The title story in this collection of short stories is based on the central theme of sacrificial love. In this tale, Shanshan discovers the diaries of her mother which explain how she was not able to marry the man she loved because he married a peasant through his commitment to the classless ideal of Communist China. However, in spite of this act of his, it is clear that both Shanshan's mother and her lover continued to love each other throughout their lives, causing them both great unhappiness. This short story therefore acts as a very profound meditation on the impact of love and how it marks and shapes us as human beings. Note how Shanshan's mother talks about her love for her lover in her diary in the following extract:
I realize then that I have forgotten nothing. Everything is unchanged. My love is like a tree the roots of which strike deeper year after year--I have no way to uproot it.
The simile that Shanshan's mother uses to describe her love captures perfectly the way that love is not something that can be easily cast aside or forgotten, and it is something by contrast that can grow each year and develop, strengthening more and more. The overwhelming theme of this short story therefore is to do with love, and related to this, marriage. Somewhat didactically, the story states that it is far better never to marry than to marry someone where love does not exist. The lesson is highlighted at the end of the story when Shanshan determines not to marry her suitor because she does not love him.