Lu Xun was one of the most renowned and revered Chinese authors of his time. His ability to affect his readers and make them think about societal problems set him apart from other writers. Many of his works use various literary devices to affect his readers. In this essay I will compare the different writing styles and literary devices used in “Medicine” and “A Madman’s Diary,” both written by Lu Xun. First, I will compare the perspective from which the stories were written and how this affects the reader. I will also compare the object of Lu Xun is criticism in these two different works, as well as what methods and symbolism he uses in his criticism. I will also discuss how the reader is affected by each story, as well as what message is sent to the reader. Through this analysis, we can understand the logic and methods employed by this ingenious writer to help improve Chinese society.
In “A Madman’s Diary” we are first shown the story from the perspective of a friend of the Madman. This perspective gives us some background about the madman, letting us know the man who wrote the diary was considered crazy, but this perspective also gives us a bit of bias concerning into the story. Then the author switches to the perspective of the madman; the Madman’s gives us a first person account, which allows us to see the inner thoughts of his mind, but we don’t know if everything he thinks is true. He blames society for eating people, although everyone denies this. The story also ends in the madman’s first person perspective, showing us his personal opinions on society until the end. This unique perspective from a madman makes us aware of some of the more unfavorable aspects in traditional Chinese society that even intellectuals would deny. Only through this madman’s perspective can we clearly see the truth of society, unencumbered by other people’s opinions. At the end of his diary, the madman tells us, “I have been living in this place where for four thousand years they have been eating human flesh,” (Lu 18). This kind of thought, showing some of the unfavorable aspects of Chinese society, can only come from a madman who is worried about everyone trying to eat him. Using a madman’s perspective to criticize society was an ingenious literary device employed by Lu Xun to accentuate the problems in traditional Chinese society.
These two stories both employ very different perspectives that work to bring the reader to a different conclusion and opinion about society. However both of these stories change perspectives through the story, giving us a different opinion about the events before and after they unfold. The first story starts out in third person but only shows Lao Quan’s life, and then the viewpoint at the end shows a grieving mother in third person, which gives us a unique perspective of how we should really feel toward the fallen martyr. However, in “A Madman’s Diary” the perspective changes from the first person perspective of an intellectual to the first person perspective of a madman, which more directly criticizes society. The changes of perspective throughout both of these stories give power to and reinforce the satire and irony that Lu Xun is trying to portray.
In “A Madman’s Diary” Lu Xun’s uses a madman and the practice of eating people as symbolism for the contemporary problems with traditional China. The practice of people eating one another can be taken to symbolize the many traditions that are hindering China’s progress in the modern world. Also, the madman seems to represent intellectuals in China who understand the faults of Chinese society. In the story, the madman asks his brother, “‘Is it right because things have always been like that?’ ‘I refuse to discuss these things with you. Anyway, you shouldn’t talk about it. Whoever talks about these things is in the wrong!’” Here we can see the elder brother, who seems to be a representation of traditional Chinese intellectuals, refuse to question Chinese traditions, and rebukes his brother for questioning them. From this passage we can see the clash between modernist Chinese intellectuals and those intellectuals who wish to cling to the ancient Chinese systems and ideas.
The madman seems to stand as a symbol of those who push for social reform and change in traditional China. Ann Huss also gives this insight concerning the madman, “The madman… is the model for the Western, independent self. He is the archetypal romantic cure for the disease called tradition,” (Huss 386). From this commentary we can see that the madman not only represents revolution, but also represents western thoughts and ideas. Many of the ideas for the reforming the Chinese traditional system would never have come about without the influence of western thoughts and ideas. The madman seems to embody Lu Xun and other intellectuals who have left China to study abroad and have experienced the advantages of western culture. Through this story, Lu Xun creatively expresses what positive aspects of western culture he has seen abroad and the changes that China should make in its traditional society.
In both of these stories, the author Lu Xun uses irony and symbolism to convey his criticism of society. The symbolisms of eating blood to cure someone and the symbolism of eating people are both very similar; not only do they both involve consuming human flesh, but they also represent the foolish and backward traditions that so many Chinese people cling to. This seems to be a theme throughout many of Lu Xun’s works. The young martyr and the Madman also both symbolize revolutionaries in China that are rejected by the cold society around them. Although these stories both use similar symbolism, it seems that the symbolism used in “A Madman’s Diary” is more direct and easier to understand. The madman seems to repeat over and over that people are eating blood, whereas in “Medicine” people don’t really question the tradition, and it is left up to the reader to understand that eating a person’s blood to cure illness is a foolish traditional belief. Only at the end of the story are we directly shown that the martyr was mistreated. Although both of these stories accomplish the purpose of using symbolism to criticize society, it seems the “A Madman’s Diary” was more direct and thus more effective in delivering this message.
In “Diary of a Madman” the reader is affected by the strange perspective of a madman, and his claims that everyone around him is eating people. To see the story unfold from a madman’s perspective may be discomforting for some readers because they don’t know if they can trust anything that he says. Also the theme of eating of human beings is probably also unsettling for many readers. In the story it reads, “My brother had just taken over charge of the house when our sister died, and he may well have used her flesh in our rice and dishes, making us eat it unwittingly,” ( Lu 18). This imagery may be horrifying for some readers, which is precisely Lu Xun’s goal; he wasn’t to shock his readers into contemplating the problems in China. Another emotion that Lu Xun evokes in his readers is that of empathy; the madman is persecuted by everyone, even though we can see he is trying to do the right thing. The reader is naturally left to feel sorry for the madman because he is only standing up for what is right.
In both of these stories, the reader is shown frightening images of blood and people eating other people. However, in both stories we are left to feel compassion for the madman and the young martyr because they have been persecuted. The stories in these works awaken feelings of compassion and disgust, and these emotions are the basis for our wanting to change society and see things from another perspective. Although the readers may initially be disgusted by the imagery in these two stories, they are awakened to the problems in Chinese society that are described by the author.
Hsia, Chih. A History of Modern Chinese Fiction. 3rd ed. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1999. 54. Print.
Huss, Ann. "The Madman That Was Ah Q: Tradition and Modernity in Lu Xun's Fiction." The Columbia Companion to Modern East Asian Literature. New York: Columbia UP, 2013. 385-394. Print.
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