they will marry and little chance to get to know their prospective partners. Moreover, people in wartime China have to put up with extreme political instability. As the story unfolds, for example, Weili and her husband must keep relocating as Japanese troops keep occupying new parts of the country.

Life in the United States, where women have more equality with men and political conditions are generally calm, seems like paradise compared to existence in China. Yet there is a definite critical undertone to Tan’s discussion of the American environment.

Pearl is something of an epitome of American life, with her petty trials and triumphs, her bickering with her husband and children, and her mostly picayune concerns. Yet she seems to be living on a small scale. Her mother’s life journey of catastrophe, heartache, violence, and passion...

(The entire section is 582 words.)


(Novels for Students)

A central element in Eastern culture is duty, and Winnie exhibits this sense of responsibility throughout her life. When...

(The entire section is 998 words.)