Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

Themes and Colors
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
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Lily, Snow Flower, and the other female characters live very different lives from the men around them. In the culture and time of the novel, a woman's purpose is primarily to bring honor to her natal (birth) family and her family by marriage, and to do so primarily by bearing sons. While a woman's role in society is undeniably a product of the cultural traditions of the time, the specific beliefs and expectations…

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In the first few pages of the novel, Lily, at eighty years old, explains to the reader that the story to follow is a story about love and the different forms that love can take. She explains that she has spent her entire life craving love that, as a woman, she's undeserving of receiving. This sets love up as a major motivator throughout the novel, as well as creates a dichotomy between love as…

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As women, Lily and Snow Flower are forbidden from learning "men's writing" and instead learn nu shu, a form of writing created by and for women to communicate secretly with each other. Nu shu, however, isn't just writing in the conventional sense; it encompasses an entire cultural system that is specifically female, comprised of songs and stories meant to be performed for other women, embroidery and other textile work, and more conventional correspondence, like…

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Experiencing pain and suffering is linked early on to the simple fact of being female. A girl is expected to undergo the painful process of foot binding starting around age six. While tiny bound feet are considered attractive, the pain a girl experiences during the binding process is also supposed to prepare her to endure the emotionally wrought experience of "marrying out" and leaving one's natal home, and then the physical pain of childbirth. Further…

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As a work of historical fiction, the culture, traditions, and actual historical events of the time (1823-1903) permeate every aspect of the novel, simply by virtue of the genre. However, Lily's engagement with culture and tradition doesn't just dictate how her life should be lived; rather, the way in which she internalizes and uses her culture and beliefs blinds her to a more holistic understanding of the individuals and events in her life.

One…

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