Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: Themes

Mind Map by turnerzo, updated more than 1 year ago
Created by turnerzo almost 5 years ago


Mind Map on Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: Themes, created by turnerzo on 04/01/2015.

Resource summary

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: Themes
1 Re-education
1.1 - The whole book revolves around the narrator and Luo's re-education, their forced stay in Phoenix Mountain to internalize proletarian values. Their reading qualifies as a type of re-education; e.g. the values of the narrator picks up from Romain Rolland's 'Jean Christophe' seem to replace the nascent Communist values that he has previously been taught.
1.2 Luo's attempts to 'civilize' the LCS are another type of re-education. While the Communist authorities are trying to indoctrinate the narrator and Luo into a particular lifestyle and set of beliefs, Luo is trying to change the LCS's values and behaviour to make her more like a woman from the city. Of course, his strategy is 'too' successful - the LCS does everything Luo tells her to, completing her transformation by abandoning him at the end of the novel.
1.3 - The novel suggests that humans are constantly learning about themselves, changing their lives and outlooks as they embody new perspectives.
2 Friendship
3 Love
3.1 The theme of love is represented in the novel by the "love triangle". The love triangle is the three-way love between the narrator, Luo and the LCS. This is called a love triangle because each person loves one another. Luo becomes extremely affectionate for the LCS which is underlined throughout the whole book.
4 Culture
4.1 - When they first arrive in the village, they value high culture, like violin music and novels. Their adventures reveal the richness and complexity of mountain culture e.g. they are moved by the old miller's songs, and affected by Four-eyes's farewell banquet. The most important lesson that they learn is that high and low culture complement eachother and both can enrich the soul.
5 Knowledge (Academic and Practical)
5.1 Obviously, one of the novel's primary purposes is the celebration of reading, and the life experience that stores and education can impart. However, Dai also explores the equal value of practical knowledge. The main factors that differentiate Luo and the narrator from the villagers are their academic learning and their knowledge of city life.
5.2 When they first arrive in the village, the boys believe themselves superior to the villagers because they know more about life away from the mountain. However, as they spend more time in the countryside they realize that the villagers have different knowledge and skills that are just as useful - if not more so - than Luo and the narrator's book learning.
5.3 For example, the Seamstress devises a herbal poultice that helps cure Luo's malaria, and she later proposes the theft of the suitcase. Similarly, the tailor's beautiful sewing is just as legitimate an art form as the narrator's violin-playing is. Dai affirms literatures potential to enrich, but he also pays homage to the villagers' more practical skill sets.
6 Maturity
6.1 Throughout their time in the countryside, the narrator and Luo mature both intellectually and emotionally. Four-eyes's books awaken them to the beauty of Western literature, while the ideas of the novels inform their budding personal philosophies.
6.2 Through reading, the narrator comes to know himself, and arguably develops the courage he later shows in helping the LCS with her abortion. Their relationships with the LCS also inspire emotional maturity.
6.3 Luo has his first romantic relationship with her, and experiences emotional trauma when she leaves at the end of the novel. The narrator on the other hand, learns about how to treat others by watching Luo's mistakes. Arguably, Dai means to tell a story involving mostly maturity, evidenced by the fact that the novel ends immediately after their days of innocence with the Seamstress come to an end.
7 The Beauty of Story-telling/Power of lit.
7.1 Much of the novel is devoted to demonstrating the way that books can enrich the minds of those who read them. The narrator develops a personal philosophy because of what he reads, and the LCS gains the courage to change her life from Balzac's work.
7.2 Dai also tributes to the art of story telling in any form. Even when they are reciting the story of the Little Flower Seller. Luo and the Narrator enrich the lives of their audience through their entertaining performances. Likewise, the narrator pleasures from adding his own embellishments to the novels he reads aloud to the LCS
7.3 Dai shoes that the art of story-telling is as legitimate as the art of writing them - especially in a community where many are illiterate and hence desperate for that kind of stimulus.
8 Beauty
8.1 -Despite hardship of mountain life, the characters take solace in beauty, which is expressed in many different ways in the novel.
8.2 -Mostly in the novel it is the beauty of literature and story-telling, but also other things like beauty, nature and women - they all have similar transcendent effects.
8.3 Cultural Revolution deprived people of art - LCS drives this home when she notes that a "woman's is a treasure beyond price". She has derived this from Balzac's novels.
9 The west
9.1 - The allure of the western hemisphere looms large in their lives despite them having never of traveled abroad. The novels in Four-Eyes's suitcase are mostly nineteenth-century Western Classics, which appeal to the boys for more than a forbidden nature. It is also the allure of a different, more libertarian culture.
9.2 The narrator acknowledges these distinctions when he worries that the tailor will be overwhelmed by the foreign names and places in 'The Count of Monte Cristo'. However, Dai suggests that the ideas and emotions of western culture can be applied anywhere, including rural China.
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