The Kitchen God's Wife
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1. How would you describe the relationship between Pearl and Winnie?

2. Follow-up to Question 1: Pearl thinks of "the enormous distance that separates" her from her mother, preventing them from sharing "the most important matters" of their lives. She asks, "How did this happen?" By the novel's end, can she answer that question? Can you answer it?

3. Follow-up to Question 2: What role does the secret box play in keeping mother and daughter at bay? How do the misunderstandings continue to pile up over the years?

4. Talk about the corrosive effects of secrets. Consider that keeping secrets is ironic: withholding information is meant to protect either the secret-keeper or someone who might be hurt or angered by the knowledge — yet it frequently ends up harming both parties. What makes secrets so insidious? Think of the secrets you have keep ... or were once kept from you.

5. What is Helen's role in the novel? What is her relationship with Winnie and with Pearl? Consider that she is a link between past and present and between mother and daughter. Why does Helen decide to reveal Winnie's secrets? Is she right to so?

6. What is the symbolic significance of cleaning and sweeping in the novel, in particular when Helen tells Winnie that she is going to reveal Winnie's secrets?

7. What affect did the departure of her mother have on Winnie (then called Jiang Weili) in both the immediate aftermath and for decades later?

8. Follow-up to Question 7: Talk about the symbolic/psychological significance of Winnie's attempt to clean her mother's portrait, only to wipe off half of her mother's face. How does that act of erasure parallel Winnie's memory of her mother?

9. In what way does Winnie's history — as well as the idiomatic language and quirkiness of the characters — resemble the old folktale of the Kitchen God's Wife …and why might Amy Tan have decided to use it as the novel's title?

10. Straddling two cultures is an important motif in Tan's novel. How are both Winnie and Pearl affected by "foreign" influences — one in China and the other, years later, in America?


 * Some questions from Spark Notes and LitLovers.

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