Weng Chih-chi, Ph.D. candidate, Graduate Institute of Taiwanese Literature, National Chengchi University
Adapted from Xiao Sa’s novella, Home of Joffre, Chang Yi’s Kuei-mei, a Woman (1985) meticulously depicts Taiwanese women’s tenacity and the compromises they make with bitter fate. The story takes place in the early postwar era; protagonist Kuei-mei (Guimei) leaves China and comes to Taiwan with female cousin’s family. After several years have passed the cousin decides to find a marriage partner for the long-single Kuei-mei, and asks Auntie Chai, a neighbor lady, to arrange a meeting with a prospective suitor. Chai Ma introduces Kuei-mei to Hou Yongnian, a formerly married man with three children. The two wed and take up housekeeping, but Hou’s children won’t recognize Kuei-mei as their stepmother and her husband has a bad gambling habit. Kuei-mei carries on in spite of adversity, dworking hard and saving money in hope of someday having her own business.
Unable to get ahead in Taiwan, Kuei-mei and her husband decide to go to Japan to work, gradually accumulating wealth. Several years late they return to Taiwan and Kuei-mei opens a restaurant, “Home of Joffre,” which specializes in the foreign cuisine Kuei-mei learned to prepare while living in Japan. The restaurant does well but Kuei-mei’s fortunes take a turn for the worse when her husband has an affair with a younger woman, impregnating her, fatiguing Kuei-mei in both body and spirit. Having passed through half a lifetime of difficulties, Kuei-mei develops uterine cancer in her later years and is hospitalized, leadig to difficulties in keeping the restaurant open. The ailing Kuei-mei and her daughter Zhengfang open their hearts to each other, sharing their preoccupations. As a result, Zhengfang decides to renovate the restaurant and run the business in her mother’s absence. At peace at last, Kuei-mei slips into a deep sleep.
Kuei-mei represents Taiwanese women, affirming their contributions to family and society, showing the sacrifices they make on behalf of others. Kuei-mei isn’t a completely traditional woman, and she understands the cultural constraints that are placed upon females; moreover, she defends her family and emotional beliefs, relying on will and determination to overcome poverty and difficulties. Furthermore, the ways in which Kuei-mei’s manages family affairs reflects the stages of Taiwan’s economic growth. Kuei-mei, a Woman realistically conveys one woman’s tenacious radiance in a changing era.
|Related Literary Themes：||Diaspora Literature|