Reading literature that explores another culture serves as a vast and
positive learning experience. By providing material that not necessarily
relates to the reader's background, a multicultural curriculum opens up
the opportunity for a reader to absorb the material as is, without the
interference of previously gained information or prejudices. Such
materials have a tendency to immediately interest and captivate the
reader, and therefore can easily integrate in the book cultural and
historical facts that will be remembered. The Kitchen God's Wife by Amy
Tan is a perfect example of a fictional novel in the American Literature
curriculum that expands the students' knowledge of Chinese culture. The
novel contributes to the reader's understanding of pre-World War II
Chinese customs and exposes to the reader information about political and
social events in China during the World War II time period. While
providing a wealth of information, the novel still manages to retain a f!
ictional plot that keeps the reader entertained and interests him or her
in continuing the reading.
The Kitchen God's Wife opens up as a simple modern day narrative
about a family to which a modern day reader can relate. The story leads
into a flashback, which almost immediately begins to shower the reader
with examples of Chinese culture and intricate explanations of Chinese
customs. This overwhelming amount of cultural information is closely
woven into the plot, which combined allows the reader to, without
realizing it, understand and remember facts about Chinese ways.
Immediately the reader is wrapped up in a world where polygamy and
polytheism are commonly accepted practices, and where all customs are
believed to be practical. As the story unwinds, the reader is bombarded
with all these multicultural facts, and virtually without realizing it, he
or she is exposed to a wealth of information.
Not only cultural but also political and social events are
presented throughout the book. The war between China and Japan is
constantly mentioned, remaining in the background during most of the book.
References to Japanese and Chinese tactics, meetings, bombings, and
American help are constant. All the time battles are mentioned as well as
a chronology of the events of the war. Important facts such as city
takeovers are noted and in some cases details are given. For example,
counts of casualties were presented during a discussion of Japanese
destruction of a Chinese capital city - the information goes almost
unnoticed by the reader, yet it remains the back of one's mind and serves
as a fact which in widens the reader's scope of knowledge.
Amy Tan's book is filled with historical notes. Such things as
social conflict in China and the morals of people of that era are
constantly mentioned and whole sub plots in the book are dedicated to
accounts dealing with social conditions and relations. A whole portion,
for example, is devoted to Winnie's, the main character's, father. The
father goes from being a powerful and rich to a poor and ruined man. The
full tale of why and how the father got to be that way is included in the
book, providing the reader with insights about the time period, events,
and social politics.
Reading literature that explores another culture is very important
to today's teens, so it is very beneficial to include books such as The
Kitchen God's Wife in American Literature curriculums. Today's teens are
raised on mostly American backgrounds with American heritage and American
customs. Because of the vast size of this country and the diversity of
its people, the teens do not get an adequate exposure to history and
culture of other countries. It is very important to broaden and diversify
teenagers' minds, and placing books with as much information in them as
The Kitchen God's Wife into American Literature curriculums is an
efficient way to get teenagers to broaden their horizons.