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The Bonesetter’s Daughter

Amy Tan
Further Study

Study Questions

Further Study Study Questions

How does Ruth’s view of romantic love compare with the perspectives of her mother and grandmother?

Though in many ways they were unusually independent Chinese women for their time, Precious Auntie and LuLing had their romantic decisions influenced by economic and social concerns. Precious Auntie’s father allowed her a great sense of autonomy, and Precious Auntie made the independent choice to marry Baby Uncle because she was attracted to him. However, she paid for this choice with a lot of pain and suffering because she offended her other suitor Chang’s pride. Chang, representing the traditional misogyny of society, punished Precious Auntie by organizing an attack on her father and Baby Uncle. Like her mother, LuLing had some agency in selecting a husband, but, unlike Precious Auntie, LuLing was interested in marriage for economic stability and social opportunity. Therefore, she considered the union with Fu Nan Chang that eventually drove Precious Auntie to suicide. Love did drive LuLing to marry her first husband, Kai Jing, but their loving marriage was destroyed by war, reflecting the unlikelihood of female agency and happiness in traditional Chinese society.

In contrast with her mother and grandmother, Ruth is free to choose a partner on the basis of compatibility and happiness without as much societal judgment. When Ruth first meets Art, she does not think of him as a prospective romantic partner at all. In fact, she believes he is gay and that he is only interested in her as a friend. Ruth gets to know him as a person, and the question of romantic attraction only comes later. Ruth chooses to pursue a relationship with Art because she enjoys spending time with him, but she is already economically independent and does not want to have children. She is happy in her relationship even though Art is not Chinese, and he approaches the world with Western values. Though Ruth and Art are at first emotionally distant, by the end of the novel, they establish a mutual partnership and, through this, Ruth’s relationship represents a significant step toward marital happiness for the women of her family.

How does the relationship between LuLing and GaoLing change over time?

LuLing and GaoLing’s relationship begins as relatively distant, becomes closer due to LuLing’s suffering, and then becomes ambivalent due to GaoLing’s ambition. Even though they are extremely close in age, GaoLing and LuLing are not very close as young children. LuLing spends most of her time with Precious Auntie, and she sometimes resents GaoLing for being their mother’s favorite. However, their relationship changes when Precious Auntie kills herself and LuLing becomes ostracized by the family. GaoLing is the only one to show kindness to her, and even after LuLing is banished to the orphanage, GaoLing never gives up. She spends years searching for her sister. On one hand, this loyalty shows that GaoLing loves LuLing and is not ashamed of her. On the other, during this time, GaoLing is trapped in an unhappy marriage, and her relationship with LuLing gives her an opportunity to gain more independence and freedom.

GaoLing’s ambitious and somewhat opportunistic perspective makes the relationship between the sisters become more ambivalent over time. GaoLing tricks LuLing into giving up the opportunity to be the first to immigrate to America. Then, after GaoLing ends up with greater economic stability and social position due to her husband prospering while LuLing’s husband dies, she sometimes makes insensitive comments to LuLing. Both women grew up in an era in which making an advantageous marriage and achieving a comfortable life were highly desirable, so they continue to be competitive with one another in this realm. However, even though they squabble, GaoLing remains loyal to her sister. She keeps all of LuLing’s secrets, is always willing to help her, and ensures that LuLing gets an equal share of the Young family inheritance. Just like relationships between mothers and daughters, relationships between sisters are complicated but also profound and enduring.

Why does Ruth feel disconnected from her mother and her family heritage?

Ruth feels disconnected from her mother and family heritage because she lacks knowledge of LuLing’s history. Until she reads the manuscript LuLing has written, Ruth is ignorant about what her mother has lived through and the suffering she has experienced. She does not know that LuLing lives with grief and guilt every day and that this explains some of her erratic behavior. For example, Ruth has always been embarrassed by her mother’s obsession with contacting the spirit of Precious Auntie. She has always believed that LuLing was ignorant and outdated for trying to contact a ghost. Because Ruth thinks of herself as a modern, rational woman, she feels like she is very different from her mother. However, when Ruth gains more knowledge about LuLing’s life, she sees that many of LuLing’s actions actually make sense in context. She also gains appreciation for how hard LuLing has worked to give her a good life, and she feels a deeper mother-daughter connection because she recognizes that everything she has comes from the sacrifices and suffering of her mother and grandmother.

Ruth also gains a deeper sense of familial connection when she is able to see the similarities between herself and her mother and grandmother. Ruth and LuLing are both the only children of a woman who had to be very independent while hiding away her grief and pain. Precious Auntie could never tell her daughter her true identity, while LuLing kept her life in China secret from Ruth. All three women are intelligent, educated, and interested in writing and art. Both LuLing and Precious Auntie followed their hearts and had relationships with men they loved at a time when this was not always allowed for women. Knowing these things about LuLing and Precious Auntie, Ruth gains more respect for them and is also able to see how they are not so different from herself. She can actually understand who she is by learning the history of the women who came before her. In fact, by the end of the novel, Ruth understands that it is only by embracing her family lineage that she can actually arrive at deeper self-awareness.