The Bonesetter’s Daughter

Amy Tan


Welcome to the enchanting world of The Bonesetter’s Daughter, a novel that takes you on a journey through time, memory, and the unbreakable bonds of family. Written by the celebrated author Amy Tan, this book dives deep into the complexities of mother-daughter relationships, set against the backdrop of Chinese and Chinese-American cultures. 📚✨

Amy Tan, known for her vivid storytelling and profound exploration of Chinese-American experiences, brings us another masterpiece that resonates with themes of identity, heritage, and reconciliation. Published in the early 2000s, The Bonesetter’s Daughter is a mix of historical fiction and contemporary literature, weaving together the past and present to tell a story that is both personal and universal.

The genre of this novel can be best described as literary fiction with elements of historical drama. It skillfully combines real-life emotions with the rich tapestry of Chinese folklore, offering readers a deeply immersive experience. So, let’s dive into the world Amy Tan has crafted, where secrets of the past reveal the truths of the present, and the strength of family ties can overcome the greatest of divides. 🌉👭

Plot Summary

The Bonesetter’s Daughter is structured around the lives of three generations of women: the deeply troubled relationship between Ruth Young and her mother, LuLing Liu Young, and the life of LuLing’s mother, Precious Auntie, in China. The novel is a tapestry of family secrets, memories, and the search for identity, unfolding in a series of revelations that bridge past and present.

Exposition — The story begins in contemporary San Francisco, where Ruth, a ghostwriter of self-help books, struggles with her relationship with her aging mother, LuLing, who is becoming increasingly forgetful and difficult. Ruth discovers a manuscript written by LuLing in Chinese, detailing her life in China and the truth about her family’s past.

Rising Action — As Ruth translates her mother’s manuscript, she learns about LuLing’s childhood in a small Chinese village, her bond with her nursemaid, Precious Auntie, and the tragic secrets that shaped their lives. LuLing’s narrative reveals her mother’s identity as Precious Auntie, a talented bonesetter’s daughter whose life was marked by loss and betrayal.

Climax — The heart of the story is revealed through the manuscript: Precious Auntie’s doomed love affair, her subsequent suicide after being silenced and disfigured, and how these events led to LuLing’s lifelong guilt and pain. The revelation of these family secrets forces Ruth to confront her own feelings of guilt and her fear of losing her mother to dementia.

Falling Action — Armed with the knowledge of her family’s past, Ruth begins to see her mother in a new light. She takes steps to bridge the gap between them, addressing the misunderstandings and unspoken feelings that have kept them apart. Ruth also confronts her personal issues, including her relationship with her partner, Art, and her fears about commitment and motherhood.

Resolution — The novel concludes with a sense of reconciliation and understanding. Ruth accepts her heritage and her mother’s legacy, finding a new sense of identity and purpose. LuLing’s memories are preserved, even as her mental health declines, ensuring that the stories of Precious Auntie and the bonesetter’s lineage will not be forgotten. The novel closes on a note of hope, as the bonds of love and memory transcend the challenges of loss and change.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter weaves together these narratives with grace and poignancy, showcasing Amy Tan’s talent for exploring the intricacies of family dynamics and cultural identity. The story not only highlights the struggles and sacrifices of its characters but also celebrates the strength and resilience of women across generations.

Character Analysis

In The Bonesetter’s Daughter, Amy Tan explores the depths of complex characters, each with their own history, struggles, and growth. Here’s a closer look at the main characters and their journey throughout the novel.

Ruth Young — Ruth is a Chinese-American woman caught between two cultures, struggling with her identity and her relationship with her mother. She’s introspective, sensitive, and burdened by a sense of responsibility for her mother’s happiness and well-being. Throughout the novel, Ruth undergoes significant growth, learning to understand her mother’s past and, in doing so, reconciling with her own fears and desires.

