Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Rice-and-Salt Days: Into the Mountains Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Snow Flower writes Lily and says that her family survived, although she miscarried a daughter early on. She invites Lily to visit, and despite Lily's husband's protests, Lily accepts. Lily travels to Jintian late in the fall. She and Snow Flower eat lunch outside and then go to the women's chamber. Snow Flower's mother-in-law is as nasty as ever. They discuss waiting to bind their daughters' feet until they're seven. Looking at Snow Flower’s daughter Spring Moon, Lily says the girls will be like a pair of mandarin ducks.
The mention of mandarin ducks is a common phrase in nu shu, but it works here also to point to the freedom that the girls will hopefully gain from their friendship, just as their mothers did.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Love and Family Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Snow Flower's husband won't allow Snow Flower and Lily to sleep together, as is customary, so Snow Flower makes Lily a bed in the women's chamber. Lily listens to Snow Flower and her husband have sex downstairs, embarrassed. The next day, Snow Flower boils water so she and Lily can wash. Upstairs, alone with each other and naked, Lily thinks that Snow Flower looks old.
Lily is perplexed and embarrassed by this household's unwillingness to follow tradition. Notice again that Lily's thoughts about Snow Flower stray into "masculine" territory as she considers the state of Snow Flower's body. Lily's gaze is a judging one.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Chinese Culture and Tradition Theme Icon
Lily says she didn't realize at the time that the outer world of men was now pushing into her life. The second night at Snow Flower's house, they're awakened by sounds and smoke outside. People begin to flee the village. They learn that the Emperor has sent troops to the area to drive out the Taipings, and the fighting will arrive soon. Lily, panicked, wonders why her husband hasn't sent for her. In the late afternoon she sees a palanquin from Tongkou coming towards Jintian, but Snow Flower's husband refuses to let her stay and wait for it. He insists that she come with them to the mountains instead.
Lily continues to differentiate the worlds of men and women into neat categories. While for much of her life she simply had little to do with the men's realm, here she begins to conceptualize it as extremely dangerous, and something that directly affects her. This continues to develop her understanding that her life is made up of both men's and women's stories, regardless of how much she does or doesn't understand.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Snow Flower's husband lifts his mother, Snow Flower, and Lily into the cart, and he and Snow Flower’s eldest son push. Spring Moon walks with Snow Flower's second son. They travel through the night and watch the fire behind them. When the cart can go no further, they continue on foot. The next afternoon, the road turns into a narrow path. Elders sit abandoned along the path. Lily's feet hurt, but she's lucky. Other women's feet break and leave them crippled.
The butcher proves himself to be extremely loyal to his family. This adherence to tradition sits favorably with Lily, even while she goes on to hate him for other things. The importance of being filial, however, comes into question as Lily sees elders abandoned. She begins to question if there are times when survival becomes more important than tradition.
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
Get the entire Snow Flower LitChart as a printable PDF.
Snow flower and the secret fan.pdf.medium
By the second night, Lily sees young girls whose foot bindings have just begun—abandoned. Little boys beg for help, but Lily asks how you can help others when you're afraid for your life and thinking only of those you love. The path narrows even more. Lily knows her feet are bleeding, and she hears the screams of people who slip off the edge and fall down the mountain.
Here, women's bound feet turn into a liability. These women are asked for the first time to truly engage with the world of men and actual physical movement. Lily continues to question one's loyalty to family as she sees people abandoned. In this brutal environment, fear and survival overcome filial duty.
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
The travelers reach a sheltered spot on the mountain. Snow Flower recognizes three families from Jintian and she and her family join them. Snow Flower's husband leaves to look for firewood. Lily and Snow Flower are too tired and scared to sleep, and one Snow Flower's friends, Lotus, leads them in a familiar chant that tells the story of the Yao people, Lily's ethnic group.
The fear and suffering of the people in the mountains calls women's versus men's suffering into question. War is considered the “men’s realm,” but it makes everyone, including women, suffer.
Themes
Women and Gender Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon
Lotus begins the story of a woman who marries a dog. The two escape to the mountains and have 12 children. Willow picks up the story, chanting that the emperor wanted to tax the Yao descendants of the woman and the dog. Snow Flower chants that the emperor sent troops to flush them out of the mountain, but they’re unsuccessful. Finally, the Yao divide a water buffalo horn, distribute 12 pieces of horn, and the groups scatter. Lily wonders if she's truly safe in the mountains, as the mountains couldn't protect the Yao people.
While the story is intended to provide the women comfort, it only makes Lily question her safety and the wisdom of the characters in the story itself. In her attempt to transcribe the moral of the story to her own life, Lily continues to explore the function of these stories and chants. She's beginning to gather evidence that the stories aren't just stories; they do indeed exist and play out in real life.
Themes
Language, Storytelling, and Communication Theme Icon
Pain, Suffering, and Coming of Age Theme Icon