Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Symbols and Motifs

Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

  • 39-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 17 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a Master's degree in English Literature
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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Symbols and Motifs

Footbinding

The act of binding the girl’s feet is a preparation for her marriage, and begins when she is still a small child. The procedure effectively disfigures the feet, permanently breaking the bones and re-shaping the feet so that they appear to be tiny.

The custom, which is considered necessary for a woman to be considered sexually desirable by her husband, also makes it impossible for her to travel for any distance without assistance. The fact that successfully bound feet increase a woman’s marriage prospects adds a financial dimension to the custom. Thus, the act of binding the girl’s feet situates the physical, the sexual, and the socio-economic considerations of a woman in this society within her physical body, and does so through considerable pain and permanent disfigurement. The bound foot, preventing a woman’s physical mobility, is both a metaphorical and a material reality.

We can see Chinese society’s attitude toward foot-binding as analogous with Lily’s self-deception regarding Snow Flower. Women inflict pain and permanent injury upon their own daughters, believing the pain to be a necessary means to achieving a happy and satisfying life. When Lily receives Snow Flower’s letter about her new friendship with the sworn sisters, she chooses to allow grief and anger to disfigure her emotions and her relationships, rather than seek out the truth. She assumes the role of principled, dignified, and betrayed Lady Lu, because she believes it to be correct, thus ending the healthiest and most emotionally satisfying relationship of her entire life.

Nu Shu – Women’s Secret Writing

As preparation for her life as a cultured wife, Lily learns nu shu, the secret women’s writing. While women are prohibited from learning official writing, or men’s writing, as Lily calls it, they have access through their female contacts to this secret women’s writing, of which many characters “are only italicized versions of men’s characters” (69).  According to legend, it was created by a woman, Yuxiu, who felt lonely in her household, as a means of communicating secretly with her mother and sisters. Lily describes the act of writing as a “rebellion” (4).

The distinction between the oral and…

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