Analysis

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 609

Pruitt’s purpose in writing A Daughter of Han was to construct an honest impression of the Chinese people as decent and resourceful, despite the gritty reality of life in China. The information in the book comes from more than two years of conversations in the Pruitt home, to which Mistress Ning was invited many times for interviews over morning tea. Because Pruitt herself was born in P’englai and grew up speaking Chinese, the two women communicated easily, and Pruitt displays a knack for grasping meaning in what Mistress Ning tells her. The book therefore serves as a testimony about Chinese life and the drawbacks of being female in China: being discriminated against for being a daughter instead of a son, not getting an education, and being abused by one’s husband. Mistress Ning endured many heartaches as she spent her life trying to hold her family together in the face of war and the ravages of poverty.

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Mistress Ning’s experiences in the different households where she was employed enabled her to tell about ordinary life at many different levels of Chinese society. Thus, as she describes her first job in the army officer’s home, the reader learns about official corruption in China. Through her experiences in other jobs, the reader also learns about upper-class weddings, the custom of Chinese men of openly keeping mistresses or concubines, and the stresses that disrupted family life when wives and concubines fought. The book reveals the cruel fate of widows, who are never allowed to remarry and must live out their years in loneliness in order to be honored after death for their faithfulness. The stories that enrich A Daughter of Han are those of kitchens, kitchen gods, festivals, cooking, and food; of clothing and fashion; of theater, magic, fortune-telling, and folk religion; of childbearing and child rearing; and of lawsuits and justice. Pruitt’s use of simple language adds to the story’s authenticity and helps to convey Mistress Ning’s understanding of the world. The teenage reader gains a clear sense of how Chinese people understand the mysterious forces that decide human events.

Of the many tragedies in Mistress Ning’s life, none was greater than her husband’s sale of their infant daughter Chinya into servitude. For many years Mistress Ning could...

(The entire section contains 609 words.)

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Critical Context