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Snow Flower and the Secret Fan adds refreshing new to information about hope and rebellion to previously told stories about the oppressed lives of Chinese women. See portrays a woman’s duties towards family and husband as she incorporates descriptions of foot binding and shows how women maintain a sense of personal freedom through female relationships and language. These three aspects of her protagonist’s life come together to form a compelling feminist depiction of loss and perseverance for women in Chinese history.

See’s novel is a reflection of the life of eighty-year-old female narrator, Lily, whose sadness and negativity about her fate, is inextricably tied to her roles as a woman. From a very young age, she watches her mother, aunt, and edler sister, accept their roles: they must practice Confucian Obediences and Virtues. See shows how sorrowful a woman’s plight is in Lily’s world. On her wedding day, she thinks: “I truly felt like a bride-afraid, sad, and very scared now to leave my family (109). The reader understands Lily’s lack of freedom and choice and learns about Chinese history in the process. The author teaches about an oppression specific to China when she describes the way women obtain a life of stability and recognition, by having the most perfectly bound feet.

The author tells how women also access power in order to cope with injustices in society,both with the help of men and without: foot binding conforms to patriarchal traditions and female companionship fights against it. The flawless bound foot, earns a women a place in a wealthy family through marriage. The reader soon understands the unfairness of the tradition, as the process is painful, dangerous and there are no guarantees for a perfectly bound foot. See shows the difference between marriage for money and politics and an essential and supportive kind of female companionship. Snow Flower and Lily are matched together as best friends, laotong, or ‘old-sames,’ and the two provide each other with unconditional hope, comfort, and love. Snow Flower and Lily represent the greater struggle, of the oppressed.

Instead of a focusing on the suffering and oppression that Lily and Snow Flower endure year after year, See turns their story inward, to one of hope, love and rebellion. Learning about the traditions of women with laotong reminds the reader that these women find happiness in each other, despite difficult situations. It is nice to think that some people might have experienced optimism as an alternative to hopelessness at time when they had little control over the events in their lives.

Star Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars

More Information:

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: Film (2011)