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The Bonesetter’s Daughter

Amy Tan
Main Ideas

Key Facts

Main Ideas Key Facts

full title The Bonesetter’s Daughter

author Amy Tan

type of work Novel

genre Literary fiction; family drama; historical fiction

language English

time and place written Mid-late 1990s, San Francisco and New York City

date of first publication 2001

publisher Random House

narrator The present-day sections of the novel are narrated by an anonymous narrator, while the sections describing LuLing’s life are narrated by LuLing.

point of view The novel consists of a narrative, written by LuLing, nested within the larger plot of Ruth’s present life. The anonymous narrator speaks in the third person, relating only what Ruth can see and hear and providing a subjective perspective into what Ruth thinks and feels. In the narrative section, LuLing speaks in the first person, describing her own thoughts, feelings, and motivations.

tone The tone of the anonymous narrator is compassionate and non-judgmental in describing Ruth, LuLing, and the conflict between them. The tone of LuLing’s narrative is wistful, pained, and regretful as she describes tragic events from her past.

tense The main plot of the novel is written in the present tense, but the narrative describing LuLing’s life is written in the past tense.

setting (time) Ruth’s portion of the novel takes place in the late twentieth-century. LuLing’s history includes events that take place between approximately 1900 and the late 1940s.

setting (place) San Francisco and China

protagonist Ruth Young

major conflict Ruth struggles to understand and feel compassion for her mother because LuLing has often been harsh with her and because Ruth does not know much about LuLing’s past.

rising action Ruth’s struggle to relate to her mother begins in her childhood when they often fight, and continues as adult Ruth becomes increasingly worried about her elderly mother and has to take on the role of caregiver.

climax The climax occurs when Ruth reads the manuscript narrating her mother’s life. At this point, Ruth’s struggle to understand LuLing becomes overt because she realizes how little she has known about her mother and how much this ignorance has shaped her inability to relate to LuLing.

falling action After Ruth reads the manuscript, she becomes much more respectful and patient with LuLing, and she becomes committed to discovering Precious Auntie’s true name so that she can honor her memory and ensure that it will live on.

themes Mother-Daughter Relationships; Resilience; Secrecy

motifs Bones; Ghosts; Suicide

symbols The pearl necklace; Precious Auntie’s scars; the oracle bone

foreshadowing Precious Auntie’s childhood with no siblings and one parent foreshadows Ruth’s childhood family; Baby Uncle’s accident when he breaks his toe foreshadows his death in another incident with a horse; Baby Uncle’s death foreshadows the death of Edmund Young; Precious Auntie’s suicide foreshadows LuLing’s suicide attempt and Ruth’s suicidal thoughts.