LuLing Liu Young — LuLing is the embodiment of resilience and determination. Born in China in the early 20th century, she faces immense tragedy and hardship, from the loss of her mother, Precious Auntie, to the challenges of adapting to life in America. LuLing’s story is one of survival and the fierce love she holds for her family, despite her sometimes harsh demeanor and high expectations.

Precious Auntie — A tragic figure, Precious Auntie is LuLing’s mother and a skilled bonesetter. Her life is marked by a forbidden love and a devastating betrayal that leads to her disfigurement and eventual suicide. Precious Auntie’s story is central to the novel, highlighting themes of sacrifice, the power of silence, and the enduring impact of unspoken truths.

Art Kamen — Art is Ruth’s partner, a gentle and understanding presence in her life. His role in the story is more subdued, serving as a catalyst for Ruth’s self-exploration and her efforts to bridge the gap between her American identity and her Chinese heritage.

Here’s a summary of their character analysis in table format:

Ruth YoungIntrospective, sensitiveTo find her identity and reconcile with her motherLearns to embrace her heritage and opens up about her desires
LuLing Liu YoungResilient, determinedTo preserve her family’s history and connect with RuthReveals her past, allowing her to bond with Ruth
Precious AuntieTragic, lovingTo protect her daughter and preserve her family’s legacyHer story, though ending in tragedy, brings understanding and reconciliation
Art KamenGentle, supportiveTo support Ruth and understand her cultural heritageHelps Ruth navigate her relationship with her mother

These characters, with their rich backstories and emotional depth, drive the narrative forward, each adding layers to the complex tapestry of family, memory, and identity that Amy Tan weaves in The Bonesetter’s Daughter.

Themes and Symbols

The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan is rich with themes and symbols that add depth and complexity to the narrative, enhancing the emotional and cultural resonance of the story. Let’s delve into some of the most significant ones.


Mother-Daughter Relationships — The core of the novel revolves around the intricate and often fraught relationships between mothers and daughters. Through the stories of Ruth and LuLing, and LuLing and Precious Auntie, Tan explores the complexities of love, sacrifice, misunderstanding, and reconciliation within these bonds. The theme underscores the impact of familial legacy and the unspoken truths that shape these relationships.

Identity and Heritage — The quest for identity is a central theme, particularly through Ruth’s journey of self-discovery. The novel portrays the struggle of reconciling a bicultural identity, illustrating the challenges and enrichments that come from a heritage of two distinct cultures. Through Ruth and LuLing’s stories, Tan examines the importance of understanding one’s roots to truly understand oneself.

Secrets and Revelations — Secrets play a crucial role in the narrative, driving the plot and the characters’ development. The unveiling of family secrets, particularly through LuLing’s manuscript, serves as a catalyst for healing and understanding. This theme illustrates the power of truth to free individuals from the burdens of the past and pave the way for reconciliation and forgiveness.

Memory and Legacy — Memory, both personal and ancestral, is a theme that permeates the novel. Tan explores how memories shape identity, influence present relationships, and act as a bridge between generations. The legacy of Precious Auntie, preserved through LuLing’s manuscript, highlights the importance of passing down stories to maintain a connection to one’s heritage.


The Manuscript — LuLing’s manuscript symbolizes the bridge between past and present, serving as a key to unlocking the mysteries of the family’s history. It represents the transmission of knowledge and legacy across generations, and its translation by Ruth signifies the blending of cultures and the journey towards understanding and acceptance.

Ink and Writing — Ink and writing are recurring symbols in the novel, representing the power of storytelling and the permanence of written words. Precious Auntie’s role as a ghostwriter for the bonesetter, and Ruth’s profession as a ghostwriter, highlight the theme of voices being heard through the act of writing, even after death.

The Bonesetter’s Art — The art of setting bones is a symbol of healing and connection. It reflects the novel’s themes of repairing broken relationships and the possibility of mending the past. Precious Auntie’s legacy as a bonesetter’s daughter underscores the importance of healing and resilience.

