Summary and Analysis
Part II: The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates
A mother cautions her seven-year-old daughter not to ride her bicycle around the corner. When the daughter protests, her mother explains that the child will fall, will cry out — and will be out of earshot. It is all written in a book called The Twenty-Six Malignant Gates, the mother explains. The daughter demands to see the book, but her mother says that it would be useless: it is written in Chinese. The daughter then demands to know the twenty-six bad things that can happen, but the mother refuses to answer. In a fury, the girl rushes outside, jumps on her bicycle, and falls — even before she reaches the corner.
This introduction to Part II of the novel reinforces the theme of communication — especially the lack of communication. Mother and daughter are unable to communicate with each other because of barriers in language, personality, and age. The encounter also suggests the theme of control — the mother exerts a seemingly arbitrary power over her daughter. Neither the reader nor the daughter ever finds out why the mother will not allow her daughter to ride her bicycle around the corner. Is the daughter prone to fall? Is there some danger lurking around the corner? When pressed to provide a reason for her refusal, the mother resorts to the unprovable: a book that her daughter cannot read. Perhaps the book symbolizes the unwritten knowledge that all mothers wish to pass on to their daughters; here, the bicycle ride symbolizes the escape that all daughters must make from their mothers.
The last paragraph of this italicized introduction alludes to one of the major themes of the novel. In denying her mother's wisdom ("You don't know anything," the daughter shrieks), the young girl allows us to see the tension between mothers and daughters, between the past and the present, between the Old World and the New World. Each of the daughters in this book learns that her mother does indeed possess great wisdom, learned through great hardship. One of the questions that the book poses is: How can mothers communicate what they know to their daughters? How can they save their daughters the pain that they have experienced?