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This text is one among the many papers that were written by Lu H Sun, a famous Chinese writer of the 20th century. It adopts the style and thought attributed to this writer. His works are known to have much of sympathetic situations and irony incorporated in one writing. He is known as a critique of his own characters, which he presents as being foolish and unwise. He insists that the torture and hard life that they go through is self initiated, since according to him it’s not their strength but rather their wisdom that can save them from such circumstances.
He seems to be against the will of the society, of helping the needy as a community and not letting them struggle on their own. On the contrary, this great Chinese writer calls for extreme efforts and an independent self development for a wise people. This, he says will lead to a good environment since people will be less dependent on each other.
This title, the New Year’s sacrifice was adopted, not form the context of the story but from the period this story was told. It’s a narrative, whose central focus is on a widow, who was strong in previous times like this, when her pain was only attributed to her long gone husband. She had gathered her pieces and move d on, only to encounter an unexpected set back.
The main character in this story is a young woman, and for that matter a widow, who had lost her husband and escaped home in search for a job to feed herself. She had not had a child with her long gone husband and, therefore, had no reason to remain home after being widowed.
Unfortunately her dreams are shattered, when;her late husband’s brother wants to marry and lacks money to pay the bride price. It’s at this time that her husband’s family goes out searching for her so she can be remarried her bride price be exchanged for the lady to be married.
She experiences a sudden leave. Just like other days, she left for the stream with the rice basket that she was to prepare for the midday meal. It was her routine to wash the rice and vegetables from the stream, bending for her task; she is carried away into a boat by some strange men. One of these, as it was later established was her brother in law that was going to marry. It was her mother in law’s plot to get her back and remarry her so they could get money.
Her masters seem disappointed by this act, possibly because Hsiang Lin’s wife, a name she was commonly known for was hardworking and obedient. But her mistress, while talking with old Mrs. Wei, the woman that had brought them their now gone maidservant termed it a disgrace and shame to the family. She feels bad about that she doesn’t want to see the old woman.
Despite fighting so hard to causing a large ugly scar on her head, Hsiang Lin’s wife was successively remarried. She bore a son with her second husband, who dies of typhoid leaving her a widow again. Her life moves on, until when her son is eaten by a wolf at a much unexpected time. She can no longer bear the pain and again sets out and retraces her way back to her employers. She, however, is received coldly because of the way she had gone the previous time.
For the second time, old Mrs. Wei pleads for her, and after telling her story, her mistress is moved and seems to be almost crying with her. She reconsiders taking her back and allows her into the servant’s quarters. Things were not the same, for the period she had been away; her mistress often spoke of her, especially, when the new maids didn’t perform to her expectation. She was very hardworking and did great works, not discriminating the tough works commonly left for men. This time, she was gloomy and less aggressive. She never spoke to people except when she told of her story, how she was so stupid to have lost her son to the wolf. In her early days of retelling this story, many people shared in her pain and lend her a heart to lean on. However, with time the story became a disgust and people no longer wanted to hear of it. They even went further to tease her whenever she spoke about it. Hsiang Lin’s wife, therefore, grew colder with time and never spoke to people.
For long, she kept her distance from people, her lips tightly closed as she had nothing to share. Not until a time when another newly adopted maidservant started teasing her of her forced second marriage. Probably having known how strong Hsiang’s wife used to be, she insisted that her remarriage was not forced, influencing her into accepting that she did it willingly. It’s at this time, when people begin speaking to her again, though, this time with some sense of coldness.
The story is told during a time of Neo-Confucianism in the Chinese state. It’s a belief that people can be taught and influenced to attain personal growth and perfection. It focuses on humanism where the society as a whole is meant to care for the lives and needs of individuals. It supports good morals, reputable virtues and good ethical holdings both at individual and community levels. Duties were assigned in relation to one’s relationship with the people around him/her and respect for the seniors by the juniors was mandatory.
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An understanding of this context, therefore, gives a better understanding of why Mrs. Wei was so much concerned about Hsiang Lin’s wife to getting her a job after she lost both her first and second husband. It was the desire to maintain humanism, and the strong beliefs in communal correlations that influenced her choices to help Hsiang Lin’s wife. It also explains why Mr. Lu, despite having hated the idea of employing a widow, eventually, did not object her stay as one of his servants.
Neo-Confucianism is also seen influencing the priests into letting her buy the threshold for the temple, so that as many people could step on it and plead for her mercies lest she could go through a torturing experience in hell.
Hsiang Lin’s wife is used as a representative of many other young women, who fall as victims of circumstances once they lose their loved ones. She is sold by her mother-in-law because she lacks a voice in the society. Her second marriage, though, to a poor man was promising until when she loses her husband. She is regarded as a bad omen by society and is isolated to live on her own. Her earlier experiences haunt her into the future, and she fears for her life after death. These have been influenced by how society treats her and people’s impolite remarks towards her unfortunate circumstances.
This story is also used to depict the discrimination that women face. First, Mr. Lin disapproves of her and seeks not to accept her as his servant. It’s Mrs. Lin, who steps in to the rescue of this poor widow. She does her best and disapproves her employer’s desire to reject her. Her extraordinary strength, and that she even does men’s work is used to show how women struggled to attain a right position in the society. They refuse to be viewed as weak or less of human beings by working hard.
When Hsiang’s wife is captured at the stream to be sold by her mother-in-law, discrimination is also reflected. These time its discrimination of the well articulated and able women against the relatively naïve and poor. It’s sad how the narrator presents this case, since it’s a fellow woman indirectly mistreating and ill-handling her using men. She is subjected to so much torture in a ceremony, where she is forcibly sold into marriage for capital gain by her late husband’s kin.
