Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Daughter Days: Milk Years Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Lily introduces herself and states her birthday (June 6, 1823) in the traditional Chinese format. She lives in Puwei, a village in Yongming County. It's a poor county, but not so poor that women have to work in the fields. Lily’s father (Baba) and Uncle rent land to grow rice, cotton, and kitchen crops. Her family's home is typical, with two stories, the second of which is for women. The ground floor is dirt, their animals live with them, and the only window is on the second floor.
Lily describes her family home and standing as absolutely normal. They're not so poor that Lily will ever have to work, but it's implied that they're right on that edge. Lily's uncle's family lives with them, which is a normal situation.
Themes
Love and Family Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
Just after Lily turns five, she begins to notice and think about what's around her. She describes waking up with a tickle in her brain—she’s been sleeping between Elder Sister and Third Sister, while her cousin, Beautiful Moon, sleeps across the room. Lily and her sisters regard each other with indifference, as they all compete for attention from other family members.
On this certain day, for some reason, Lily begins to actually consider her family and the dynamics within it. Notice particularly how she talks about her sisters. She's already indicated that females are undeserving of love, and this idea makes their jostling for attention make sense.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Mama calls up the stairs and the girls wake up. Elder Sister goes downstairs first, as Lily and Beautiful Moon must dress Third Sister. When they come downstairs, Aunt and Uncle greet them all affectionately, while Mama ignores them. Lily thinks on this day that Aunt and Uncle are perfectly matched ugly people with an ideal marriage, although Aunt's feet are too big and there are rumors that this is why she couldn't carry sons to term. Elder Brother calls Lily to help him with chores, which delights her.
Notably, Lily and Beautiful Moon have responsibility for caring for a toddler. Aunt and Uncle are good and kind to the children, while Mama is cold and very different from her in-laws. Lily also introduces the idea that a woman's bound feet are indicative of her future worth, hence Aunt's big feet supposedly keeping her from her primary goal as a woman: having sons.
Themes
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 doesn't praise Lily for carrying water or firewood, and Lily realizes that Mama views her as an inconsequential, worthless daughter. This makes Lily crave Mama’s attention, but she vows to be like Elder Sister and be helpful. Mama tells Lily to help Grandmother, which tries Lily's desire to be helpful, but Grandmother waves Lily away. The family sits down to eat, and then Baba and Uncle head for the fields while the women go upstairs.
Even if the sisters view each other with indifference, Lily still looks up to Elder Sister as a good role model. Further, while Lily should look up to her grandmother the most, as she's the most important female in the household, she's not thrilled to help her. This sets up some very complex relationships between the women in her household.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Get the entire Snow Flower LitChart as a printable PDF.
Snow flower and the secret fan.pdf.medium
Lily, Third Sister, and their baby Second Brother are too young to go upstairs, so they go outside with Elder Brother. Third Sister acts spoiled, although (Lily says) she has no right to think she's beloved by the family. They then go home for lunch, and in the afternoon, Lily is allowed upstairs in the women's chamber. Elder Sister's sworn sisters (contracted friends from the village) arrive to embroider and chat.
In the narrative itself, this is the first time we're introduced to the idea of contractual female friendship. Elder Sister's sworn sisters provide her the companionship and love that she doesn't get from her mother, aunt, or sisters, but they're contracted to perform this role, just as she's contracted to perform this role for them in return.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition 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 months," as soon their feet will be bound. Mama gives in and the girls run outside. They find Elder Brother and follow him and their water buffalo down to the river, where Lily puts her feet in the water, allowing the river to wash away all the strange new observations and emotions she has about her family.
The horrors of foot binding loom dangerously on the horizon, but for now, Lily is experiencing as much freedom as she ever will. However, this freedom comes at the price of being, still, a "worthless daughter." More importantly, Lily is aware that she's considered worthless, unlike Third Sister, who appears to have no idea.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
After dinner the family sits outside. Mama is weary and trying to get the baby to fall asleep, but when Lily tries to comfort her, Mama pushes her away. Baba then takes Lily on his lap and Lily feels precious.
Lily again doesn’t receive any affection from her mother, but Baba’s actions here suggest that even if daughters are seen as worthless, they might still possibly be loved.
Themes
Love and Family Theme Icon