Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary
Baba loves to insult Pearl and tonight he comments on the ruddiness of her cheeks. Years of being rubbed with pearl creams have not kept Pearl’s face from looking like a peasant's. Baba loathes his daughter for being taller than him and he does not miss an opportunity to remind her that, as Confucius says, she may be educated but she is still worthless. The family of four sits around a square table, and because the hired help is not present to fan them, the air is sweltering. Mama begins her daily criticisms, and as she berates the basket repairer for having charged her too much that afternoon, Pearl thinks about how lucky her mother really is. Mama wed Baba through an arranged marriage that has seemingly worked out for the best, and Mama spends her days reading Buddhist sutras and playing mah-jongg with friends. Baba interrupts her complaints by saying that he needs to talk to Pearl and her younger sister May after dinner. May with her charming ways distracts Baba and asks him and Mama whether they are curious about what she did that day. May prattles off her daily adventures of buying a new dress and pipes that Baba’s rickshaw business has made them wealthy enough to afford such luxuries. Meanwhile Pearl falls out of the eye of criticism and is grateful. May says that the room is too hot and that she and Pearl must leave to get ready for the evening, and although Baba pounds his fist on the table demanding that they stay to hear what he has to say, May and Pearl disappear to their bedroom.
Pearl and May are as different as two sisters can be. Mama says that this is on account of their being born different signs—Pearl the stubborn dragon, and May the complacent sheep. Pearl has learned several dialects and languages while May only knows two. But May shines in her parents’ eyes, and Pearl knows that May is the favorite child.
In their bedroom, May slips out of her dress, and Pearl...
(The entire section is 613 words.)