Comparison Of Images Of Women In The Works Of Lu Hsun And Amy Tan


Lu Xun is one of China’s most famous and well-known poets and author, he is also considered by many people “the father of modern Chinese literature”. Lu Xun’s Selected Stories were based from three of his famous story collections that include: Wandering, Call to Arms and Old Tales Retold. On the other hand, The Joy Luck Club refers to a novel written in 1989 by Amy Tan which generally focuses on four Chinese immigrant mothers as well as their Chinese-American daughters residing in San Francisco, after their first meeting, in the Chinese Baptist Church, the women agree to continue meeting by forming a club referred to as Joy Luck Club where they meet to play Mah Jong (Tan, 6). Based in these stories of Lu Xun’s Selected Stories and Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club, women play a significant part in the context of it. Therefore the purpose of this essay is to examine the similarities and differences in the portrayal of women in Lu Xun and Amy Tan’s stories.

Nature of the Female Characters

One of the major similarities that I want to point out between Lu Xun’s “Selected Stories” and Amy Tan’s “The Job Luck Club” is that the female characters plays a major role or rather plays a significant part in the stories. Due to this, it is important to note out that in all the stories featured in Lu Xun’s “Selected Stories”, women make the largest group of characters that appear mostly in the stories. Similarly, The story “ The Joy Luck Club” women are ultimately the center of attention as in the story of book it is based on the life and experiences of four Chinese women and their American born daughters (Tan, 1). However, despite women playing a central role in both stories, one of the major differences that I notice is the fact that their stories are narrated from different perspectives. For example, in Lu Xun’s Selected Stories, women stories are mainly narrated from a third person perspective.

However, in Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club”, the stories were narrated from a first person perspective that is through the character of Suyuan Wo. Thus, each woman is given an opportunity to tell her story and also women tend to have greater voice and power over their stories (Tan, 3). Moreover, they are also depicted as both reflective and introspective as such, unlike Lu Xun’s female characters; they are able to question not only based on their situation but also about their relationship with other individuals/characters and identity. In Lu Xun’s stories, women are neither reflective nor introspective and due to the third person narrative, the reader is unaware of their inner thoughts and feelings.

Another major different point between the two stories with regarding to the nature of the female characters is the fact that although women are the largest group of characters and play a significant part in Lu Xun’s “Selected Stories”, unlike in Tan’s “The Joy Club”, women to a great extent range from being the primary focus to somewhat supporting characters or in some instances as literary functions which is serving only as mouthpieces whose primary task is to communicate realistic details which seems hidden from either the narrator or other characters. In Tan’s novel, women characters are portrayed as interlinked and interdependent whereby, the first two series explore the mothers’ stories while as the other two explore the daughter’s stories. However, in Lu Xun’s series comprising of about 19 stories about female characters who are not interconnected and neither interdependent.

Women as Oppressed Beings

Perhaps one of the greatest similarities in the image of women in Tan and Lu Xun’s works is regarding their status in the society. Concerning this, the female characters featured in the stories exposes the inhumanity on traditional ethics, primarily through their individual experiences under their oppressive societies. Some women characters in Lu Xun’s and Amy Tan’s stories are also oppressed not only by their parents but also by their husbands, in laws as well as the society is large. One of the most oppressive points is the Chinese moral codes that the authors clearly highlight is the denial of women’s independent status. Regarding this, in their short stories women are somewhat recognized as well as depicted as an accessory to others as opposed to as individuals (Madeline, 24). In relation to this, prior to marriage a woman is portrayed as the property of her parents. Hence, their own lives are subjected to whatever their parents wish or arrange to them until they get married. As a result, women in the novels lack their own personal identities since they are subordinate to the males.

One of Lu Xun’s short stories in “Selected Stories” points out the theme of oppression to women which includes the short story of “The New Year’s Sacrifice” where Xianglin Sao was cast out of her own house by her brother in law which made her becoming a second class citizens in the eyes of society. Later, Xianglin Sao was kidnapped and forced to remarry by her family for their own capital gain, although she fights desperately to escape her second marriage as she is eventually forced to submission (Xun, 162 & 163). By showing the traumatic events that female characters endure, Lu Xun is able to reveal the flawed ideals in the Chinese society. The image of women as oppressed beings is also proven in the short story “Regret for the Past” through the female character Zijun of “Shang Shi”. In the story, despite being educated, Zijun is placed under her uncle’s guardianship who prohibits her from pursuing a social life, moreover, her elders being responsible for arranging her marriage and as such, she oppressed by the Chinese traditions which forces her to fight for her liberation (Xun, 240). Other female characters that shows the image of women as oppressed beings include Ai-Ku in “Divorce” who opposes divorce based on the fact that in the Chinese society women are disgraced following divorce, as well as in “Tomorrow”, where Shansi Saozi not only faces numerous tragic adversities but is also ridiculed and deprived, which causes her to struggle immensely in her search fair treatment.