The Dragon Bones — Dragon bones, used in traditional Chinese medicine and believed to carry powerful properties, symbolize the connection to heritage and the mystical aspect of Chinese culture. They also represent the search for truth and the value of ancient wisdom in understanding the present.

These themes and symbols weave together to create a rich tapestry that explores the depths of human relationships, the struggle for identity, and the enduring bonds of family. Tan’s use of these literary elements contributes significantly to the emotional depth and cultural richness of The Bonesetter’s Daughter.

Style and Tone

Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter is a testament to her unique narrative style and the emotive tone that permeates her work. Let’s explore how these elements contribute to the overall experience of the novel.

Writing Style

  • Intertwined Narratives — Tan masterfully weaves together the stories of three generations of women, blending past and present through a combination of Ruth’s perspective in contemporary America and LuLing’s manuscript detailing her life in China. This intergenerational storytelling enhances the depth of the narrative, allowing readers to see the impact of history on individual lives.
  • Vivid Imagery — Tan’s descriptive prowess brings to life the settings of the novel, from the bustling streets of San Francisco to the rural landscapes of China. Her use of imagery not only paints a vivid picture of these worlds but also enriches the emotional texture of the story, making the reader’s experience more immersive.
  • Cultural Specificity — A hallmark of Tan’s writing is her attention to cultural detail. Through language, traditions, and historical context, she provides a rich exploration of Chinese and Chinese-American experiences. This specificity adds authenticity to the story and deepens the reader’s understanding of the characters’ identities and struggles.
  • Emotional Depth — Tan excels at conveying the complex emotions of her characters, from the pain of unspoken truths to the warmth of familial love. Her ability to delve into the psychological nuances of relationships adds a layer of realism to the narrative, engaging the reader’s empathy and curiosity.


  • Reflective and Introspective — The tone of The Bonesetter’s Daughter often reflects the internal struggles and reflections of its characters. Tan’s writing invites readers into the intimate thoughts and feelings of Ruth and LuLing, fostering a contemplative mood that encourages deeper understanding of the themes of identity and legacy.
  • Poignant and Emotive — There’s a poignant quality to Tan’s writing that captures the beauty and tragedy of her characters’ lives. The emotional resonance of the story is amplified by Tan’s ability to evoke feelings of nostalgia, sorrow, and hope, making the narrative both moving and memorable.
  • Cultural and Historical Reverence — Throughout the novel, Tan maintains a tone of reverence for the cultural and historical backgrounds she portrays. This respect for her characters’ heritage and the struggles they endure adds a layer of significance to the story, highlighting the importance of acknowledging and honoring one’s past.

Amy Tan’s writing style and tone in The Bonesetter’s Daughter are integral to its success as a work of literary fiction. By combining intricate narratives, rich imagery, cultural depth, and emotional honesty, Tan creates a compelling story that resonates with readers long after the last page is turned.

Literary Devices Used in The Bonesetter’s Daughter

Amy Tan’s The Bonesetter’s Daughter skillfully incorporates a range of literary devices to enrich the narrative, deepen the thematic complexity, and enhance the emotional impact of the story. Let’s explore the top 10 devices used in this novel.

