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What does "Snapshot: Lost Lives of Women" suggest about responding to personal challenges?

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In this essay Amy Tan places the issues facing women today in the context of her family history. She suggests that one can gain strength by an awareness of the cultural differences that have existed among societies (and which still exist) and the challenges women have faced in these settings.

Tan relates that her grandmother in 1920s China was forced to become a rich man's concubine after her husband had died and she had no other options. She thus became an outcast and ended up leaving her son behind when she moved from Shanghai, in order to save him from the shame she was forced to endure. Tan's aunt experienced a similar fate after she divorced her husband.

Tan contrasts these situations (and other factors such as the practice of binding women's feet in China) with those of women in present-day America. Women in the US clearly have more options than her forebears had. What Tan finds is that a kind of thread of courage runs through the generations of women in her family, and this contextualizing of one's personal situation with the past is essential to dealing with the present and its own challenges, as different as they may be from those of the past.

Tan's overall point is that it is at least partly by understanding the past, and by appreciating the endurance of women under severely adverse conditions—ones hardly imaginable by the standards of today—that one gains the ability to face personal challenges and responsibilities today.

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Tan's work helps to bring to life that the condition of being a woman is one that can transcend time.  The relationship between one woman to another, mother to daughter, is something that reflects the difficulty in being a woman in different time periods.  Women of previous time periods, such as Tan's mother, experienced their own sense of challenge and fundamental social inertia to acknowledging their own voice and experience.  Although there are significant exceptions to the rule, modern women might not have to face such inertia.  They are able to enjoy the relative acknowledgment of voice and narrative experience.  However, their challenge is to fully embrace what it means to be a "woman," to be the descendant of those who have endured more than one can imagine.  The challenge of the modern woman is to construct a narrative that understands the freedom of the modern setting, the conditions of what once was, and do so in an identity that recognizes the past without being subjugated by it.

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