Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Analysis of Lu Xun's Stories

Lu Xun’s cynicism towards superstition is evident in many of his works, which often take place in rural settings where people are prone to these beliefs. For example, he tells us about a character named Jun-Tu in “My Old Home” who was born on a certain date pertaining to the horoscope, which consequently meant that “he could … catch small birds and fish.”[1] This is ironic because since it is about his birth, that horoscope is supposed to be predictive of his whole life, and yet it is so mundane and specific. In another instance in his story “Medicine,” while visiting his grave, an unnamed old woman imagines that her son’s spirit is still present and asks him to demonstrate this by making a “crow fly onto [his] grave as a sign.”[2] The crow never gives them the satisfaction, though, merely flying off to the distance, which gives the story a purposefully unsatisfying end.[3] In fact, Lu Xun makes this explicit because the old woman’s last words, “What does it mean?” are never answered or resolved.[4] Because this question can be interpreted as “What is the point of it?” it represents the author’s discontent with superstition itself. In the same story, there is a much more obvious and unfortunate example of taking superstitious beliefs too seriously. In the story, the characters are told that “A roll of human blood … can cure any consumption!” which they take to heart, and give up a large sum of money to obtain this.[5] By repeating the phrase “a guaranteed cure” five times throughout the story, Lu Xun conveys how the characters are fooling themselves by stubbornly believing in the roll’s healing power, which in the end proves vain as the sick one is unaffected by the human blood and dies shortly thereafter.[6] Thus, Lu Xun warns us that superstition is not only a waste of resources, but putting faith in its unreliable predictions can be fatal.

Another custom that Lu Xun is particularly resentful of throughout his stories is the class system in China. In “My Old Home,” two characters, the narrator and Jun-Tu, met as children and became fast friends, but when they met again decades later, their classes were on very different levels.[7] As a result, when they did meet, instead of embracing like any other pair of old friends would, they only stood awkwardly apart and Jun-Tu could only say “Master!...” and force his child who was with him to bow to the narrator as well.[8] This reservation may have been valued in Confucian society, but Lu Xun shows the reader how ridiculous he thinks it is that two friends can not treat each other as friends when they meet. In this case, the class system overpowers even intimate personal bonds two people have developed, which Lu Xun finds unacceptable. He again uses the technique of stating his problem explicitly after suggesting it implicitly, when in the same story the narrator is on his way back from home describes that he feels an “invisible high wall, cutting [him] off from [his] fellows.”[9] Another image of class structure that arises criticism is in “The True Story of Ah Q.” In Chapter 3, the main character is “favored with a slap … by Mr. Chao” and “became famous.”[10] So in this case, even though we know that Ah Q was probably the one that transgressed on Mr. Chao, and the latter was just in his punishment, the people still treat Ah Q with “unusual respect” just because he was touched by an upperclass individual.[11] Another startling example of this criticism is in Chapter 7, when Ah Q attempts to join the revolutionaries.[12] Preaching of revolution, he shows up at the convent, but the nun tells him that “The revolutionaries have already been here.”[13] She then goes on to say that the revolutionaries are the successful country candidate and the Imitation Foreign Devil―two of the most upperclass characters in the story.[14] Here Lu Xun may be mocking the revolution itself, because in China it was not led by the proletariat as Marx had hoped, but by the educated scholars, who claimed to represent the proletariat. This is of course a complete farce of a communist revolution and a mockery of Marx’s philosophy because instead of having the upper class overthrown, the upper class actually helped itself get ahead.

[1] “My Old Home,” p. 56

[2] “Medicine,” p. 33

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “Medicine,” p. 29; “Medicine,” p. 25

[6] “Medicine,” p. 31

[7] “My Old Home,” p. 55-56

[8] “My Old Home,” p. 61.

[9] “My Old Home,” p. 63

[10] “The True Story of Ah Q,” p. 74.

[11] “The True Story of Ah Q,” p. 75.

[12] “The True Story of Ah Q,” p. 96.

[13] “The True Story of Ah Q,” p. 99.

[14] Ibid.

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