Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan Rice-and-Salt Days: Letter of Vituperation Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
People begin rebuilding their lives. Lily vows to never again enter the outside world of men. She and Snow Flower see each other often, and their husbands allow them to sleep together. They also continue to travel to Puwei for festivals, where Aunt and Uncle have become beloved "grandparents" to the children of Elder Brother and Second Brother. When Lily and Snow Flower make offerings at the Temple of Gupo, they discuss their daughters' impending foot binding. Lily realizes that while she is very happy, Snow Flower doesn't gain weight and appears emotionally as though she jumped off the cliff in the mountains.
Everyone (except for Snow Flower) seems to be adhering to custom and tradition as they move forward after the disturbance of the Rebellion. Lily is comforted and invigorated by the return to normal, which makes Snow Flower's inability to feel the same way seem even more annoying and offensive. Snow Flower is outwardly following what should be done, but her emotions don't follow the same path.
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Lily's husband warns her that Snow Flower isn't as strong as Lily is, and says that not every man is like him. Snow Flower confirms this when she admits that the butcher continues to beat her often. Snow Flower refuses to leave her husband, though, saying that she must protect her eldest son. Lily as the narrator says that she didn't have enough patience with Snow Flower then, and instead peppered Snow Flower with questions like "why couldn't she try to be a better wife?" Lily keeps asking why Snow Flower can't do what Lily did, and wrap herself in convention that could keep her safe. Lily says she didn't realize that Snow Flower's spirit was broken.
Snow Flower simply can't win. Now that she's accepted that she must keep her eldest son alive, Lily wants her to put herself in extreme danger by leaving her husband. Lily shows that she once again doesn't have the emotional skills or maturity to understand the multiple layers of texture in the situation. This also hearkens back to the lessons of subtlety and interpretation in nu shu. Lily still holds onto the naïve belief that every woman, if she tries hard enough, can triumph simply by following convention.
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In the middle of August, Snow Flower and her children plan to visit Lily for the Mid-Autumn festival, but Lotus appears on Lily's doorstep instead. She carries Lily and Snow Flower's fan wrapped in silk and gives it to Lily. Lily is suddenly afraid. She opens the fan and reads Snow Flower's note, which says that she has too many troubles and that Lily no longer has to listen to Snow Flower's complaints. Snow Flower writes, "three sworn sisters have promised to love me as I am." Lily doesn't understand Snow Flower's use of "love." She believes their laotong relationship doesn't allow Snow Flower to join other sisters, and decides that Snow Flower doesn't care for her anymore.
Lily's understanding of the world is in very black and white terms: you're either following rules, or you're not. She once again neglects to consider the many shades of gray that exist in Snow Flower's situation as a whole, and in her note. This failure here to remember the lessons taught in nu shu lead to Lily's final, tragic “coming of age.” She rejects love and this relationship, and in doing so leaves her childhood entirely behind.
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Lily realizes that the sworn sisters must be Lotus, Plum Blossom, and Willow, the women they lived with in the mountains. Lily feels immense pain, but reacts like the Lady Lu she now is and falls back on conventions rather than feel her emotions. She begins to assess Snow Flower's faults until she's found a pattern of deceit and betrayal 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 the same sort of distance. Lily doesn't write Snow Flower back, and doesn't start Jade's foot binding on the date that she and Snow Flower set.
Lily actively denies the existence of her own confusing emotions. Notice also how Lily uses tradition and custom here. She knows that choosing to not follow customs regarding Jade's foot binding will hurt Snow Flower, and this then will allow her another way to dismiss Jade and Spring Moon's laotong match, all in the name of keeping with traditions. Thus in this case traditions are used to provide Lily comfort while they do great harm to others.
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Get the entire Snow Flower LitChart as a printable PDF.
Snow flower and the secret fan.pdf.medium
A week later, Lotus comes again with a letter from Snow Flower, asking why Lily hasn't written. Lily burns it, as well as the next few that come as she starts Jade's foot binding. Lily explains that she started "Cutting a Disease from My Heart," or erasing all memories of Snow Flower. She constructs a flower tower to get rid of the ghost tormenting her and burns all of the letters from Snow Flower she can find with it. Lily cannot, however, find the fan, and Snow Flower continues to haunt her.
By building a flower tower, Lily attempts to fall back on customs that are supposed to provide safety and comfort. The fact that Lily's attempt is unsuccessful, however, suggests that when traditions are used inappropriately (Snow Flower isn't dead and isn't a real ghost), they can't perform their intended purpose.
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Jade bears much of Lily's suffering. Lily wraps her 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 several months later. Lily knows that Madame Wang is a shrewd businesswoman, but her love for Snow Flower is her greatest weakness.
