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The irony of bad parenting
Bad things happen to everyone. The irony of bad parenting is that when bad things happen to parents who don't have the character developed that it would take to deal with those tragedies, often the kids end up paying the price. So instead of being the source of life and learning for the children, sometimes tragedy makes parents into villains. The realization that victimhood is not the path to freedom is Adeline's response to her parents' bad example.
Niang's ironic "right to abuse"
Niang treats her own daughter worse than her step-daughter, perhaps because she feels that since it's her own blood, she has the right to abuse the real daughter. But Adeline realizes the backwardness of that idea and she sacrifices her safer position in the home in order to stand up to this injustice.
Aunt Baba's unexpected friendship and love
One of the nicest features of the book is the perplexing character of Aunt Baba. She's ironic, because she fits a type so well, as if Adeline's Cinderella story just implies a fairy godmother. Aunt Baba's love and care stands against what Adeline was taught to believe about people, so to her, love is ironic and unexpected.
The irony of suffering and progress
The book doesn't herald a moral or virtuous concept from a mountain or something. Instead it shows Adeline's constant attention to what was happening around her, it shows her commitment to be fair and rational, and it shows the transformation of her victimhood into a sense of autonomy and pride, eventually leading to her ability to empathize. This is the ironic superpower of being a decent person, that life helps move her along in her development as a human, just by her having the humility to stay engaged and active in her difficult life, instead of accepting her victimhood as a permanent statement of her identity.
The irony of Chinese Communism
The book contains a quiet criticism of Chinese Communism, just by depicting a story from the upper class, a family who is forced to flee from their own home in order to survive the brutal regime change. This is ironic because Communism is predicated on the idea that it is a step toward equality, but for Adeline's family, it just meant even more trouble in an already difficult life.
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