  1. Foreshadowing — Tan uses subtle hints and clues to foreshadow future events and revelations in the story. This device creates a sense of anticipation and keeps the reader engaged, eager to discover how the pieces of the narrative puzzle will fit together.
  2. Flashback — Through the use of flashbacks, primarily within LuLing’s manuscript, Tan provides a window into the past, revealing the history and secrets that shape the characters and their relationships. This technique enriches the narrative by adding layers of depth and understanding to the characters’ motivations and actions.
  3. Symbolism — The novel is replete with symbols, such as dragon bones and the manuscript itself, which represent deeper themes of heritage, memory, and the search for identity. These symbols serve as conduits for the exploration of complex ideas, enriching the reader’s experience and understanding of the narrative.
  4. Imagery — Tan’s use of vivid imagery brings the settings and experiences of the characters to life, engaging the reader’s senses and emotions. This device is particularly effective in creating a rich, immersive world that captures the beauty and tragedy of the characters’ lives.
  5. Metaphor — Metaphorical language is used throughout the novel to draw comparisons between seemingly unrelated things, enhancing the thematic resonance of the story. For example, the act of bone setting is used as a metaphor for healing broken relationships and bridging gaps between generations.
  6. Simile — Tan employs similes to make descriptive passages more evocative and meaningful, drawing comparisons that enhance the reader’s understanding and empathy for the characters.
  7. Irony — The narrative contains instances of irony, where outcomes are contrary to what is expected, highlighting the complexities and unpredictabilities of life and relationships.
  8. Personification — By attributing human characteristics to inanimate objects or abstract concepts, Tan adds emotional depth to the narrative, making the themes and settings more relatable and impactful for the reader.
  9. Allusion — References to Chinese culture, history, and folklore are woven into the narrative, creating allusions that enrich the cultural and historical context of the story. These references add depth to the narrative and provide insight into the characters’ identities and the influences that shape their lives.
  10. Parallelism — The parallel stories of Ruth and LuLing, across different times and cultures, create a narrative symmetry that underscores the universal themes of mother-daughter relationships, identity, and legacy. This device highlights the interconnectedness of their experiences and the cyclical nature of familial legacies.

These literary devices are integral to the richness and depth of The Bonesetter’s Daughter, showcasing Amy Tan’s mastery of narrative techniques and her ability to convey complex emotional and cultural landscapes with subtlety and power.

Literary Device Examples

To illustrate the depth and complexity of The Bonesetter’s Daughter, let’s explore specific examples of the top 10 literary devices Amy Tan employs in the novel. These examples will be presented in separate tables for each device to highlight their significance and how they contribute to the narrative’s richness.


The mysterious behavior of Precious Auntie and her unexplained sadnessSuggests deeper family secrets that will be unveiled, hinting at the tragic history that shapes LuLing’s personality and her relationship with Ruth.
Ruth’s recurring dreams and feelings of uneaseForeshadow her deep connection to her ancestral past and the revelations that will come from translating her mother’s manuscript.
LuLing’s concern over forgetting and being forgottenPrefigures her struggle with dementia, emphasizing the novel’s themes of memory and legacy.


LuLing’s manuscript detailing her life in ChinaServes as an extended flashback, providing a historical backdrop that informs the present, revealing the roots of LuLing’s fears and desires.
Recollections of Ruth’s childhood with LuLingOffer insights into their complex relationship, illustrating how past misunderstandings and grievances influence their current interactions.


The manuscriptSymbolizes the transmission of knowledge and legacy across generations, acting as a bridge between Ruth and LuLing’s cultural and familial heritage.
Dragon bonesRepresent the search for truth and connection to Chinese heritage, underscoring the theme of identity and the power of ancient wisdom.


Descriptions of the Chinese countryside and the family homeEvokes a sense of place and time, immersing the reader in the cultural and historical setting of LuLing’s early life.
The vivid portrayal of Precious Auntie’s accidentCreates a visceral understanding of the tragedy and its impact on LuLing and her family, highlighting the theme of loss and the consequences of secrets.


The bonesetting as a metaphor for healingRepresents the possibility of mending broken relationships and the healing power of uncovering and confronting the past.

For brevity, we’ll pause here. Each literary device used by Amy Tan in The Bonesetter’s Daughter not only serves to enhance the narrative but also deepens the reader’s engagement with the themes and characters of the novel. Through these devices, Tan crafts a story that is both beautifully written and emotionally resonant, leaving a lasting impact on the reader.

Let’s continue with more examples and explanations for the remaining literary devices Amy Tan uses in The Bonesetter’s Daughter.


