For the mothers in this novel, and the mothers of the mothers, life as a woman was extremely restrictive in China. The model wife and daughter-in-law is an obedient, filial woman who works hard, bears many children, never complains, and hides her own unhappiness. She has worth only in relation to other people – her sons, husband, and in-laws – and never any personal, inherent worth. After such a world, America is liberating. Part of the reason the mothers go to America is for their daughters to have a better life; their sons will be basically okay wherever, but for the females, quality of life is dramatically improved in America. Despite being more liberated in America, the role of the mother continues to be extremely important.
In America, the daughters in this book are not judged based on the "loudness of their husband’s belch" but based on their educational and career success.