After her mother's death, Lao T'ai-t'ai doesn't really know any other way to help herself along in her marriage. When her husband sells all her possessions so that he can purchase opium, she makes a number of statements that show just how helpless married women were, it seems, required to be. She says,
We women knew nothing but to comb our hair and bind our feet and wait at home for our men. When my mother had been hungry she had sat at home and waited for my father to bring her food, so when I was hungry I waited at home for my husband to bring me food.
It's incredibly sad to think about this poor girl, still a teenager, who goes hungry because she simply does not know what else to do. Her helplessness is extraordinary and renders her all the more sympathetic.
We also get to see what an incredible toll opium took on those unfortunates who became addicted to it, as well as their families. Lao T'ai-t'ai says,
Those who eat opium have no face. There is no form or pattern of decency in their minds. . . . What do those who smoke opium know of family, of honor, of face?
At this point, her husband has sold anything and everything they own, including the cooking utensils Lao T’ai-t’ai needs to cook any food that the family happens to receive as a gift or from what she is able to "glean." Then, her husband brings home his father, who is very ill from cholera, and Lao T’ai-t’ai is expected to tend to him on her own. Then, her husband disappears rather than stay with his dying father.
Still, despite her husband's terrible behavior, the importance of the husband in the wife's life continues to be reinforced by her narrative, again and again. Lao T'ai-t'ai says,
The old people tell us that her husband is more important to a woman than her parents. A woman is with her parents only part of her life, they say, but she is with her husband forever. He also feels that he is the most important. If a wife is not good to her husband, there is retribution in heaven.
Unbelievably, her husband actually blames her when the family has nothing to eat! And yet, her hands are figuratively tied (much like her literal feet had been) to her husband. The cultural belief is that his approval of her is required, that she has something like a divine mandate to take care of him, even when he is the worst of the worst (which one could argue her husband is).
Remarkably, despite Lao T'ai-t'ai's own awful marriage, she continues to subscribe to her culture's ideas about it. She says of her daughter,
And so Mantze blames me for all the misfortunes of her life. But a woman should...
(The entire section is 717 words.)