Like Lu Xun, Amy Tan’s novel also advances the theme female oppression, concerning this, in the story, most of the female characters to a great extent struggle with the oppressive society structures which are mostly in the form of both patriarchy and sexism. Generally, the theme of oppression is depicted through the mothers, Ann-Mei Hsu and Lindo Jong, both of whom grew up in the male dominated Chinese culture as well as society. Concerning this, in the novel, Ann Mei’s mother is oppressed when she is invited by Wu Tsing; a wealthy merchant who takes advantage of her and later forces her to become his concubine, since she lacks power as a women she is eventually forced to become the third woman and maintains little status; thus, in Wu-Tsing’s home (Tan, 35). Moreover, she is also forced to abandon her family including Ann-Mei. Likewise, Lindo also narrates a story of how she was forced in a loveless marriage during her childhood years and pressured into having children by her mother in law (Tan, 45 & 46). It can therefore be concluded that in Lu Xun and Amy Tan’s stories the theme of oppression is largely advanced through forced marriages.

However, despite the similarity in the depiction of women as oppressed beings, , women in Amy’s Joy Luck Club including mothers and daughters have greater freedom of speech and are not entirely oppressed. In relation to this, compared to Lu Xun’s major heroines, Tan’s women are not oppressed in any way when it comes to their speech which makes them more reflective and introspective. This assertion is evident in Lena’s attempt to share all the expenses with her husband but find that it does not exists as a true representation of consumption (Tan, 178-179). Therefore, Harold’s view can largely be viewed as a representation of “New Thinking” where both women and men should be treated equally.

Passive and Weak Femininity

With regard to the image of women in Lu Xun’s Selected Stories and Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Cluck, one of the major themes is passive and weak femininity. Regarding this, some women in the stories fall victim to sexist structures and most of them being helpless respond to the oppression/suppression by becoming passive, silent, as well as indecisive. Concerning this, in The Joy Luck Club, the mothers grow up in a Chinese society where there an incredibly restrictive idea; thus, of what a woman is supposed to behave or rather what it means to be a Chinese Woman. According to their society, a model wife as well as daughter in laws is one that is obedient, and a filial and highly devoted woman who not only works hard but also bares many children without complaining, moreover, a model wife is one that hid her own unhappiness and had worth; thus, only in relation to other individuals such as her husband, in-laws and sons and as such, never experience any personal inherent worth.

An example is such as in the case of Ann-Mei’s mother who is forced into marriage by Wu-Tsing. Despite being unhappy, she helplessly agrees to be a concubine and later a wife to Wu-Tshing and therefore, acts passively; hence, obedience can be considered as her oppression. One of the statements indicating her helplessness and unhappiness with her marriage is when speaks to An-Mei about her unhappiness for the first time while on rickshaw on their way to the store where the hoped to find an embroidery threat, “…Do you see how shameful my life is..when he can no longer use her, he comes to me…” (Tan, 258). The portrayal of women as helpless and submissive which indicates passive and weak femininity is through the character Lindo Jong who gives in to a forced marriage arrangement which is evident in her statement, “I once sacrificed my life to keep my parents’ promise”. Lindo Jong’s passiveness and submissiveness is also evident in the statement, “I was boiling with anger, but I said nothing; remembering my promise to my parents to be an obedient wife” (Tan 57).

Similarly, in Lu Hun’s, “Selected Stories” the portrayal of women also advances the theme of passive and weak femininity. Concerning this, some women in the stories are depicted as helpless and passive which is to a great extent depicted by their submissive voice that they tend to play, restriction which these women face and seem to Condon, as well as their overall inability to voice their opinions. Examples of depiction of women’s helplessness, submissiveness and passiveness is in Lu Xun’s short story, “The New Year’s Sacrifice”; whereby, Xianglin Sao submits to husband during her second forced marriage (Xun, 162 & 163). Other examples short stories with portrayals include in “Tomorrow”, “Divorce”, as well as “In the Wine Shop”. Generally, in Tomorrow; Fourth Shan’s wife, Divorce; Ai-Ku, New Year’s Sacrifice; Hsian Lin’s Wife, and In the Wine Shop; Ah Shaun are all good examples of helpless, passive and submissive female characters who are selfless in their overall dedication to work hard and benefit other individuals and not or rather more than themselves (Xun).

