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The Kitchen Gods Wife is a novel by Amy Tan, and, like most of her works, is a novel about Chinese-American women female identity.

The first few chapters follow Pearl Brandt, a Chinese-American in San Jose, California, as she describes her "family" - her American husband and two daughters, her mother Winnie, her overbearing Aunt Helen (who is supposedly Winnie's sister-in-law or something; she and Winnie have kept each other's secrets for a long time), and the rest of Helen's family as they prepare for, first, the nth engagement party of Pearl's obnoxious cousin Bao-bao, and then the burial of her Great Aunt Du. Pearl and her family see these obligations as a chore, presumably because Pearl herself is immersed in her American identity. They go anyway, and it's revealed that Pearl has multiple sclerosis (something she has told Helen, but not her own mother). Helen tells her she has a brain tumor and that she refuses to die without Winnie knowing about Pearl's sickness.

Meanwhile, Helen also tells Winnie that she must tell her estranged daughter her own Dark and Troubled Past herself, or Helen will tell her herself.

At that point, the narrative switches to Winnie's point of view as she details her life to Pearl - her time as a daughter of a wealthy man's lesser wife, how she was sent to her uncle after her mother's disappearance, and the story of how she tried to survive both her first terrible marriage and World War II.


  • Affably Evil: Wen Fu, at first. Then he just becomes evil.
  • Arranged Marriage: Winnie and Wen Fu.
  • Asian Gal with White Guy: Pearl and Phil. Inverted with her cousin Roger/Bao-bao - past wives of his have been mentioned to be white.
  • The Atoner: Jiaguo, Helen's first husband, marries her because he feels he has to atone for her sister's Death by Childbirth, which was partly his fault - it was his child and he refused to acknowledge so.
  • Audience Surrogate: Pearl.
  • Ax Crazy: Wen Fu, emphasized when he threatens the hospital staff with manslaughter while Winnie is recovering from giving birth to their second child.
  • The Beard: The wealthy man Peanut is married off to is heavily implied to be homosexual. She leaves him, however, because she thinks he's a hermaphrodite.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Helen is portrayed as this.
  • Break the Cutie: Winnie.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Mary's daughter.
  • Broken Bird: Certainly Winnie at the end of her marriage to Wen Fu, although she gets better.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Wen Fu.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: The telegraph girl is called "Wan Betty" ("Beautiful Betty") due to her resemblance to Bette Davis.
  • Chinese Funerary Customs: Appear at the beginning of the book at Auntie Du's funeral. Lampshaded by Winnie and Pearl.
  • Confucianism: Slammed by Winnie, because according to her Confucianism emphasized looking down on other people, especially women.
  • Crash Into Hello: Winnie and Jimmy.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: Winnie. Helen, to a lesser extent.
  • Death by Childbirth: Helen's sister.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Women are expected to "know their place," and spirited young ladies are looked down on, as this was pre-WWII China.
  • Dirty Coward: Wen Fu, who comes out of war unscathed thanks to not actually doing any fighting - every time they're involved in a battle, Wen Fu flies off and tells the captain he was "trailing a Japanese plane."
  • Domestic Abuser: Wen Fu to Winnie.
  • Driven to Suicide: "Little Yu," an old classmate of Winnie and Peanut's, after she got stuck in an unhappy marriage.
  • Dying as Yourself: Winnie's father.
  • Extreme Doormat: Winnie.
  • Eye Scream: Wen Fu loses an eye in a jeepney accident.
  • Flash Back: How Winnie tells Pearl her story.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Winnie makes it out of the war alive, ditches Wen Fu and marries Jimmy.
  • Fourth Date Marriage: Wen Fu and Winnie, whom she'd known for only a few months before they get married. Also played with with Jimmy and Winnie, they go on all of two dates (excluding the dance at which they met) before they decide they're perfect for each other. It's a while before they marry, though.
  • Framing Device: Winnie tells Pearl her life story.
  • Gold Digger: Wen Fu courts Peanut first, but drops her for Winnie once he learns of Winnie's father's wealth.
  • Glad I Thought of It: Winnie excessively thanks Henry for using his government connections to get her out of jail. In truth, it was all Auntie Du's doing and she just didn't want to disappoint Helen.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Winnie and Helen, who have put up with each other for so long that each others' faults barely affect them anymore.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Winnie berates herself for believing Wen Fu was a decent human being.
  • Hot Mom: Winnie and her mother in their respective heydays.
  • It's All About Me: Wen Fu.
  • Karma Houdini: The only comeuppance Wen Fu gets for all his wrongdoings is a box full of donkey dung and humiliation in front of Winnie and Helen. He even dies on Christmas Day.
  • Kick the Dog: Wen Fu hits Yiku when Winnie threatens to leave.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: The only person who doesn't know about Pearl's multiple sclerosis is her own mother Winnie (seeing as Pearl told Auntie Helen, who then told the whole Kwong family).
  • Love At First Sight: Jimmy for Winnie.