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It’s even worse when the money she had worked for tirelessly is paid to her mother-in-law. One cannot comprehend why it had to be so, since they were not in terms and she had even captured her. Furthermore, despite having never seen him, Mrs. Lu opts to pay her mother in-law for the work she had done herself. This is a clear picture of slavery and discrimination. Mrs. Luna sees her mother in-law as being informed and wise, hence can associate with her as opposed to her maidservant, whom she spoke so highly off but later betrays.
Her employees make no efforts to protect her. She was grown enough to stand her ground and do what pleased her, but no one seemed to appreciate this. From her mother in-law, who came looking for her, old Mrs. Wei, who is seen apologizing for the disgrace she has been caused and finally her employees, who distant themselves from the issue and willingly release her without making the least moves to protect her.
Once she leaves, the family engages in a search for the rice basket. This impacts both positively and negatively on the character of the protagonist. On one side, it’s seen how much she was trusted that much responsibility was vested on her. This can also be attributed to her hard work or her designation as a slave. On the other hand, the family could have thought of her as a thief. The haste with which the search was done seems to be in favor of this view. She was a widow, a poor woman and her wages have been given out to someone else. Despite her strong character, circumstances could have lured her into stealing but she doesn’t. Later, Mrs. is heard speaking of her when the new maids steal her food. It’s unfortunate, however, she did not at any instance appreciate her in her presence, maybe Mrs. thought she didn’t need to be told.
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The strength of women is also represented by the protagonist. She seems strong, and a good fighter from the outside though she is suffering and experiencing a silent death. Society is meant to respect and think of her as of great strength, not knowing how much the inside is suffering. This strong character, however, dies with time because it lacks support. The once strong woman has now lost her strength and this can be seen from a far.
A narration of this story during the New Year sacrifice was deliberate. The writer does this intentionally, relating the title of the story to the protagonist. Hsiang Lin’s wife as a person is seen to have undergone two instances of sacrifice, where she loses her two husbands to the devil. She is, however, not allowed to participate in preparations of the feast of the New Year sacrifice since she is viewed as a bad omen to the society.
Religious beliefs and practices are also explored as one of the themes in this story. For the protagonist to have withdrawn all her savings, to by a threshold for the temple implicates some religious belief. She, having been subjected to fear of her life in eternity, decides to do this to make things right with the gods. It’s possible that her plight in society is attributed to her sinful nature, as seen when she remarried after being widowed. Her questioning of whether hell really exists also has some religious aspects. She wonders what it could be like in the other life, possibly wishing it could be better than the present life but also fearing for the worst.
However, the answers of “I am not sure” that the narrator constantly gives her are not satisfactory. These, according to me, are serious issues driven by great fears that require substantial answers. One is left to wonder of how much pain the protagonist goes through, that even at the verge of her death she still faces discrimination. The narrator accepts that the answers he gives are uncalled for and he even walks away, form a heart that is seeking truth from him. Despite noticing how short-lived the woman was, he still lacks a sense of humanity, and a heart of compassion to at least show her some love and give her hope of her next world.
Though, he justifies his decision, since it was the eve of the festival and death issues were not to be spoken about. He admits later that there was an accepted way, in which he could have explained the issues and still keeps the taboo, but most probably because the person being answered was not regarded so much, he chooses not to go the extra mile.
Taboos and the dangers of breaking them are also discussed in this story. Hsiang’s wife is presented as a madwoman after leaving her second matrimonial home. It was a taboo for her to have accepted to remarry after she lost her first husband. Society fails to appreciate her efforts to reject the marriage, and despite appreciating that she was tied with ropes and sold forcibly to her new husband, blame is still laid on her. Her state of mind, where she has lost sense of reason is attributed to a taboo she went against.
People even use the scar she caused herself, when she knocked herself against a wall, and bled profusely, with the hope of being released from the bondage of being sold into marriage. Instead of appreciating her efforts, it’s seen as a scar of remembrance of the evils that society attributes to her. Some people even wish she had died during that knock, saying her after life was worst than if she could have died a bit earlier. She was expected to fight and win against a group of men, which seems impossible but cannot be appreciated by society as truth.
It’s sad, how this woman lacks a name in the society. This was deliberate to show a constant reminder to the protagonist that she was a widow. Referring to her as Hsiang Lin’s wife, while the man she is being associated to long gone, she was in herself painful. One stands to wonder if this poor being didn’t have a name, or is it that she was viewed so lowly that her name could not last in society. Even when she marries her second husband, whom she stays with for some long and even bears him a child, her name doesn’t change.
Before her remarriage, during the New Year festival that Hsiang Lin’s wife celebrated with the Lu family, she did all the work and made all the preparations. The family did not hire extra help as she managed the work alone. These are the days when life had some meaning to her and she could correlate with other people. After so many tragedies befell her, she is not allowed to even touch the utensils. Mrs. Lu screams at her when she tries to help, making her to lose her mind. She stands still and remains where she is, until Mr. Lu tells her to give way. Her spirit is affected, she can no longer be of help to society, and she is a bad omen.
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An analysis of this story makes it lose some sense of reality. When the author presents the protagonist as a widow at the first instance and later as a victim of circumstances when she is forcibly sold into marriage, people sympathize with her. Her promising marriage is meant to resolve this issue, but when he kills her second husband again and later her son, setting her back to her painful status the story becomes incomplete. He, therefore, needed to provide another solution to this; instead he miserably kills the protagonist ending the story in misery.