Dr. Ellen Dolgin
“Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”
In Lisa See’s “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan,” we are introduced to several scenes that break the norm of the time the book took place. In 19th century China, which is the general time period of this book, women were in the unfortunate situation of being treated more as property than human beings. It was a patriarchal society, and women were only there to bring men sons and care for the children, as well as cook and make clothing. The unfortunate reality of this was, as seen through Lily’s eyes in this novel, it appears that women accepted this as the norm, and saw very little fault with it. Although they did write to each other in their secret writing and discuss it at times, they did not see it as something wrong with society, but rather as just the way life was, as this is how their families were raised, and this is how they would raise their own children. Women were confined to an upstairs chamber for much of their lives. In this chamber, they would have their feet bound at a very young age, to make them more beautiful to men and get them better husbands. This torturous event in their lives was dangerous and in reality gave them almost a form of a handicap throughout the rest of their lives. When girls were born, they were seen as a burden on the family, as they were simply another mouth to feed for years, until they married off to another family. Interesting enough, however, in Lisa See’s novel, she takes her main characters out of this situation in several instances. The most notable and obvious is during the Taiping Revolution, in which Lily is visiting Snow Flower and staying at her house, when they awake to smoke and horse hooves. The Imperial Troops had been sent to drive out the rebels, and the villages were being destroyed amidst the fighting. To avoid this, Lily followed Snow Flower and the Butcher into the nearby mountains to escape. In this part of the novel, we see women walking long distances on their bound feet for the only time in their lives. In one part of the novel, See’s character, Lily, says “But I was lucky in my suffering. I saw women my age and younger- women in their rice-and-salt years- whose feet had broken under the stress of walking so far or had fractured into bits against a rock. From the ankle up they were unhurt, but they were completely crippled. They lay there, not moving, only crying, waiting to die form thirst, starvation, or cold.” Pg. 192.
This passage shows what the foot binding did to the women in reality, and how crippled they would be if in today’s society. Just by bringing the women out of the upstairs chamber for this scene, we see the different sides of the Chinese society at the time. Snow Flower’s oldest boy is very frail and does not get much respect from the family, as he is expected to not survive such an event as this; Snow Flower’s own mother-in-law even says not to feed the boy at one point, as he will not survive anyway. At this point, we see a different side of Lily; she decides to start using her power to get more food, and thus sneak some to the boy to help him survive. Interfering with another family’s thoughts may not have been a normal thing, and going against the man of the household certainly was not, but Lily knew she was higher in society, and used this to her advantage. Another interesting scene in the part of the novel brings out the fact that Snow Flower has been abused by her husband. We learn that the butcher and Snow Flower have bed time more often than the normal for this time period, and also that they do not abide by the rules set forth. When Snow Flower becomes pregnant on the mountainside, and then the butcher, in rage, abuses her, she has what readers are to perceive as a miscarriage. To show how little this means to the man, he simply says, well it must have been a girl anyway. To this that this was an acceptable thing in a society is simply appalling by...