Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Themes

Lisa See

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

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  • Features 17 chapter summaries and 6 sections of expert analysis
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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Themes

Teng Ai – Mother Love

Lily talks of the traditional form of mother love, known as teng ai, which in the language of her people is “composed of two characters. The first means pain; the second means love. That is a mother’s love” (4). Because life in Lily’s society is so difficult for women, the way a mother raises her daughter must include training and preparation for the hardships ahead. Later in the novel, Lily expresses her belief that a mother’s love for her children is an emotion borne “out of duty, respect, and gratitude” (59). Embedded within this emotion, then, are the material concerns necessary for survival. A woman must be able to endure hardship, so that she will not be rejected by those who provide her with food and shelter.

Lily’s description of mother love, however, carries a sense of longing for a different, more organic form of love. With Snow Flower, she finds a love that does not inflict pain, but rather seeks to ease it, a love in which she is free to express desire and even have her desire satisfied.

Wealth and Worth

Throughout Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, there is the sense that every facet of life is a matter of financial or material concern. Lily longs to be loved in her family, but she understands that only sons are truly cherished because of their ability to contribute to the family’s wealth. Girls, on the other hand, are considered to be a drain on resources until they are able to produce a male child, as “sons are the foundation of a woman’s worth” (151). Lily says that the “Catching Cool Breezes” festival is a time of year that women look forward to, because they visit their families. She also points out the practical reason for this festival: that it is the time of year when resources are running low, and so the responsibility of feeding the women reverts back to their natal families. As a child, longing for the affection of her mother, Lily is delighted to receive a slap as punishment for having distinguished herself…

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