Lindo opens the chapter by saying she “sacrificed [her] life to keep [her] parents’ promise,” but that to her daughter Waverly, “promises mean nothing.” She then thinks about her granddaughter Shoshana, to whom she occasionally gives gold jewelry as gifts. Though Shoshana promises to never forget her grandmother’s generosity, Lindo worries that Shoshana will eventually forget about their Chinese heritage.
Sacrifice and promises mean different things to the two generations of women. For the younger generation, there is rarely any consequence to not following through on a promise. Lindo worries that her granddaughter will continue the pattern of making worthless promises, rather than respecting the Chinese value of her word.
Lindo expands on her previously sacrifice, describing her arranged marriage in China when she was two years old and her betrothed, Tyan-yu, was one. Tyan-yu comes from a wealthy family, and is spoiled by his overbearing mother, Huang Taitai. The matchmaker says Lindo is fated to be Tyan-yu’s wife because of their compatible Chinese zodiac characters; Lindo is an Earth Horse, signaling a strong and hardworking nature, which pleases Huang Taitai.
According to old Chinese traditions, women were merely valued as objects to barter with between families. Love did not matter in arranged marriages, only the future compatibility of their personalities, as predetermined by Chinese zodiac.
After the initial arrangement, Lindo’s mother refers to Lindo as Huang Taitai’s daughter instead of her own, and treats her coldly “as if [she] belonged to someone else.” Lindo notes that the treatment wasn’t out of spite, but Lindo’s mother’s way of reducing their emotional connection, so the eventual separation would be easier on Lindo.
Though incredibly difficult, Lindo’s mother emotionally divorces herself from Lindo to protect her daughter from heartache. Lindo doesn’t understand at the time why her mother is so cold, and can’t appreciate her mother’s sacrifice.
When Lindo is twelve, her family’s farm is destroyed by floods, and her parents decide that, rather than move far away with them, she’s old enough to go to Huang Taitai’s. Before leaving, Lindo’s mother gives Lindo her precious jade necklace for good luck. Once in Huang Taitai’s home, Lindo is treated like a lowly servant, waiting on Tyan-yu and living in the kitchen.
Lindo’s mother shows her love by giving Lindo her prized jade necklace. The material sacrifice means little to her if it protects her daughter. Girls are powerless in this cultural hierarchy, attending to the whims of their future husbands as if indentured servants.
Over the next four years, Lindo becomes such a good servant that Huang Taitai jokingly complains that she can’t make a mess without Lindo immediately cleaning it up. Lindo gradually loses her own opinions and dreams, brainwashed by Huang Taitai to believe that Tyan-yu is her god to serve, “whose opinion was worth much more than [her] own life.”
Lindo’s story continues to highlight the power imbalance for young women in arranged marriages. Lindo has no other option but to submit to her mother-in-law and future husband’s wills, and loses her own independent thoughts in the process
By Lindo’s sixteenth birthday, Huang Taitai is anxious for a grandson, and plans a lavish wedding for Tyan-yu and Lindo. However, Japanese troops invade adjacent provinces during the wedding week and no guests come, which is a bad marital omen. Another bad omen is a huge thunderstorm on their wedding day. At first, Lindo cries at her great misfortune, but the storm’s strong wind reminds her that she is just as strong, and Lindo promises herself to “always remember [her] parents’ wishes, but… never forget [herself]” again.
Though superstition is important to Chinese tradition and bad omens seem to suggest a predetermined fate, Lindo maintains her autonomy by remembering that she is strong enough to overcome any negative circumstance.
On her wedding night, Lindo sees her red marriage candle on display. According to tradition, a candle is decorated with her name on one end and Tyan-yu’s name on the other, and the two ends are simultaneously burned. If the candle stays lit through the night and neither end goes out, then the marriage can never be broken.
The marriage candle is a tradition passed along each generation, and Lindo believes in its power to bind her to Tyan-yu. She knows someone must intervene before the symbolic ritual is completed, and she’s stuck to Tyan-yu forever.
Huang Taitai had ordered a servant to watch over the candle all night, but the servant gets scared by thunder and leaves her post. In that moment, Lindo rushes over without hesitation and blows Tyan-yu’s candle end out. The next morning however, Huang Taitai proudly shows the burnt candle, and Lindo realizes the servant artificially relit it because she was afraid she’d get in trouble for not watching the candle.
In a moment of complete autonomy, Lindo disregards fate’s divine power and blows out the candle herself, choosing to break the marriage on her own terms. This shifts from old-fashioned tradition, which teaches complete obedience in women, and foreshadows the independent spirits in the American daughters. Lindo is disillusioned when she sees the relit candle because it means that fate can be tampered with.
After the wedding, Lindo falls into a comfortable, platonic relationship with Tyan-yu, caring for him like a sister and sleeping on his sofa at his request. Months later, Huang Taitai gets angry that Lindo is still not pregnant, and Tyan-yu falsely blames Lindo’s unwillingness to sleep with him.
Even though Tyan-yu makes Lindo sleep on the couch, he avoids blame by being Huang Taitai’s revered son. There is no fairness in the situation because Lindo has no power.
Huang Taitai, with her old-fashioned thinking, straps Lindo to her bed to increase her chance at pregnancy, as well as strips her of gold jewelry to make her deficient in the zodiac element of metal, and thus more vulnerable to a baby. Feeling freer without the weight of jewelry, Lindo concocts a plan to escape the Huang household.
Fate both dictates Lindo’s actions, as it predicted her tenacious nature, and is undermined, since Lindo creates a plan that goes against her fated marriage.
Not long after, in a frenzied performance, Lindo tells an elaborate story to Huang Taitai, saying that Tyan-yu’s ancestors came to her in a dream, and told her that the marriage candle had gone out on their wedding night, foretelling Tyan-yu’s death if he remained in the marriage. Then, Lindo says the ancestors secretly planted Tyan-yu’s heir in one of Huang Taitai’s servant girls (whom Lindo previously observed was pregnant out of wedlock). The servant girl, elated to not give birth shamefully, backs up Lindo’s story and becomes Tyan-yu’s reverent wife. Lindo’s marriage contract is severed and Huang Taitai buys her a ticket to America, not realizing that it was Lindo’s ingenuity that ended the marriage.
By enacting such a complex plan to get out of her awful life, Lindo has full agency over her life. She uses superstitions and traditional thinking to her own benefit, rather than let them trap her. This is not a disavowal of her culture however, but an innovative approach to making the culture her own.