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The theme of friendship is interwoven into the major theme concerning the strong personality of Winnie.
Their friendship springs from mutual co-operation. They first meet in Hangchow, where the pilots camp for a few days for training. Helen is the wife of Wen Fuís boss, Jiaguo. Winnie discovers that Helen has none of the pride, usually associated with the wives of bosses. In fact, she does not suit Jiaguo who is a well-mannered first-class pilot.
Their friendship is built more on differences than on similarities. Helen is different from Winnie in various aspects - education, manners and even social strata. Helen is an illiterate country girl and therefore her manners are not lady -like. Jiaguo takes the initiative to teach her to read and write. Helen always comes to Winnieís rescue in her time of need. Helen and her relative, Auntie Du, are always supportive of Winnie. On their hectic journey during the time of war, Helen and Winnie help each other in many ways, including making the unhygienic houses a better place to stay.
Helen is the one who makes Winnie tell her daughter Pearl about her past. This is one of the greatest help that Hulan has ever done to Winnie. This is because it helps to bridge the gap between mother and daughter that has existed for many years. The relationship between them has been strained and cold as both the mother and daughter have hidden some facts from each other. Now that the ice has broken, it restores the warmth in the relationship. As Helen and Winnie grow older, the bond of friendship between them matures into sisterhood.
Jimmyís deep love for Winnie and the contrast in the personalities of Jimmy and Gan in comparison to Wen Fu, can serve as the other minor theme.
Gan, also a pilot, can be seen as a foil to Wen Fu. Winnie meets him on one of the feasts that she hosts for the pilots. Their friendship lasts only for a short period of time, as Gan soon dies a tragic death. But during their short time together they come understand each others feelings very well. Gan is the first man in Winnieís life who judges her in the right perspective, which perhaps she herself is unaware of. He says, "You see yourself only in a mirror. But I see you the way you can never see yourself, all the pure things, neither good nor bad." Winnie does not acknowledge her feelings (love) for him when he was alive, a fact that she regrets after his death.
Winnie does not instantly fall in love with Jimmy. For Jimmy however, it is love at first sight. Relying on Jimmyís love, Winnie faces her trial in the court as well as the hardships in the jail. Though Winnie had decided to leave Wen Fu long before Jimmyís reentry in her life, her actions now get a momentum. Only after Winnie marries Jimmy does she realize the happiness of living with a kind-hearted man. For her, sex had been a torture - a humiliating experience for her body and mind. With Jimmy, she discovers a new pleasurable feeling. Winnie feels secure after settling down in the US with Jimmy but, the memories of her past do not fade away. Winnieís experiences with men having different personalities, contributes to making her maturer and wiser and even optimistic about life.