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The one and the only one figure, who shines throughout the entire novel, is Jiang Weili or Winnie Louie. Her life story reflects a unique struggle, fought by a lone woman against the multiple forces of patriarchy, conservatism and arrogance. To appreciate Winnie, it is important to know more about her.
Born in a wealthy family, Winnie’s life is a contented one with many privileges. Weili is a very happy child because she has a mother who dotes on her. But when Weili is six years old, her mother suddenly leaves the house and her, forever. As a young girl Weili is unable to understand the reason why her mother has abandoned her. Winnie continues to long for her mother but she never returns to meet her daughter. Her father also abandons her when he sends her to Tsingming Island to stay with her uncle, aunt, and cousins. As a foster child in her uncle’s home Weili hears a lot of gossip about her mother who has apparently brought a lot of disgrace to the family. The elders in the house are partial to their own children while Winnie is neglected. Winnie who is used to the luxuries of life, now has to struggle for small things. For instance, she has to embarrass her aunt in front of some guests, so that she replaces her old worn out shoes.
Weili is very excited at the prospect of getting married, as she believes that her marriage will free her from the life of drudgery. However, all her hopes are crushed, with an arrogant man like Wen Fu as her husband. He subjects her to the worst torture (rape) every night. Living with a rapist husband is a hellish experience to her. Winnie is very naïve and she tries her best to please him in order to prove herself to be a better wife. Only when she meets considerate men like Gan and Jiaguo does she realize that all men are not like her husband. Despite all her problems, Winnie tries to adjust for the sake of her children. Wen Fu’s negligence however leads to the death of her two daughters. This is the last straw. Winnie cannot forgive him anymore. In order to spare the life of her innocent son, she decides to divorce him.
From a shy young girl Winnie grows into a mature lady mainly through the bitter experiences of her life. The ‘taonan’ and the hectic journeys that she and her families and friends have to make during the war, make her realize that, one has to struggle to survive. Even after the Chinese have won the war, Weili is not free from the tortures of her husband.
Jimmy Louie, the translator in the US Information Service, comes as a ray of hope in her dark life. It is not that because he had come into her life that, she decides to leave Wen Fu. She had made this decision long before Jimmy’s entry into her life. In fact, five years had lapsed since she had first met Jimmy at the party held to celebrate the victory of the Chinese in the war. She did not fall in love with him the first time she met him. Nevertheless, Winnie was attracted to him because of his pleasant manners. However, later when she meets him, she begins to truly, love him. Weili now realizes that she has to rely on her own strengths to escape from her disastrous marriage. Weili and Danru now move in with Jimmy and Weili sends Danru to live with Hulan for some time, in order to save him from Wen Fu. She however loses her son in an epidemic. To make matters worse, Wen Fu has her arrested on false charges like, theft and neglect of her son resulting in his death. The grief- stricken Weili now has to face to face an unjust trial, as Wen Fu has managed to fill the ears of the authorities with lies. Even at this difficult moment of her life, Winnie shows her determination when she says that she would rather sleep on the concrete floor of the jail than go back to being Wen Fu’s wife again. Weili never repents her decision even though she has to face a lot of difficulties in the prison. In fact, in her own quiet way she improves the conditions of the prison to make things easier for the inmates. This woman, who now displays so much self- confidence and an unflagging desire to survive, is very different from the innocent Weili who was deserted by her mother or even the young, suffering wife of a psychotic man. Winnie’s acts of valor, in her attempts to shoot her cruel husband and chase him away after humiliating him, is a fierce blow against those men who considers women as the ‘weaker sex.’