Summary and Analysis
Lindo Jong: Double Face
Waverly wants to go to China for her honeymoon but is afraid that she will blend in so well that she will not be allowed to return to America. Her mother reassures her that there is no chance that she will be mistaken for a Chinese citizen. Waverly is American. Lindo tried to give her children the best of Chinese and American cultures, but she did not realize that the two ingredients did not mix.
In preparation for her wedding to Rich, Waverly has her favorite hairdresser, Mr. Rory, style her mother's hair. While Mr. Rory works, Waverly acts as though Lindo cannot understand English. Her anger flares when Mr. Rory points out how much Waverly looks like her mother. Looking at her daughter's face in the hairdresser's mirror, Lindo thinks about her girlhood, long ago in China.
On the eve of Lindo's tenth birthday, her mother told her fortune from her face. This incident happened before Lindo was separated from her mother and sent away to be married.
When Lindo was preparing to come to America, she paid money to a Chinese woman who had been raised in America and asked her to show her how to "blend in." The woman told Lindo how to answer common questions and then gave her a list of people to contact in San Francisco. For free, the woman advised Lindo to marry an American citizen and have children quickly. That would help her become an American citizen. Lindo wonders why Waverly distorts the facts of her past. Why does Waverly say that Lindo came over "on a slow boat from China" when she took an airplane? Why does Waverly say that Lindo met her husband in the Cathay House when it is not true at all? Lindo recounts the truth in a flashback.
When Lindo arrived in America, she sought out the people whom the Chinese woman had suggested. She found an inexpensive apartment. She also found a job — at a fortune cookie factory. There she met An-mei Hsu, who introduced her to her future husband, Tin Jong. At first, Lindo was appalled that he was Cantonese. But they struck up a friendship for they were both Chinese, despite the fact that they spoke different dialects. They communicated only in rudimentary English. An-mei convinced Lindo to use the fortunes from the cookies to communicate with Tin Jong. Lindo selected "A house is not a home when a spouse is not at home." She gave him the cookie, but he was confused by the word "spouse" and did not propose. The next day, however, he did and Lindo accepted. They were married the following month. Their first child was a son, whom Lindo named Winston. Vincent was born two years later, and Waverly after that. Lindo then turned sad; she became dissatisfied with her circumstances and hoped that Waverly would have a better life.
Back in the present, Lindo looks at her finished hairstyle. She sees how much she and Waverly look alike. Seeing her own broken nose, she imagines that Waverly's nose has been broken as well. Waverly brushes aside her mother's observations with a laugh, saying that their noses are good because they look devious and two-faced.
Lindo recalls when she went back to China last year. Even though she took off her jewelry and wore Chinese clothing, people knew that she was foreign. She wonders what she has lost and what she has gotten in return.
In this story, we again see the themes of appearance and reality and the importance of heritage. To native-born Americans, both Waverly and Lindo appear to be "Chinese" at first glance. Mr. Rory, the hairdresser, assumes that Lindo cannot even speak English. Even Waverly plays into this misconception, treating her mother as though she were a recent immigrant. Lindo knows, however, because she is a citizen of China, that no one in China would ever mistake Waverly as a native Chinese; Waverly is unmistakably "American-made."
Lindo recalls how she tried to make Waverly both American and Chinese. She wanted her daughter to have the opportunities that America offered, yet still retain the obedience and wisdom of her Chinese heritage. She feels that she did not succeed; Waverly declares that she is "her own person." How could she be "her own person," Lindo wonders. She has not yet given her up.
Note the symbol of the crooked nose. Both Lindo and Waverly have crooked noses. Waverly is pleased with their noses, for she thinks it makes them look "devious" and "two-faced." Both of these words have negative connotations in English. Aware of these bad overtones, Lindo asks if it is a good thing. Waverly says that it is because "it helps you get what you want." This reveals Waverly's determination to succeed at any cost. Lindo is more subtle in her appraisal. She wonders how much of her is still Chinese, and how much of her has become American. Both women have a "double face," the title of this section, for they straddle two cultures.
The theme of heritage ties in with this duality. Waverly is unmistakably Lindo's daughter. In addition to appearance, they share many personality traits. Both are strong, focused women. The tie between them is undeniable. Recall how frightened Waverly was when she felt that it was time to tell her mother that she was going to marry again. She was unwilling to marry without her mother's approval. Lindo named her daughter "Waverly" after the street where they lived so that when the child grew up, she could "take a piece" of her mother with her.
This section is rich in humor and irony. It is ironic that for so many years Waverly denied her heritage. Now she is willing to embrace her culture because it is fashionable — but it is too late: Waverly knows only the most juvenile Chinese words and would never be mistaken for a Chinese person in her mother's birth country. An-mei's comments to Lindo are also ironically funny. "Did you ever think you would be so powerful that you could determine some one else's fortune?" she asks. This is ironic because the women cannot read — much less understand — the absurd fortunes that they stuff into cookies. Their fractured translations are as funny as the originals and make about as much sense to the two women raised on genuine aphorisms and wisdom. The entire situation in the fortune cookie factory is humorous, reminiscent of the famous I Love Lucy episode with Lucy and Ethel working on the chocolate assembly line. As with Lindo and An-mei, Lucy and Ethel work furiously to keep up with the output and are reduced to eating anything they cannot process. Recall how Lindo alludes to An-mei's round shape; she strongly suspects that An-mei eats the rejected cookies. Lindo's comment about subtracting some blessings for her broken nose is also humorous.
Note Tan's use of flashbacks. Like many of the other sections in the book, this one is constructed of a number of different flashbacks. This allows Tan to show how the past impinges on the present, how one's heritage flows through one's life like a river. Look through the sections to locate where the flashbacks begin and end. Find the "trigger words" that Tan uses to link the past to the present. Sometimes she leads directly into the section: "I am seeing myself and my mother, back in China, when I was a young girl." Other times, she uses memories and specific images.