Fresh Start and Re-entry
|When interpreting and analyzing Lu Xun's "Regret for the Past,"
it is important to keep in mind the words of Frederick Jameson, that in
order to understand a third world work, one must consider it an allegory
for the people as a whole. The obvious premise of "Regret for the Past"
is one of a young couple in love who move in together. What needs to be
focused upon in this story is the underlying influences they have and what
Lu Xun seems to be saying about it through subtle commentary.
One source of influence that seems to be frequently sited by both Zijun and Juansheng are the words of western authors, particularly Ibsen. With this use of western authors comes the philosophy of westernization, of "the need to break with tradition." The way this couple will break with tradition is by moving in together, but already we know that Lu Xun does not approve of this decision. The way this is revealed to the reader is through the introductory line, "I want, if I can, to record my remorse and grief..." The use of such negative diction creates an environment of negative sentiments that come back towards the end of the short story.
As would be expected with breaking traditions the surrounding society does not approve of their actions: "On the road I was conscious of searching looks, sarcastic smiles or lewd contemptuous glances which unless I was on my guard set me shivering." During this period, Zijun remains strong and proud of what they are doing. However, Zijun falls into the routine of being a housewife; supporting the traditional role of women. While previously, "the shabby room would gradually be filled with the sound of my pronouncements on the tyranny of the family..." now she has fit within that tyranny yet again, under a new tyrant. This hypocrisy however, is Juansheng's until he passes it on to Zijun who must take it to her grave.
Juansheng speaks repeatedly of wanting a "fresh start" in life, and that the only "hope" to obtain it at this point "lay in parting." Juansheng hopes to end his relationship with Zijun that has been out of the bounds of their society and reinsert himself into society. But as we see, he has difficulty doing so. The point Lu Xun is making by this expression is that in order to adapt the society around them, they would need to have the strength to succeed in their breaking from tradition. Because they have failed, there will be no positive result from their actions. In addition to not making an influence in the social construction of the Chinese people, at the termination of their relationship they are incapable of gaining entry back into this society they pushed away. Their obvious lack of concern or respect for the ideals of that society has gotten them ostracized from the society itself.
This however, does not seem to be along the same lines as other works by Lu Xun, specifically "Ah Q" which promotes the variation from tradition. But there are more commonalities between the two pieces than would have been thought. "Ah Q" supports the idea of shedding off the traditions that are unnecessary, but not to completely dismantle the society as a whole. Juansheng and Zijun are not taking the small steps that would be necessary to change their environment, they just jump head first towards the goal.
The Universal Inner-Shell of Womanhood
Elizabeth H. Bowker
|It is often cited that Chinese traditional values forbid premarital relations
and consider it to one of the highest offenses. Family life had always been
extremely important to the Chinese as they often lived in large family units.
Many struggles ensured for women in relationship to the importance of the
structure of the family and the value that was placed in following traditional
norms and accepting the societal rules. For example Chinese families traditionally
valued sons more than daughters for a husband could divorce his wife for
a not being able to produce a son and children were often viewed as less
than a person often being reminded to stay in their place. Even love was
no exception to traditional Chinese standards. The Chinese often viewed
love and passion as a potential threat to the social and political order.
In order to suppress these outbreaks of passion, rules were set up to regulate
marriage, reproduction, inheritance and the place for women. In China, Confucian
philosophy preached suppression of family love and marriage was often viewed
as a business. Strict rules regarding sex were prevalent in that only sex
with in marriage for reproductive purposes was approved; thus premarital
and extramarital relationships were strictly banned.
Many of these societal norms were prevalent themes of Lu Xun's short story entitled Regret for the Past. The narrator of the story is Shi Juansheng, a man who had been through a heart wrenching yet passionate journey with his former late mistress Zijun. They had moved in together and engaged in premarital relations against her family's will and society's norms. At first their relationship was new, exciting and daring however soon to be left bleak and eventually destroyed by the loss of his job and his honest confession that he was not in love with her anymore. At the end Shi Juansheng was left alone and yearning for his former days with his illegitimate lover, while Zijun kills herself, not being able to over come her taboo placed on by society.