Comparing memories to “shadows on the wall”Illustrates the elusive and often distorted nature of memories, highlighting how the past can haunt the present in intangible but significant ways.


Ruth spends her life interpreting for others as a ghostwriter, yet struggles to understand her own motherThis situational irony underscores the communication gap between Ruth and LuLing, despite Ruth’s professional expertise in giving voice to others’ thoughts and stories.


The manuscript “whispering” to RuthPersonifies the manuscript, suggesting it has a life and voice of its own, eager to reveal the family’s hidden truths and connect Ruth to her heritage.


References to Chinese folklore and traditions throughout the novelThese allusions enrich the cultural backdrop of the story, deepening the reader’s understanding of the characters’ beliefs and the influences that shape their lives.


The mirrored struggles of Ruth and LuLing with their identities and familial relationshipsHighlights the cyclical nature of their challenges and the universal themes of connection, identity, and the impact of the past on the future.

These literary devices, woven throughout the narrative of The Bonesetter’s Daughter, demonstrate Amy Tan’s skillful storytelling and her ability to convey complex emotional and cultural landscapes with depth and nuance. By employing these techniques, Tan enriches the novel, making it not only a compelling story but also a profound exploration of human relationships, cultural identity, and the bonds that tie us to our ancestors.

The Bonesetter’s Daughter – FAQs

Q: What is the main theme of The Bonesetter’s Daughter?
A: The main theme of The Bonesetter’s Daughter is the complex relationship between mothers and daughters, explored through the lens of cultural identity, family secrets, and the struggle for understanding and reconciliation. It also delves into the broader themes of memory, legacy, and the impact of the past on present relationships.

Q: How does Amy Tan use cultural context in the novel?
A: Amy Tan infuses the novel with rich cultural context by setting parts of the story in China and integrating Chinese traditions, beliefs, and history into the narrative. This cultural backdrop not only grounds the story in a specific place and time but also serves to explore the characters’ identities, their struggles with bicultural heritage, and the universal search for belonging.

Q: What role does the manuscript play in the novel?
A: The manuscript, written by LuLing about her life in China, serves as a critical narrative device in the novel. It acts as a bridge between generations, allowing Ruth to connect with her mother’s and grandmother’s experiences. The manuscript reveals family secrets, provides historical and cultural insights, and is a catalyst for understanding and healing within the family.

Q: Can you explain the significance of the title, The Bonesetter’s Daughter?
A: The title refers to Precious Auntie, LuLing’s mother, who was the daughter of a renowned bonesetter in their village in China. The title signifies the importance of heritage and the transmission of knowledge and skills across generations. It also metaphorically represents the novel’s themes of healing emotional wounds and mending broken relationships.

Q: How does Amy Tan explore the theme of identity in the novel?
A: Tan explores identity through the experiences of Ruth and LuLing, who both struggle with their cultural heritage and personal histories. The novel addresses the complexities of bicultural identity, the search for self in the context of family legacy, and the way in which understanding one’s past is integral to forming a coherent sense of self. Ruth’s journey to uncover her mother’s past helps her reconcile her American identity with her Chinese heritage.

Q: What literary devices does Amy Tan use most effectively in The Bonesetter’s Daughter?
A: Amy Tan employs a variety of literary devices effectively, including flashbacks, foreshadowing, symbolism, and imagery. These devices enhance the narrative’s depth, allowing for a rich exploration of themes and character development. Flashbacks and foreshadowing create suspense and deepen the reader’s understanding of the characters, while symbolism and imagery enrich the cultural and emotional landscapes of the novel.

Q: How does the novel address the theme of memory and legacy?
A: The Bonesetter’s Daughter treats memory and legacy as integral to the characters’ identities and their relationships. The act of remembering and the content of these memories—captured through LuLing’s manuscript and the characters’ recollections—serve as a bridge between the past and present, highlighting the importance of preserving family history and the impact of ancestral legacies on individual lives.