Women as Rebels against Oppression and Restrictions

Although some women are depicted as helpless, submissive, and passive in both works, another major similarity is that most of these women are eventually rebellious after having endured prolonged oppression; hence, openly violating the traditional moral code of submissiveness in their struggle for emancipation. Concerning this, in Lu Xun’s short stories, women characters somewhat acknowledge the inhumanity associated with traditional morality consequently, exhibiting a degree of independence restrictions by achieving an awareness of both self and strength to fight against forces of oppression (Madeline, 36). However, in the novel the triumph women are also portrayed as tragic figures and in most instances their individual struggles either end up in retreat, compromise, as well as in death of dismay and poverty.

One of the characters that exemplifies women’s ineffectiveness in their struggle is Xianglin Sao in “ The New Year’s Sacrifice who runs away from her exploitative in-laws after her husband’s death and finds work at the Gentry Family home who live in the neighboring village, however, eventually she is unable to secure real independence as her mother in-law comes with two strong men who take her back in order to be married off to another man for their own financial gain, believing that remarrying is immoral Xianglin Sao refuses the marriage arrangement, however, this proves futile as she is stuffed into a bridal chair despite her screaming and cursing and carried way to her second husband (Xun, 162 & 163). To escape her the patriarchal oppression, she also tries to commit suicide and although she does not die from suicide for her is the only means to escape remarriage eventually she is forced to submit after getting married to her second husband. Another character that struggles against oppression by advocating for fair treatment is Ai-Ku in Lu Xun’s short story “Divorce”, who rebels or rather protests against the idea of divorce despite being in an unhappy marriage, as divorce in the Chinese Society brings disgrace to women (Xun, 268 & 269). Even after losing her family’s support, Ai-Ku is bold enough to oppose and attack this type of oppression. Similarly, in “Tomorrow”, Shansi Saozi who not only faces numerous tragic adversities but is also ridiculed and deprived, she struggles to gain fair treatment, generally, her vigor is highly marked by persistent fight; thus, to nurture hope as well as win the human status which she is not currently accorded. To fuller extent of women’s struggle for freedom/emancipation inclusive of a more conscious sense of independence is depicted in “Regret for The Past” through the character termed as Zijun of Shang Shi (Madeline Chu, 33). In the story, despite being educated, Zijun is under guardianship who prohibits her from pursuing a social life, moreover, her elders are also responsible for arranging her marriage, following this, she is forced her to fight for her liberation (Xun, 240). Generally, Although Xun’s women among them Ai-Ku, Shanzi Saozi as well as Xianglin Sao greatly demonstrate a revolutionary spirit in their resistance against oppression and injustice consequently, striving for personal freedom and independence, nevertheless although they might be viewed as heroic they all fail to attain for the one thing they strive hard for; freedom.

Like in Xun’s Selected Story, women are also portrayed as rebellious against male dominance and oppression in Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club, concerning this, in the story, Lindo Jong although submits to her family’s wishes for her to get married to the man chosen by her parents, eventually, through her own ingenuity, she manages to fabricate annual her arranged marriage after which she migrates to the US, her actions can be viewed as rebellion against an oppressive society and male dominance (Tan, 76). Generally, the mothers seem to have 8something in common which is their attempt to break free from the oppressive nature of their societies by moving to the US and despite moving to the US as well as being alluded greater freedom of speech, the daughters to a great extent are still bound by oppressive ideals perpetuated by their parents. Therefore, in their novels Lu Xun and Amy Tan not only portray patriarchal oppression but also women’s rebellious souls under this oppression, however, despite this, a fuller extent of women’s fight or rather struggle for freedom/emancipation as well as a more conscious sense of personal independence is highly demonstrated in Lu Xun’s Selected Stories as compared to Amy Tan’s “The Joy Luck Club”.

In conclusion, in regard to the image of women, in Lu Xun’s Selected Stories, the female characters are coupled with the “poor peasant imagery” whereby, a woman is largely described as being feeble lower class citizens. As such, in most of Xun’s stories women are depicted as peasants such in stories such as The New Year’s sacrifice” “In the Wine-Shop” and “Tomorrow”. The status of women as peasants or rather lower class citizens is evident in the statement “Her face was fearfully thin…looking as if carved out of wood…it was clear she had become a beggar…” (Lu Xun, 127). By portraying the woman in the manner above, Lu Xun seems to highlight the social standing of women in the Chinese society. Unlike Lu Xun’s stories, women in Tan’s novel have a somewhat higher class status that it equal to that of man as depicted by Lena and Harold’s marriage since they are portrayed as equals by splitting expenses equally. 

16 December 2021
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