The Kitchen God’s Wife Presentation Outline

The Kitchen God’s Wife Presentation

Introduction

  • The Kitchen God’s Wife was published in 1992
    • Mirrors some of Tan’s own life (she being Pearl, not Winnie)
  • Amy Tan
    • Born in 1952
    • First generation Chinese-American
    • Many of her novels and literary work focuses on the mother-daughter aspect of Chinese-American experiences

Goals

  • Explore the immigrant-first generation relationship between Pearl and Winnie.
  • Social hierarchy between men in women in China. How does this hierarchy compare to that of Western culture?
  • Compare the superstitions that exist in American culture and in Chinese culture. Which superstitions do we accept, deny, or find ridiculous.

Theme 1: One’s duty to the Family and how does Pride, or Respect, contribute to this “duty”?

  • One’s duty to family
    • How does the notion of one’s duty to his/her family contribute to the complex relationships between the Kwongs and the Louies?
      • Pearl speaking: “Over the years that we’ve been married, we’ve learned to sidestep the subject of my family, my duty,” (15).
      • Winnie speak of her mother’s leaving: “What my mother did was a big disgrace. That’s why they said she died, to bury her scandal,” (100)
  • Pride/Respect
    • Is pride and the gaining of respect acceptable incentives for behaving a certain manner or achieving success?
      • Pearl speaking: “And then she reminded me that Grand Auntie was always proud of me – in our family “proud” is as close as we get to saying “love,” (17)
      • Winnie to Pearl: “’This is how you show respect.’ / I nod. Respect,” (43).
  • Importance of money
    • Why is money, again, so important to Winnie’s family? How is money shown differently here than in previous novels we have read? Is money a method of displaying importance within the family?
      • “’Tofu, how much do you pay?’ asks my mother, and I can tell she’s eager to outdo me with a better price, to tell me how I can save twenty or thirty cents at her store,”’ (21).
      • Winnie’s marriage preparations (144-151).

Theme 2: Chinese and American superstitions – along with the influence of luck

  • How does Chinese superstitions compare to that of Western superstitions?
    • Pearl: “She’s like a Chinese version of Freud, or worse. Everything has a reason. Everything could have been prevented,” (29)
    • “No, I’m not being superstitious, I am only saying that’s how it happened… Chance is the first step you take, luck is what comes afterward,” (123)
    • Ying-Yang story (159-163)
  • How does the formation of the ghost character act as a connection between the past and the present, as well as the dead and the living?
    • Gan’s ghost nightmare (204-205)
  • How much of our success and achievements can be contributed to luck?
    • The tale of the Kitchen God (53-55).
    • “Even though Helen is not smart, even though she was born poor, even though she has never been pretty, she has always had luck pour onto her plate, even spill from the mouth of a three-day-old fish,” (62).
    • The fortune teller on page 122

Theme 3: Womanhood

  • Discuss how womanhood may be described in western culture to that of Chinese culture. Similarities? Note the differences in time periods.
  • All of chapters 7-11 (131-205)
    • The pain and suffering for one’s husband (168)
    • The Ying-Yang story (159-163)
    • “In China back then, you were always responsible to somebody else…. Your family could do anything to you, no reason needed,” (132).

Theme 4: Immigrant-first generation Relationship

  • How does the language barrier between Winnie and Pearl contribute to conflicts between the two of them?
  • Should Pearl make a greater effort to learn Chinese for her mother and immigrant relatives or should she not because she was born in the United States.
  • Language Barrier/it’s usage
    • Pearl: “ Her fingers moved slowly down the red banner, as she reads in a formal Chinese I can’t understand,” (24).
    • Repetition of ying-gai: “Ying-gai was what my mother always said when she meant, I should have,” (29).
    • “Phil chuckles at my mother’s Americanized explanation of the hierarchy of Chinese deities,” (53).
  • Assimilation to American culture
    • What do immigrants lose due to their existing diaspora? What is chosen to be left behind in their home country and what is picked up in their new nation?
      • “Auntie Helen says soothingly from across the table. ‘Look, here’s some fragrant beef, ah? Yum-yummy, tastes like McDonald hamburgers,” (33).
      • “How could I explain such a story to the immigration authorities. They wouldn’t understand! They knew only one kind of government,” (71).

Theme 5: How reliable is Winnie as a narrator?

  • So far the novel as displayed Winnie as our main protagonist and narrator, but how much of what she tells us is true? With each new chapter, she corrects herself and announces new information not previously disclosed. Do we believe all that she tells us or should we as readers be skeptical and think that her stories themselves contain secrets she still has not confessed?
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