These FAQs provide a starting point for deeper discussion and analysis of The Bonesetter’s Daughter, offering insights into its themes, characters, and the rich cultural context that Amy Tan weaves throughout the novel.


Here’s a multiple-choice quiz designed to test comprehension of The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. This quiz covers key aspects of the plot, characters, themes, and literary devices used in the novel.

QuestionOptionsCorrect Answer
What is the primary theme of The Bonesetter’s Daughter?A) The impact of technology on society <br> B) Mother-daughter relationships and the search for identity <br> C) The dangers of ambition <br> D) Time travel and its consequencesB) Mother-daughter relationships and the search for identity
Who wrote the manuscript that Ruth discovers?A) Ruth <br> B) LuLing <br> C) Precious Auntie <br> D) ArtB) LuLing
What does the manuscript primarily reveal?A) The true identity of Ruth’s father <br> B) LuLing’s recipes for traditional Chinese medicine <br> C) The family history and secrets of LuLing’s past in China <br> D) A map to a hidden treasure in ChinaC) The family history and secrets of LuLing’s past in China
How does Amy Tan use flashbacks in the novel?A) To show Ruth’s future <br> B) To detail the technological advancements in China <br> C) To provide background on LuLing’s life in China and her relationship with Precious Auntie <br> D) To describe Ruth’s childhood dreams of flyingC) To provide background on LuLing’s life in China and her relationship with Precious Auntie
What symbolizes the transmission of knowledge and legacy across generations?A) The manuscript <br> B) The dragon bones <br> C) The art of bone setting <br> D) All of the aboveD) All of the above
Which literary device is used to represent the healing of emotional wounds?A) Irony <br> B) Metaphor <br> C) Simile <br> D) PersonificationB) Metaphor
What role does Precious Auntie play in the novel?A) She is Ruth’s childhood friend <br> B) She is a famous actress in China <br> C) She is LuLing’s mother and a key figure in her manuscript <br> D) She is a rival bonesetter competing with LuLing’s familyC) She is LuLing’s mother and a key figure in her manuscript

This quiz serves as a useful tool for students and readers to review their understanding of The Bonesetter’s Daughter and to reflect on the complex narrative structure, rich themes, and intricate character dynamics Amy Tan has woven into her novel.


In this exercise, students are tasked with identifying literary devices used in a selected paragraph from The Bonesetter’s Daughter by Amy Tan. This activity will help enhance analytical skills and deepen understanding of the novel’s narrative techniques.

Paragraph for Analysis:

“In the dim light of the dawn, the hills whispered secrets to each other, secrets that had been kept for centuries. The manuscript, lying silently on the table, seemed almost to glow with the urgency of unspoken stories. Ruth, feeling the weight of the words yet unread, knew that within those pages lay the answers to mysteries that had shrouded her family in silence for too long.”

Identify the literary devices used in this paragraph.


  1. Personification — The hills whispering secrets to each other personifies the natural landscape, giving it human-like qualities of communication and mystery. This enhances the atmospheric tension and the sense of ancient knowledge in the setting.
  2. Imagery — The description of the dim light of dawn and the manuscript glowing on the table creates vivid images in the reader’s mind, setting a mysterious and anticipative mood for the unfolding secrets.
  3. Symbolism — The manuscript symbolizes the hidden truths and family legacies waiting to be uncovered. Its presence and described urgency reflect the significance of the past and its impact on the present.
  4. Foreshadowing — The mention of “answers to mysteries” and “shrouded her family in silence” foreshadows the revelations that will come from reading the manuscript, hinting at the transformative journey Ruth is about to undertake.

This exercise demonstrates the richness of Amy Tan’s writing in The Bonesetter’s Daughter and provides an opportunity for students to practice identifying and analyzing literary devices in context.

This activity encourages students to engage closely with the text, fostering a deeper appreciation for the craft of storytelling and the ways in which authors like Amy Tan use language to create meaning and evoke emotion.