‘A Visit from the Footbinder’ by Emily Prager (1982)
‘A Visit from the Footbinder’ is a short story written by American author Emily Prager which depicts the ancient Chinese practice of a young girl, Pleasure Mouse, getting her feet bound. Through alternating between objective and emotive description, and between reality and spiritual realms, the author conveys her disagreement with the practice of footbinding and illustrates the injustice faced by women through the raw narration of a child’s suffering. Her use of sensory imagery as an injection of pathos is a central technique, as well as the use of unsettling casualty in her descriptions in order to emphasise the unforgiving force behind crushing the feet of women.
The story opens with a clinical, apathetic passage revealing the step-by-step procedure of a footbinder in binding a child’s feet. The casual description of the meticulous yet relentless actions of the footbinder establishes an uneasy tone, for example, stating that the foot will “eventually break, restructure itself and forshorten”(l.6-7). The footbinder’s movements are swift and seemingly artistic, despite its brutality and perpetual restrictions that it will place on Pleasure Mouse’s life. The use of a “long silk cloth”(l.2) to wrap Pleasure Mouse’s feet connotates luxury and grace, however this is juxtaposed with the merciless actions of the cloth being used to bind and eventually crush the small girl’s feet.
Prager also uses this passage to introduce a group of women, including Pleasure Mouse’s mother, who all “watch the process intently”(l.3). We see the women’s view of footbinding at the end of the first paragraph, with Lady Guo Guo, Pleasure Mouse’s mother, reciting a prayer that her daughter “may marry well”(l.12) and “one day see her own daughter’s entry into womanhood”(l.12-13) as a result of having her feet bound. From this Prager shares the narrow beliefs of women at the time at the hand of the patriarchal society they lived in; that bound feet are an admirable quality that men look for in order to find a disciplined wife, and that having bound feet will lead to a prosperous marriage. The final sentence, where Pleasure Mouse is told to “Take the first step”(l.13) can be seen in both literal terms where she must walk on her now contorted feet, but also metaphorically in this event signifying the child’s first steps to one day becoming a respectable upper-class woman.
In line 16, the central focus of the story veers from the process of footbinding to Pleasure Mouse and her response to her experience. The tone shifts from informative to more personal as dialogue and Pleasure Mouse’s feelings are introduced. As the women encourage Pleasure Mouse to stand, we see the victim that this child is through her innocent screams of horror. The women display their knowledge and experience with footbinding, as they “chant”(l.21) for her to walk despite the pain, as they know she will “sicken”(l.22)...