Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Hair-Pinning Days: The Flower-Sitting Chair Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Two years later, Lily pins her hair into the dragon style of a young woman about to be married. Her in-laws send final items of the bride price, including jewelry and a water buffalo for Baba, which makes him one of the most prosperous men in Puwei. Snow Flower arrives for the Sitting and Singing ceremony. She and Lily grow closer still, and believe that nothing will ever alter their love. They're sure that their husbands will hire palanquins so the two can visit each other.
Lily begins describing the change in her life by focusing on the fact that her relationship with Snow Flower is only growing stronger. The tone here, however, makes it seem as though this may be subject to change, which reinforces the girls' naiveté and youth. They still believe that they'll never have lives as hard as Elder Sister or Aunt.
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Mama, Aunt, Elder Sister, and other unmarried girls visit to celebrate, sing songs, and tell stories. Madame Wang visits and tells "The Tale of Wife Wang." The story tells of a woman who is married to a butcher, which is a low match for Buddhists, as killing animals brings bad karma in the next life.
It's obvious that this story is intended to teach something. It deviates from other stories, however, in that according to Lily's interpretation, it uses a great deal of exaggeration (Lily's husband can't possibly be as bad as a butcher).
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"Wife Wang" tries to reason with her husband to stop killing animals, but he only tells her to remain virtuous. The King of the Afterworld claims her, but when he sees the extent of her virtue, he allows her to return to the world as a man with her real name written on her foot. She returns to her husband's village, unveils her true identity, and, thanks to her virtuousness, her entire family is allowed to enter nirvana. Lily says that she believed Madame Wang told this story to tell Lily about her future, as her husband might be impulsive and make offensive decisions. However, Lily's job as his wife would be to help him fight these bad traits.
Once again, nu shu stories act as teaching tools. Lily understands how she's supposed to extrapolate personalized meaning and lessons out of the story to apply to her own future life, although her belief that the story is about her will be proven incorrect later. Lily also begins to conceptualize what her role as a wife will be. She begins to see that she may have power to influence the way her husband lives.
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Lily says that she had mixed feelings throughout the month as she experiences sadness at leaving and hope for the future. Snow Flower seems neither happy nor sad, just subdued. Snow Flower denies being worried about her wedding night, as does Lily, but neither girl seems convinced.
The wedding night is one tradition that isn't providing any comfort for either girl. It's a tradition, to be sure, but it's entirely unknown. Lily, however, knows she must follow the tradition anyway, even though she doesn't know how.
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Get the entire Snow Flower LitChart as a printable PDF.
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Lily tries to ask about Snow Flower's Sitting and Singing, which will start right after Lily's wedding. It will be the first time in their ten-year relationship that Lily will visit Snow Flower's family home. Snow Flower says little except that it will be a surprise planned by her mother. Lily wonders if Snow Flower feels embarrassed about Lily's low status, but reminds herself that the event is about Snow Flower, not her own worries. Snow Flower says she's worried that Lily will be disappointed.
Lily is trying her best to show Snow Flower that she cares by acting as unselfishly as possible. She has to remind herself that Snow Flower's Sitting and Singing isn't at all about her own worries. Snow Flower's worry, however, continues to build tension as the reader and Lily wonder what could possibly happen to disappoint Lily, who still idolizes Snow Flower.
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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 repeats the process with each family member. Lily tries to be brave, but her resolve is weakening, since a bride can't eat for the ten days of wedding festivities, and the eggs Mama hides for her aren't enough to help.
Throughout her wedding ceremony and festivities, Lily clings tightly to traditions. She realizes that not being allowed to eat makes the process hard, but she follows it because she believes it's the only way to achieve happiness in her marriage.
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The next morning, Lily wakes nervously but Snow Flower comforts her. She helps Lily dress in her wedding outfit and put on all her jewelry, hairpins, and her headdress, with red tassels that hang down in front of her face and 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 for Lily's in-laws to arrive. When they approach, the customary water is thrown on them and people chant, "raising a girl and marrying her off is like building a fancy road for others to use."
Again the phrases and chants about the place of daughters in their natal home indicate that they're little more than burdens. They're raised to serve others, but not to be loved by others. Lily is physically restricted now that she wears her wedding headdress. On the eve of her wedding, she cannot eat, see, or walk far on her bound feet. Therefore, the process of becoming a woman is very much like being captured.
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Madame Wang introduces Lily's parents to their future in-laws. Lily's parents host a banquet at the ancestral temple, which Lily may not eat. She hasn't eaten for seven days. The next day, the Day of the Big Singing Hall, Lily's dowry and the third-day wedding books are displayed. Lily is seated, and Lily’s mother-in-law sets a bowl of soup before her. Lily notices her mother-in-law's feet, and she panics when she sees that she wears shoes that are much finer than the shoes that Lily made for her. As is customary, Snow Flower escorts Lily from the party and back home, and helps her change into a nightdress.
Lily's resolve and bravery continue to weaken as her body weakens. Lily still wears her veil, so she sees nothing of her mother-in-law except for her feet. While Lily's feet are a symbol of her ability to move up in the world, when Lily compares them to those of her mother-in-law, she realizes that her feet may not be enough. This first glimpse gives Lily an idea of the kind of person her mother-in-law is: very fine, and definitely superior.
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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 a true lady lets no ugliness in her life, and one achieves beauty through pain. These are the same words she used during foot binding, and Lily wonders if bed business is that bad. Mama continues and says, "you have promised to be united for life. Be the lady you were meant to be." She gets up and leaves, leaving Lily alone and very afraid.
