Choose a particular episode in the story. Then, analyze it closely, commenting on how it relates to the story as a whole and what you find interesting in the way it is written. In this essay, I will be looking at “A visit from the foot binder” written by Emily Prager, and I will analyze the episode closely in the story where Lord Guo Guo comes back to view and witness the expense Lady Guo Guo has gone to, to create her burial tomb. I aim to examine how this episode has been written and relate it to this story’s main themes and functions.
Through reading this episode, I believe that it signifies the portrayal of authority both sexes have over each other and the different ways that each can influence one another with it. It also bears some reference to the dependence of both sexes and how both rely on each other to achieve what they desire but the independence and stubbornness shown by Lady Guo Guo to attain what she requires.
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From the beginning of this section, we can observe Lady Guo Guo’s respect for the Lord. We comprehend that this relationship is not one for love but of convenience as this is evident from the way they treat each other within the scene and especially noted from the way Lady Guo Guo approaches her husband on his arrival- “Lady Guo Guo bowed as did the entire crowd…” The word ‘bowed’ shows the kind of authoritative figure Lord Guo Guo is and likens Lady Guo Guo to the entire crowd. I believe the purpose of this is to illustrate that Lady Guo Guo is considered as important as the entire crowd compared to the Lord, the male. This is the appearance of the relationship from an external point of view.
After Lady Guo Guo has greeted the Lord, she appears to be very apprehensive at first, “Let us climb the Belvedere,” began Lady Guo Guo nervously,”- The use of the word ‘nervously,’ creates the idea that Lady Guo Guo is anxious in the presence of her husband, perhaps because she knows she has spent his money lavishly on her burial tomb without consulting him. This adds to the amount of control we suspect Lord Guo Guo has over people and the interest they are supposed to show for him. He then follows her up the stairs; the word ‘hurried’ to describe how Lady Guo Guo moves further confirms the idea that she is uncertainly anticipating Lord Guo Guo and his decisions.
As Lord Guo Guo seeks interest in Lady Guo Guo’s tomb, she takes advantage of this attention and begins to show signs of control as she has the power to dominate within this situation; this allows her to become more assertive and aggressive towards the Lord.
“No,” snapped the Lady,” ‘snapped’ expressing the aggressive conduct shown towards the Lord. The use of the word ‘fled’ to show how she moved, to me, suggests a very overdramatic motion as if to seek more attention from the Lord. However, as she has fled to the top of the stairs, Lord Guo Guo persists in carving his name into Lady Guo Guo’s belvedere. I believe this is a very symbolic moment in the story; the idea of the marking of this belvedere to clearly signify the ownership portrays the idea of marking the women of this story via the physical act of foot binding to show ownership and class rating clearly.
This gives us an idea of the ease of influence males have over ancient traditions and women’s options in life. Thus, making it necessary for women to have this done, as it dictates their worth and thus the control and power they will gain.
Once Lady Guo has witnessed the Lord’s carving, she becomes distressed and angry, forcing an argument upon the pair. Lady Guo Guo points out that she must do everything financially under the Lord’s name to retrieve the merchandise she needs to complete her belvedere. This shows the lack of responsibility women are given in society. Following this, Lord Guo Guo ends the argument with the line, “No more credit,” simply reducing Lady Guo Guo’s newly gained control, leaving her reduced to tears, as she cannot do anything about it because tradition instructs men to take care of the money. Lady Guo Guo persists, however, to achieve what she wants, “Well, let me tell you, you may cripple me in this endeavour, but you will never stop me.” And the line, “No man would marry a natural-footed woman. There is more to binding feet than just the binding.” These are very clever lines as they instruct and inform the audience that the men control, effect, and restrict women’s opportunities in life. Thus, we get an idea of just how big men play in controlling their quality of life.
From this, Lady Guo Guo then goes onto seeking her own power within the relationship, ironically using the power foot binding holds over her husband. She informs him that she shall leave Pleasure Mouse natural footed; the power of this threat is so great that Lord Guo Guo instantly becomes the weaker ones in this conflict. “Shall the prefect Lord Guo Guo’s daughter be natural footed? Your choice, my Lord,” she uses this against him as she knows this act is a necessity, for tradition to be followed through, essential for Pleasure mouse to be given a respected place in society, and for shame not to be brought on the Lord for the miscarriage of this tradition. As Lady Guo Guo persists in deterring the Lord, he grows weaker. She grows more powerful; this is shown through the verbs used to describe the actions and ways in which Lord Guo Guo speaks, ‘muttered sullenly’- shows how he grows intolerant of the control he is losing, ‘snarled’- shows how irritated he has become by this.
“Would you harm your daughter to harm me? What is it you seek, wife?” This line is very ironic that the effects of not performing this custom would cause harm to Pleasure Mouse’s reputation. Still, if it is performed, the effects of physical deformity will be the ‘harm.’ This shows us, however, that reputation and honour are considered the most important factors in this story, as the Lord is willing to give in to his wife for this, losing all personal control and power in the relationship. In her words, Lady Guo Guo’s compromise is ‘unlimited credit’; she has now achieved what she was afraid of asking for in the beginning, all through the power of bribery. Even though the Lord is very reluctant to do so, “The Lord spoke through gritted teeth,” he does so to keep his honour and attain honour for his daughter externally.
In conclusion, this episode shows us just how powerful effect traditions and honours were in this period of medieval China. It also expresses the thematic contrast within this play: men’s power over women and women’s power over men. Although both show power over one another from this scene, we can depict that both have different control. Males’ power in this story comes from the ability to withhold honour through tradition, in this case, foot binding, this act which was compulsory for women to undergo if they were to achieve a reputable position in society, e.g. whether they would marry well, achieve a high status etc.
Although culture tells us that males are the more dominant species within society, we can see that this is sometimes only true regarding the internal relationship between the opposite sex. For example, Lady Guo Guo uses bribery to gain control of a very delicate situation. She essentially wants to control Lord Guo Guo’s riches and class by putting his honour in jeopardy, which further emphasizes the effects of traditions.
The thematic contrast of dependence and independence also appears in this scene; we witness both main characters depending on each other to achieve what they both want. Lord Guo Guo gives in to Lady Guo Guo to acquire his wish that Pleasure mouse has her feet bound. In the case of Lady Guo Guo, she achieves unlimited credit on what she considers as her honour in this story, her burial tomb.