I believe that the footbinding serves the plot as Lily’s first time being pulled out of the illusion she had been living in and seeing the injustice that was set upon women. Up until the binding occurred, Lily firmly believed that it would better her life and make her a higher-class woman. “All i knew was that footbinding would make me more marriageable and therefore bring me closer to the greatest love and greatest joy in a woman’s life – a son.
“(25-26) As her foot binding was beginning, Lily only wanted to prove herself to her family, and earn the affection of her mother: “As the eldest, I went first, and I was determined to show how brave I would be.”(26) After her bindings are on and watching her sister, Third sister try desperately to escape footbinding only to be deemed a disgrace, Lily’s mother demands that Lily stand up and painfully walk across the room in her bound feet. I think this is the moment where Lily first sees through the facade of happiness brought by footbinding and a woman’s “only purpose”. “The idea was beyond my comprehension. My feet were throbbing. Just a few minutes ago I had been so sure of my courage.
Now I did my best to hold back tears and failed.”(28) Later, on the same page, she says “The word pain does not begin to describe the feeling.” Lisa see uses the narrative violence of footbinding to contrast against Lily’s rose-tinted view of the world up until that moment, and to provide essential character development to Lily. I think that this scene fits into the overall meaning of “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan” by making readers, as well as Lily, consider exactly how much suffering women had to endure to fulfill the role that society had given them at the time.
Footbinding would fall into the category of literary violence that Thomas C. Foster refers to as “authorial violence”. “By the second, authorial violence, I mean the death and suffering authors introduce into their work in the interest of plot advancement or thematic development and for which they, not their characters, are responsible” On a literal level, Lily’s mother did bind her daughter’s feet, but ultimately it was 19th century Chinese society itself, or the author, that caused Lily’s mother to perform the footbinding. This raises the question: What was the “plot advancement” that Lisa See used the pain of footbinding to achieve?In Lisa See’s Novel “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”, the scene in which the footbinding of the protagonist, Lily, begins, on page 26, is one of the most pivotal scenes in the book. In it, Lily undergoes the coming-of-age process for women in 19th century China: having one’s feet bound in tight wraps and being forced to walk, in hopes of breaking bones and having tiny feet.
At the time, tiny feet were considered to make a woman more marriageable and allow her to reach a higher class. The eleventh chapter of Thomas C. Foster’s “How to Read Literature Like a Professor”, titled “More than It’s Gonna Hurt You: Concerning Violence”, provides great insight into the meaning of the suffering of footbinding within the text of “Snow Flower and the Secret Fan”.