It's becoming increasingly evident that despite Lily and Snow Flower's insistence that they're not worried about sex, Lily clearly (and understandably) is. However, Mama does little to make Lily feel any better about what's to come (again relying only on platitudes, as Lily has learned to do as well). Notice that Lily's fixation on bed business means that she's unable to consider that Mama may be talking about something entirely different.
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Snow Flower returns and tries to comfort Lily by telling her how virtuous and obedient she is. She remarks that Aunt and Uncle are very happy doing bed business, and then says that Lady Lu was very impressed by Lily's fragility and beautiful feet. She instructs Lily to close her eyes and sleep.
Here, Snow Flower comforts Lily by reminding her how perfectly she adheres to customs and tradition. She tries to make Lily believe that her feet truly do have power, despite Lily's fears to the contrary.
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The next morning, Lily's new family arrives to pick her up and take her to Tongkou. The women 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. As Mama and Baba help Lily over the threshold, she thinks of everything she's been told about her future husband. Snow Flower guides Lily to the palanquin and helps her in, tucking a note and their fan inside Lily's jacket to read later.
This call-and-response again asserts that women are supposed to be worthless to their natal families. Lily still can't see anyone or anything, making the experience of leaving her home even scarier as she heads off to the unknown of her husband's home. She won't only be immobile and blind there; she'll be in unfamiliar territory.
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Lily cries in the palanquin and explains to the reader that part of the phrase for marrying out means "falling," as in falling leaves or dying, and the word for "wife" is the same as for "guest." A wife is only ever an alien, foreign guest in her husband's home.
Lily's explanation reminds the reader again of women's fate. While Lily is hopeful for her future, which will certainly allow her luxuries and freedoms she doesn't currently possess, it will come at the cost of being treated like a foreigner by people she's supposed to love.
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Related Quotes
Lily reads the happy note from Snow Flower on the fan, and then turns to the embroidered note on a handkerchief. Snow Flower writes that Lily will learn things about Snow Flower in the coming days, and Snow Flower is afraid Lily will no longer love her. Lily is perplexed and afraid.
This causes the reader to wonder what possibly might be going on that Snow Flower couldn't tell Lily herself. Lily will come to view this act as a manipulative strike against her because of Snow Flower's refusal to use direct language.
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When Lily arrives at Tongkou, bearers unload her dowry. The woman with the most sons in the village leads Lily to her in-laws' house, where Lily kneels before them and promises to obey and work for them. She's escorted to the wedding chamber and left alone with the door open. She hears people bar the door with a table, stack wedding quilts on top, and place two cups of wine tied with red and green thread on the table. Lily’s husband then enters the room outside to cheers. He pulls the red thread while Lily pulls the green thread, and he jumps over the table. They're officially married.
The fact that the woman with the most sons is charged with escorting Lily once again asserts that a woman's worth is defined by what her body is capable of producing. Even though Lily and her husband are now officially married, she still won't be able to actually see any more than his feet for several hours. This continues to develop the idea that a married woman is at the mercy of her husband and his family, as she depends on him to keep her safe.
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Lily inspects what she can see of her husband, and notes that the shoes she made him look handsome. Then “Teasing and Getting Loud in the Wedding Chamber” begins, and Lily’s husband's friends enter the room and make crude jokes about sex and Lily's body. Late at night, fireworks are set off and everyone goes home. Madame Wang closes the door to the wedding chamber and leaves Lily and her husband alone.
The mere existence of this part of the wedding ceremony alludes to the fact that the true purpose of a marriage is to produce sons through sex. This is the one time that such things can be treated as fun (although not for Lily) and not just a societal pressure and necessity.
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Lily and Lily’s husband greet each other and he offers her peanuts and dates. Lily refuses, as she's not supposed to eat for two more days. He asks Lily if she's pretty, and Lily asks him to remove her headdress. He does and the two regard each other. Lily thinks he's very handsome. He takes Lily's hands and tells her he thinks they could be happy together. He follows all the traditions that night and puts on Lily's sleeping slippers for her. For Lily, this is more intimate than the sex that follows.
In the first moments when they can actually see each other, Lily's husband proves himself to be everything that Snow Flower promised he'd be. Lily still insists on following tradition by not eating anything. Her husband, on the other hand, shows that he doesn't necessarily believe that following tradition so closely is entirely necessary.
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Lily wakes early on the second day of her marriage. She goes into the hallway, feeling sick with worry, as she has been since she read Snow Flower's letter. In the kitchen, Lily's servant girl, Yonggang, has already hauled water and built a fire. Lily performs her chores and later, she and her husband attend a feast in Tonkou's ancestral temple.
Yonggang becomes a prominent sign of Lily's new status as a married woman. Lily will never have to perform menial chores herself anymore, even though as a daughter-in-law, she's required to do whatever chores her in-laws ask of her.
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The third day of marriage is a bride's favorite day, as the third-day wedding books are read to the bride's new family. Elder Sister and Elder Brother arrive, but Snow Flower doesn't come. Lily is hurt and scared by this. The books contain all the usual sentiments, even from Snow Flower. Snow Flower's book begins by mentioning a phoenix and a golden hen.
Amid the complete shock Lily feels due to Snow Flower's absence, she's comforted here by the fact that Snow Flower's book adheres to tradition and what she's come to expect from Snow Flower. However, it also continues to build tension regarding what Lily is going to find when she finally arrives at Snow Flower's home.
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