In her hurt and anger, Lily perpetuates violence in the same way that Mama did. She encourages Jade, as Mama encouraged Lily, to be a true lady and to not feel "ugly" emotions, even as she herself feels the very emotions she warns against.
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Lily doesn't offer Madame Wang tea and tells her it's too early to find Jade a marriage match. Madame Wang pulls out a fan and mentions the laotong match between Jade and Spring Moon. Lily asks for the fan and reads the note on it, which is nearly the same as what Lily received from Snow Flower many years ago. Madame Wang calls Lily out on severing her match with Snow Flower, and Lily replies that she cannot match Jade with a butcher's daughter. She continues that Madame Wang told them years ago to not allow "concubines" into their relationship, asking if Madame Wang knows what Snow Flower has done.
Lily is intentionally rude to Madame Wang, again because she knows that it's possible to do damage and cause personal pain while still officially following tradition. Interestingly, Lily is unable to recognize that she herself severed the laotong contract with Snow Flower, not the other way around. This again indicates that Lily hasn't truly learned the lessons that nu shu and language was supposed to teach her.
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Lily tosses the fan at Madame Wang. Madame Wang agrees to pass the message to Snow Flower, and then kindly says that while Lily once had nothing but pretty feet, she now has an abundance of malice.
Madame Wang isn't willing to let Lily win. She sees that Lily has been blinded by her good fortune, and that her success comes at the expense of true love.
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On the day of Snow Flower's cousin's Sitting and Singing ceremony, which Lily and Snow Flower had planned on attending together, Lily hopes that Snow Flower won't come. However, both Snow Flower and Madame Wang are in attendance. Lily sits across the circle and participates in the singing and chanting.
Lily is still concerned enough with appearances to not skip the Sitting and Singing. The songs and chants provide a familiar backdrop for the very unfamiliar emotions Lily and Snow Flower now experience.
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The bride's mother asks Snow Flower to tell them of her life, and Lily is shocked to hear Snow Flower announce that she will sing a Letter of Vituperation (a public grievance). Snow Flower starts, "the pheasant squawks and the sound carries far." She lists all the miseries of her life and then says that her laotong was her one happiness in life for 27 years. She asks Lily why she turned away, and why she refused Spring Moon as Jade's laotong. She begs Lily to not make a third generation of women suffer.
With the Letter of Vituperation, Snow Flower uses Lily's love of formal and traditional avenues to try to talk to her laotong and express her emotions. She essentially tries to meet Lily on her own playing field. We see that Snow Flower still has hope that her family can escape its ill fortune, with her request that Lily not make Spring Moon suffer. She knows that a match with Jade might save her from the same fate as Snow Flower and her mother, and so she appeals to a sense of female solidarity—but this is something that Lily has never really felt.
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Lily begins her own Letter of Vituperation in retaliation. She says that all women know hard lives, but that Snow Flower thinks her own hard life is special. Lily cries as she tells Snow Flower that she always remained true, and accuses Snow Flower of embracing sworn sisters. Lily continues that as women, they have to accept when their husbands turn away from them, but it's merciless when women turn away from other women. She grows even angrier and begins telling the room everything she can about Snow Flower, including that she and the butcher don't obey the laws regarding having sex after birth.
At this point in her life, Lily truly believes that all women are simply destined to suffer. She justifies the violence, pain, and suffering that Snow Flower experiences as being nothing out of the ordinary and, further, feels that they're deserved. She shifts the blame for Snow Flower's fate onto Snow Flower herself, indicating that Snow Flower is simply being punished for her numerous transgressions.
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Lily tells the reader that in the moment she thought she was free, but realizes now that she was becoming trapped in hatred for Snow Flower. Snow Flower, crying, addresses Lily and says that the women in her village don't criticize her, but comfort her and visit her. She says 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 follows her.
Lily as the narrator understands that hatred traps people, while love can free them. Snow Flower evidently already understands this, as she tries to surround herself with people who love her without the judgment and conditions that Lily has. Snow Flower is so dishonored by Lily pointing out her transgressions that nobody can comfort her and still be considered proper.
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Lily tells the reader that when she looks back on that day, she knows that she was despicable. However, she gained the respect of every other woman there by exposing a woman who did not conform, and destroyed Snow Flower in the process. Lily's Song of Vituperation became known and news of Snow Flower's disgrace spread. Lily is crippled by these events. She can't figure out the point of being Lady Lu without love.
What happens to Snow Flower because of Lily's Letter of Vituperation indicates the importance of upholding tradition. If a woman doesn't, she's liable not just to suffer scorn or violence from her husband, but also a rejection of companionship from other women. Lily suffers too, though, as she no longer has any true love in her life with no laotong or sworn sisters to give her real companionship in her new position of power.
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