Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.

Mother-Daughter Relationships

Throughout The Bonesetter’s Daughter, the examples of mother-daughter relationships prove that love can coexist with conflict and that familial patterns will perpetually repeat. Both Ruth and LuLing grow up raised by mothers who have sacrificed a lot to care for them, but they lack knowledge of their mother’s histories and consequently fail to appreciate their mother’s sacrifices. As they reach adolescence, Ruth and LuLing both grow increasingly rebellious and lash out against their mothers because they feel ashamed of them. The frustration and resentment they feel toward their mothers does not negate their love, and both daughters later look back and regret their behavior. In fact, the conflict both generations of mothers and daughters experience is rooted in their desire to protect one another. They carry deep love but experience similar conflict because generational trauma is passed down and experienced by each mother and daughter pair.


Characters in the novel—especially women—who are systematically denied power become resourceful in other ways. The female characters in the novel experience violence and abuse, a lack of economic opportunities, and an inability to make decisions about their own lives, such as whom to marry. Even Ruth, growing up in contemporary California, is still at risk of sexual violence. The women, living in different time periods and different regions, have a shared experience of being stripped of their power, and they become resilient and resourceful. LuLing and GaoLing survive tragic events, but they eventually travel to America and build new lives for themselves. Even though Precious Auntie kills herself, she passes down her intelligence and skills to her daughter. Even Mother shows great strength and shrewdness when it seems like the Liu family fortune has been lost.


In the novel, withholding truth leads to lingering, persistent trauma. Precious Auntie thinks she is protecting her daughter and giving her a better future by hiding her true identity as LuLing’s mother. LuLing takes the same approach and thinks that she will spare Ruth the pain of generations before by not revealing her history. However, for both women, withholding the truth from their daughters fractures their relationships. LuLing’s lack of knowledge leads to Precious Auntie’s suicide, which then haunts LuLing for the rest of her life. Still, LuLing keeps important secrets and only narrowly avoids Ruth living her entire life without knowing the truth about her mother. Ruth and LuLing have a tense relationship because Ruth cannot realize how difficult LuLing’s life has been. Contrary to LuLing’s fears, once Ruth knows the truth about her, she is much more patient and loving with her mother.