The Joy Luck Club Chapter 3, Lindo Jong, The Red Candle
Lindo claims that young women do not understand the value of a promise. She once sacrificed her life to keep a promise for her parents. Her parents arranged a marriage for her when she was only two. She remembers it perfectly: the women gossiped about her, and she hated it. She was engaged to Tyan-yu, who was terribly spoiled by his mother, Huang Taitai. Lindo's parents treated her as if she belonged to somebody else. When she was twelve, her house was destroyed by floods and her family moved away, leaving her with Tyan-yu's family, the Huangs. Their house was large, and built to impress others. Lindo was sent to the servant quarters, so she knew right away that she was going to be a slave there. She learned to cook and sew masterfully, and she tried to be cheerful. But she knew her future husband was awful, because he enjoyed making her cry. When Lindo was sixteen, they married in a ceremony that was far too small for Huang Taitai's pride. Though her parents had made her promise to marry Tyan-yu, Lindo was afraid and miserable. Then she realized that she was strong. She suddenly understood herself. "I was no longer scared. I could see what was inside me." Chapter 3, pg. 59 Lindo walked down the aisle, not caring that her husband was ignoring her. She watched as the marriage officials brought out a candle with wicks at both ends. If the candle burned for the entire night without either side going out, the marriage could never be broken. That meant that Lindo could never remarry, even if her husband died. That night, she stayed awake as her new husband slept, still ignoring her. She walked out into the courtyard and through a window saw a servant who was supposed to be watching the candle. The woman was asleep. Lindo saw the woman jump up and run away when she heard a thunderclap--it sounded like the Japanese were attacking. Lindo went to the servant's room and prayed for the candle to go out. She hoped so hard that her breath escaped her and she blew out the candle. The next morning the servant lied, saying the candle had burned all night.
At first, Lindo was afraid that Tyan-yu would try to sleep with her. But gradually she learned that he had no interest in that. Then she found out he had told his mother that Lindo was refusing to sleep with him (since everyone knew his mother wanted a grandson.) When Huang Taitai scolded Lindo, she tried to get Tyan-yu to sleep with her. Then she saw that he was afraid of her, and didn't want to sleep with any woman. Huang Taitai, still ignorant of this, forced Lindo to stay in bed all day and think about nothing but having babies. She sent a servant girl to make Lindo drink a terrible-tasting medicine every day. Lindo envied this girl, who was nice to her. She saw the girl walking freely outside, flirting with a delivery man. Huang Taitai brought in the village matchmaker to assess the situation. The old woman proclaimed that Lindo was too balanced: she needed less of one element (fire, water, earth, wood or metal) in order to have children. Huang Taitai happily took back all the metal jewelry she had given Lindo. "After the gold was removed from my body I felt lighter, more free. They say this is what happens if you lack metal. You begin to think as an independent person." Chapter 3, pg. 63 Lindo began to plan a way to escape her marriage without breaking her promise to her parents. She decided to make it look like her in-laws were the ones who wanted her to leave. She pretended to have a dream in which her ancestors saw the candle burn out on her wedding night. She told Huang Taitai that her ancestors said that if Tyan-yu stayed in the marriage, he would die. She showed Huang Taitai the mole on his back for proof: she said her ancestors had told her that this mole would eat away his skin. Then she said that there was a servant girl who an ancestor had impregnated with Tyan-yu's real child--this was Tyan-yu's true spiritual wife. (Lindo had watched the friendly servant girl flirt with the delivery man, and seen that she was pregnant and didn't know what to do.) This servant girl became Tyan-yu's wife, and thought it was such a miracle that she became very religious. Lindo was sent away with enough money to go to America. Lindo still remembers the day she found the strength to follow her own desires, to free herself from the whims of other people. Now that she lives in America, she buys gold bracelets for herself every so often, to show what she is worth.