The characters in this story are relatable, being that mistakes are a central theme, along with truth and hypocrisy. While Zijun represents female consciousness, she was also the proto-type for everything that China was against. Such as women living and thinking for themselves and to go against their families and societies. However while Lu Xun presents this strong minded woman he is also warning the readers what can happen if you break away from traditional Chinese rules. Almost making the analogy to the revolution of the youth at the time, Lu Xun seemed to be rendering problematic Chinese consciousness, arguing that if you break away from traditional values too much many negative things could happen to you. While Zijun was a Chinese women (woman) and many of her struggles were at the hands of her specific cultural values, universally women can relate to many of her hardships that she endured such as the dichotomy between being a strong independent woman while at the same time having respect for your societal role and rejecting the needs required of the man you love. Zijun stated in the beginning of her relationship, "I'm my own mistress none of them have any right to interfere with me." Zijun at these beginning stages was regarded as powerful and strong for breaking away and following her heart, however as the story developed she grew less and less powerful and instead took on the role of a tired, weak housewife who yearned for her husbands affection and days of passion that once were the driving force of her power. She seemed to hold a regret of her own sorts in that she could not have the joys that other men and women shared when they were married and had children. Perhaps Zijun shifted from viewing her decision to move in with a man whom she was not married to as a strong choice to that of a choice of weakness and inability to suppress her passion. This two-sided coin is common in western culture as well. At one hand a woman who uses embraces (too many verbs here) her sexuality is considered a strong independent powerful woman while on the other hand her sexuality is often used to rob her of her powerfulness and put her at the hands (of) men and society's judgmental comments.
Another theme that women universally can relate to is the theme of a hurt and sadness due to the rejection of a man you love. When Shi Juansheng confessed that he no longer loved her Zijun's reaction was the language that is spoken everywhere, the language of a broken heart. "I was expecting a scene, but all that followed was silence. Her face turned ashen pale, as pale as death; but in a moment her color came back and that childlike look darted from her eyes. She gazed around like a hungry or thirsty child searching for its kindly mother. But she only stared into space, fearfully avoiding my eyes. The sight was more than I could stand" although she is in a completely different culture and time than women in America today, every woman who reads that passage can relate to exactly what Zijun is experiencing and that exact hurt that only a man you love can bring forth in you, no matter how powerful you once thought yourself to be, weakness takes over your body and mind.
In conclusion, although at first glance it is easy to assume that growing up being suppressed by China��s traditional values, Zijun and Shi Juansheng are much different and encounter drastically dissimilar experiences to us, at a closer look it is obvious that they both, Zijun particularly take on the same feelings and situations as women around the world.
Regret for A Collective Past?
|Lu Xun's work Regret for the Past can be best labeled as a tragedy. Possibly
even more catastrophic than the story of Zijun and Juansheng itself, is
the fact that most every person happening to read it would be able to relate
to and sympathize with the characters and their situation. Though Regret
for the Past is primarily characterized as a simple love story gone wrong,
its content is much more complex than that, dealing with issues ranging
from the simple struggle of every day life in China, to subtle feminism,
and, of course, the way in which we treat those closest to us.
From the very first lines of Lu Xun's piece, it is obvious that the narrator, Juansheng, feels a great deal of grief about the story he is begging to share, if the title wasn't telling enough. Juansheng reflects fondly on his romance with Zijun, portraying it as pure and genuine, stating that he "had hidden very little, and she understood him completely." As the reader witnesses Juansheng's romance with Zijun develop, it is obvious that the two are very much in love, even going so far as to move in together without being married. Zijun moving in with a man who was not her husband was, deliberately or not, quite an act of feminism, from the same woman who earlier in the story stated "I'm my own mistress."
Though Zijun has moments of admirable bravery throughout Lu Xun's story, she ultimately succumbs to the stress and pressure of domesticity and a modest life. Zijun's lifestyle starts to weigh on her emotional state, and a "covert look of depression" or a "forced smile" was consistently on her face. Such a drastic change in Zijun's character was likely what drove Juansheng to fall out of love with her, if he was ever truly in love with her to begin with. Juansheng had become unhappy in what was previously a blissful situation, coming to realize that "during the last half year, for love-blind love-[he] had neglected all the other important things in life. First and foremost, livelihood. A man must make a living before there can be any place to love." Juansheng labeling his love for Zijun as blind brings up the question of whether he was every truly in love with her to begin with, or if his affection was purely of a selfish nature.
Whether Juansheng was inadvertently feigning his love for Zijun or not does not matter all that much, for once he realized he no longer loved her, he was no longer able to hold it in, stating that "hypocrisy became branded on [his] heart, so filling it with falseness that it was hard to breathe," ultimately fuelling his decision to tell Zijun of this new development. Understandably, Zijun's heart was broken, and she returned to her family, leaving Juansheng with "the heavy burden of emptiness," one to die shortly after their separation. Once Juansheng learned Zijun's death, he stated "Fate had decreed that she should die believing the truth I had told her-die in a world without love," which leaves the reader to wonder whether it would have been better for everyone involved, had he lied. Juansheng exchanged truth for empty existence and a certain sense of guilt, a feeling everyone can sympathize with. After having finished Lu Xun's Regret for the Past, the reader is left to wonder what the true meaning behind the story is-are we to tell the truth, however selfish this act may be, no matter the consequences? Or is it more noble to preserve the happiness of those around us?