  Jimmy: "I fell in love with her right from the beginning. As for Winnie—she only fell. But what matters is I caught her."

  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Wen Fu is Pearl's father, not Jimmy.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Wen Fu, exemplified when he manages to obtain control of Winnie's father's estate by telling Winnie's dad that he can get him out of trouble with the Kuomintang.
  • Marital Rape License: Wen Fu after the accident - he "punishes" Winnie for every single damn thing she does that he deems "wrong," and it's not portrayed positively at all.
  • Matchmaker Crush: Winnie develops a crush on Wen Fu while being the go-between for him and Peanut.
  • Meaningful Name: Out of pride, Wen Fu wants Jimmy to name him after someone who changed history forever. Jimmy names him Judas.
  • Mighty Whitey: Slightly played with. Jimmy is explicitly stated to be Chinese (he acts as a translator and a serviceman), but he's American-born and Winnie falls for him.
  • Miles Gloriosus: Wen Fu.
  • Missing Mom: Even in adulthood, Winnie does not fully understand her mother's disappearance. Her aunts' and uncle's disappearance theories don't help much. It's implied that she abandoned Winnie, though.
  • Obnoxious In-Laws: Phil sees Pearl's family as this. He's not that far from the truth.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Several minor characters - Betty, Old Aunt, New Aunt, Wu Ma, etcetera.
  • Parental Abandonment: It's implied that Winnie's mother abandoned her.
  • Plucky Girl: Nearly all the major female characters.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The reason Pearl and Winnie's relationship is so strained.
  • Rape, Pillage and Burn: The Japanese, which was sadly Truth in Television.
  • Rapunzel Hair: Winnie's mother.
  • Riches to Rags: Winnie's father and his family after the war - moreso after Wen Fu is done with their finances.
  • Sexless Marriage: Helen and Jiaguo's.
  • Spoiled Brat: Peanut, but she fixes herself up in adulthood. Wen Fu, on the other hand...
  • Start of Darkness: Wen Fu starts being pissy around the time of the accident, and it just gets worse from there.
  • Supreme Chef: Winnie.
  • Title Drop: The "Kitchen God" was a man who took his hardworking wife for granted, and, when his mistress drove her away, did not do anything to help her. Once she leaves, his fortune (that accumulated thanks to her diligence) dwindles, and he realizes how much better off he was with her, despite all the suffering she went through thanks to him. Winnie subsequently relates her life story to her.
  • The Unfavourite: Winnie, so much. After her mother disappeared, she was the unfavourite in her wealthy father's household until she was sent to live with her uncle and his two wives. And they still treated her cousin Peanut better.
  • Wartime Wedding: Winnie and Wen Fu get married just before World War II breaks out.
  • What Could Have Been: Winnie often wonders what life would have been like if she did not marry Wen Fu.
  • World War II
  • Yangire: Wen Fu.
  • You No Take Candle: Winnie to some extent.
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