Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Mama Character Analysis

Lily's mother, and the wife of Baba. Mama was born in the year of the monkey, so she's seen as being calculating and always looking out for herself. She regards Lily as little more than a burden until her feet are deemed to be full of potential, and then begins to show her "mother love" in the form of physical violence towards Lily. Mama's own feet were poorly bound, so she walks with a cane or flaps around like a bird if her cane isn't close at hand. She keeps it a secret from Lily that Snow Flower's father is addicted to opium and that her family as a whole is not the wealthy, high-class family that Snow Flower leads Lily to believe they are. When Lily realizes the truth, she closes off her emotions towards Mama and their relationship remains stony until Mama’s death.

Mama Quotes in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

The Snow Flower and the Secret Fan quotes below are all either spoken by Mama or refer to Mama. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Women and Gender Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Random House edition of Snow Flower and the Secret Fan published in 2006.
Daughter Days: Footbinding Quotes

"A true lady lets no ugliness into her life," she repeated again and again, drilling the words into me. "Only through pain will you have beauty. Only through suffering will you find peace. I wrap, I bind, but you will have the reward."

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Lily
Related Symbols: Feet
Page Number: 29
Explanation and Analysis:

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"I would rather keep her on this earth unmarried than lose her forever."
"Then she would have no purpose and no value," Aunt reasoned. "Your mother love tells you this is no future."

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Aunt (speaker), Third Sister
Related Symbols: Feet
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

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Daughter Days: Learning Quotes

"You married out," Mama said, in a way that seemed oddly detached. "You go to another village. Your mother-in-law is cruel. Your husband doesn't care for you. We wish you would never leave, but every daughter marries away. Everyone agrees. Everyone goes along with it. You can cry and beg to come home, we can grieve that you have gone, but you—and we—have no choice. The old saying makes this very clear: 'if a daughter doesn't marry out, she's not valuable; if fire doesn't raze the mountain, the land will not be fertile.'"

Related Characters: Mama (speaker), Lily , Aunt, Elder Sister
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

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Rice-and-Salt Days: Letter of Vituperation Quotes

And then the strangest thing happened. An image of my mother came to my mind. I remembered that as a child I'd wanted her to love me. I'd thought if I did everything she asked during my footbinding, I would earn her affection.

Related Characters: Lily (speaker), Snow Flower, Mama
Related Symbols: Feet
Page Number: 221
Explanation and Analysis:

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Mama Character Timeline in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

