Lily’s world would be nothing without love and pain. There are many different interpretations of love between each character. Some do not express what true love is while others do not experience love at all, just obedience between to married strangers. Love is a reoccurring theme in this novel of these two Chinese laotongs.
Lily Wu learns very early that the love she shares with her mother is entirely cocooned in the pain. In fact, the Chinese word for mother means pain. The foot binding that a mother was obligated to do in the era, was a terribly painful ritual in which the daughter’s feet completely break into a “C” shape, with the toes curves to the heel. Making her walk on her injured feet is the only way to get them to break, and the mother must enforce this, even if it leads to thrashing. Lily consistently feels unloved because her mother does not display enough of affection towards her. By the age of 7, Lily does not fully understand why her mother puts her through the excruciating pain of foot binding. This process is what will make the daughter valuable and marriageable.
The pain of marriage love, to Lily, involves “rupture” and is the picture of subservience. A new wife is expected to not only serve her new husband, but to serve his entire household, particularly his mother, doing the hardest work. She is also a tool to bear and raise children. The relationship between Lily and her husband is extremely parallel than the one shared among Snow Flower and her spouse. Lily’s husband cares for her well-being and that she is taken care of. He never once threatened her or laid a hand on her.
They have a true, enchanting marriage for their culture. She would go past her limits for her children and husband. When the sickness epidemic flourished in her village, Lily was the only one to leave the room ,which is risking her to get contaminated and possibly lead to her death. She sacrificed herself to care for her dying mother-in-law and to keep her children free of disease. Lily is the definition of a strong and caring mother.
Laotongs are two girls that have a secretive bond that lasts for lifetimes. Snow Flower and Lily consider themselves birds with the same beating heart. They are inseparable with the nu shu that they script in their fan. Writing their thoughts and describing how they long to be together. These laotongs constantly learns from one another. Lily educates Snow Flower on the daily chores of a young lady of a lower class, which will assist Snow Flower as her marriage develops. They want to be each other’s’ happiness when there is none occurring in their life at the time. Even through the lies and the pain Lily will always love Snow Flower, even after her death.
Snow Flower and her husband have a mismatched marriage. Her husband is a butcher, which brings bad fortune into the next life. He sees Snow Flower no more than an object that he and his mother controls. When they were deserted during the winter months in the mountain, he only kept Lily alive because they assumed there would be a reward; because he knew of her wealth being betrothed into the Lu family. He even had bed time with her whenever he wanted while his family and Lily were present. They do not share true love in comparison with Lily and her husband.
Not all endings become happy ones. Love and loss is a commonality throughout this story. Many of the people that Lily and Snow Flower have come to love are now deceased. One thing that will never fade is the laotong relationship that Lily and Snow Flower grew into that will develop into their next life; forever friends.