The timeline below shows where the character Mama appears in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Daughter Days: Milk Years
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
Mama calls up the stairs and the girls wake up. Elder Sister goes downstairs first, as... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Mama doesn't praise Lily for carrying water or firewood, and Lily realizes that Mama views her... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Aunt suggests that Lily and Beautiful Moon go outside. Mama tries to argue, but Aunt is stubborn and reasons that "they only have these few... (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
After dinner the family sits outside. Mama is weary and trying to get the baby to fall asleep, but when Lily tries... (full context)
Daughter Days: Footbinding
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...county have their feet bound starting at age six. Lily is still outside running, but Mama has already begun making bindings and shoes. She also creates a pair of miniature shoes... (full context)
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
When Lily and Beautiful Moon turn six, Mama and Aunt send for Diviner Hu to select an auspicious date to begin their foot... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...see Lily. Lily studies her family members' faces, all of which are worried and anxious. Mama's face, however, shows lurking "male ambition." Lily stands in front of Madame Wang, who inspects... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...Madame Wang reclaims her seat, Diviner Hu says that Lily's feet are underdeveloped, and so Mama needs to wait a year to begin binding them. He continues, saying that Lily's entire... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Lily and Mama go upstairs. Mama slaps Lily across the face, and tells her that all this will... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...to begin their binding. He settles on the typical date, which is in the fall. Mama and Aunt make bandages and feed the girls soft foods to encourage their bones to... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...to begin, Lily, Beautiful Moon, and Third Sister offer the Tiny-Footed Maiden rice balls, and Mama and Aunt offer their miniature shoes to a statue of Guanyin. They gather their supplies,... (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
When the wrapping is finished, Mama and Aunt instruct the girls to get up. Lily's feet are throbbing, but Mama yanks... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...are made to walk again the next day, and the day after. Every fourth day, Mama and Aunt soak off the bandages and rewrap them tighter than before. As the weather... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...day while Lily is walking, she hears the crack of one of her toes breaking. Mama sharply instructs her to keep moving through the excruciating pain. When Mama rewraps Lily's feet... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...outside, the bones in Lily's mid-foot break. Third Sister becomes feverish, and one day when Mama and Aunt are downstairs, Elder Sister allows Third Sister to lie down. When Elder Sister... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...the doctor is unable to help. The doctor also notices that Grandmother is very ill. Mama, as the first daughter-in-law, is tasked with caring for her, while Beautiful Moon and Lily... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...becomes even more disciplined as Beautiful Moon and Lily make sure to not resist, and Mama, Aunt, and Elder Sister vigilantly watch for infection. Lily tells the reader that she heard... (full context)
Daughter Days: The Fan
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...to discuss contracting Lily's laotong relationship with a girl in Tongkou named Snow Flower. At Mama's questioning, Madame Wang says that the girls' eight characters (birthdate, height, birth order, etc.) align... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Mama indifferently says that Lily is stubborn and disobedient. Lily is hurt to hear this, and... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
Mama and Aunt walk Madame Wang to her palanquin (a litter carried by four men) while... (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
Lily's family decides to accept the laotong relationship. Mama helps Lily embroider shoes to send to Snow Flower as a first gift, and Aunt... (full context)
Daughter Days: Snow Flower
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
A few days later Mama carries Lily, dressed simply, to Madame Wang's waiting palanquin, where Snow Flower is sitting. Snow... (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...is staying, but knows that Snow Flower is used to a better way of living. Mama comes out and greets the girls. In the house, Mama introduces Snow Flower to the... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
Later that night, Lily and Snow Flower go upstairs with Mama and the other women. Snow Flower suspiciously dabs her fingers in the bowl of wash... (full context)
Daughter Days: Love
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
When Snow Flower arrives, Lily is waiting by the lattice window in the women's chamber. Mama carries Snow Flower upstairs and puts her down, and immediately she and Lily begin talking.... (full context)
Daughter Days: Learning
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
...never questions why she never visits Snow Flower in Tongkou, until she's nine and overhears Mama ask Madame Wang about it. Madame Wang states that Snow Flower's family is suffering from... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...family had neglected to teach her domestic arts, so she shadows Lily in her chores. Mama and Aunt supervise the girls as they cook, clean, and sew. Lily thinks that Snow... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...father, Madame Gao says that a weak man will take to the pipe. At that, Mama sharply tells Madame Gao that she may not speak that way in front of the... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
On the day of Sorrow and Worry, three days before Elder Sister leaves home, Mama sits on the stairs and begins a lament at letting Elder Sister go. The women... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...day that Elder Sister returned from a visit the following spring. Elder Sister cried in Mama's lap about her abusive mother-in-law and her rough husband. Lily and Beautiful Moon comfort her,... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
Mama speaks in a detached voice. She echoes Elder Sister's complaints, but says that as women... (full context)
Hair-Pinning Days: Beautiful Moon
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...telling Uncle that Aunt must be informed. She makes a plan to fetch Aunt and Mama, and then they wait. (full context)
Hair-Pinning Days: The Flower-Sitting Chair
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Mama, Aunt, Elder Sister, and other unmarried girls visit to celebrate, sing songs, and tell stories.... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
Three days before Lily's wedding, the Day of Sorrow and Worry starts. Mama sits on the stairs and she and Lily sing and cry at each other. Lily... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...create a veil. Lily can't see as Snow Flower leads her downstairs, but she hears Mama and Aunt. They walk to Puwei's ancestral temple and back home again, where they wait... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
When Lily's family returns from the party, Lily thinks that now is the time that Mama will give her advice on “bed business.” Mama sits with Lily and tells her that... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...cry, but Lily can't see anyone through her headdress. As she walks outside, she thanks Mama for raising a "worthless daughter," and exchanges other call-and-response sayings with her other family members.... (full context)
Hair-Pinning Days: Truth
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...Yonggang doesn't want to leave Lily, but Lily sends her on her way. She remembers Mama's words from a few days ago (about being “united for life”) and realizes that Mama... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...spent her life surrounded by people who saw only her special future, and she blames Mama for choosing to not tell her about Snow Flower. She says she was a stupid... (full context)
Hair-Pinning Days: The Temple of Gupo
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...by refusing to engage with her family under the guise of shyness. After five days, Mama and Lily end up alone in the women's chamber and Mama calls Lily out on... (full context)
Love and Family Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
Mama says she pities the Lu family for taking Lily, and the conversation is over. Lily... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...their weddings to travel to the Temple of Gupo. Lily doesn't want to talk about Mama or Snow Flower's deceit, so the two delicately discuss how they're trying to get pregnant.... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
Mama is very strict with Lily and makes sure she eats only bland foods. Lily accepts... (full context)
Rice-and-Salt Days: Sons
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...invitation to join a sworn sisterhood. Despite this, Lady Lu is kinder to Lily than Mama ever was, and teaches Lily a new axiom: "Obey, obey, obey, then do what you... (full context)
Rice-and-Salt-Days: Joy and Sorrow
Love and Family Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
As the epidemic wanes, Lily learns that Mama and Baba have also died, as well as a number of her in-laws. The Lu... (full context)
Rice-and-Salt Days: Letter of Vituperation
Love and Family Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...that went back to the beginning of their relationship. Lily remembers what she did to Mama when she found out Mama lied to her, and vows to treat Snow Flower with... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
...feet tightly and channels her anger into chasing Jade across the room. She repeats what Mama told her about a lady letting no ugliness into her life. Madame Wang visits Lily... (full context)
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
...she feels like a bird flying without its mate. Lily thinks of her grievance against Mama and ignores Snow Flower. Snow Flower gets up and leaves, and not even Madame Wang... (full context)