University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
The Depiction of Love and Desire
A lot of novels seem to instantly possess that kind of connection to readers once the concepts of love and desire are mentioned and discussed. This can be explained through the fact that love and desire are practically very natural emotions and concepts in life that people cannot deny and escape. The concepts of love and desire have been as eternal as life itself. These things have already caused greats chaos and wars, and surely, these have also brought upon peace and understanding as well.
Considering this, love and desire can be as confusing and deceiving as it looks, but whatever it really is, people will always have these concepts present in their everyday lives. Thus, it is not surprising that these concepts are portrayed and reflected in literature, specifically in short stories and novels where love and desire are themes that appeal to millions of readers around the world.
These ideas do not just touch their real emotions and feelings, but the depiction of these concepts in literature also widens the understanding of readers about the existence of such concepts and what other impacts they may cause to oneself and to others. Hence, these concepts have made a lot of novels well-known, such as the two very popular Chinese novels, The Story of the Stone by Xueqin Cao and Six Records of a Floating Life by Fu Shen. The Depiction of Love and Desire in “The Story of the Stone” by Xueqin Cao
Xueqin Cao’s The Story of the Stone was also known under the title, The Dream of the Red Chamber. A lot of readers and literary critics have considered this obra of Xueqin Cao as the greatest classical novel (Norden). It tells a story of families, family ties, Chinese royalties, affluence, love, and morality. It tells the tale of two houses that are considered in the modern day language as mansions which house two affluent families. The novel does not only talk about the physical manifestation of these families’ wealth but also describes their influence and power in their territory.
The novel makes mention of the typical Chinese royalty lifestyle, traditions, and values that highlight the the royalty and regal nature of the two families. Aside from this, the novel also highlights a peculiar angle about women, love, and desire. Thus, it features a lot of female characters, and most of these female characters’ fates are foreshadowed by significant relations and connections to love and desire. One interesting part, for example, is Wang Xi-feng’s hateful distaste of Jia Rui’s romantic attention towards her.
Xi-feng and Jia Rui are distant cousins, but they are just connected through the marriages of their relatives. This can be considered the main reason why Jia Rui felt it will be fine to woo Xia-feng. However, considering that Jia Rui is married, Xia-feng develops a negative attitude about their relationship as it appears to be not only incestuous but also immoral in a way that is adulterous. To cite another example, Jia Bao-yu and Lin Daiyu’s relationship is also a depiction of love and desire and appears to be the most prominent in the novel as they can be considered as the main protagonists of the story.
Jia Bao-yu is described to be an attractive and noble man from one of the two affluent families. It can also be learned that Bao-yu is the incarnation of a supernatural stone. On the other hand, Daiyu is depicted as a lovely maiden who is also a successful musician and poet. The novel also reveals that Daiyu is the incarnation of a magical crimson pearl flower. It was reborn as Daiyu in order to repay the water that Bao-yu spilt, and this will be possible in the form of Daiyu’s tears for Bao-yu.
The tears that she is bound to cry for Bao-yu are also said to be “the tears shed during the whole of a mortal lifetime” (Cao 53). Throughout the entire story, Bao-yu and Daiyu can be observed to fight for the affection and deep passion that they feel for each other which has always been separated by ill-fate and tears. Bao-yu is portrayed as a poor witness to Daiyu’s weeping who honestly and whole-heartedly adores him. He helplessly watches Daiyu who is always “sobbing and panting by turns, and whose red ans swollen face was wet with perspiration and tears” (Cao 88).
All these tears that Daiyu weeps are all but part of her incarnated life which is bound to repay the waters that Bao-yu spilt. These tears by Daiyu and the aforementioned complicated affair of Jia Rui and Xia-feng are just some portrayals of love and desire in this novel by Xueqin Cao. More often than not, the women in this story are presented as the more emotional and weaker part in a relationship. Although they are able to give so much love, their affection is either morally unacceptable or just plainly impossible to be reciprocated by the one they love.
In many ways, this suggests that women in the earlier decades of traditional China — the period when Xueqin Cao created this novel — were perceived to be ruled by their emotions and actions on love and desire. This novel just proves that more than men, women were seen by ancient Chinese societies to be the weaker and the more passive people in a romantic relationship. Only a few parts in the novel stress that women stand and fight for what they believe is right; rather, they are plainly portrayed to be lovers who are always willing to succumb to what they think fate commanded them to do regardless of their emotional pains and sufferings.
The Depiction of Love and Desire in Fu Shen’s “Six Records of a Floating Life” Six Records of a Floating Life is a masterpiece made by a person who admitted to his readers that he is not as educated and literate as all the other famous literary artists. Shen Fu made an honest admission to his readers that unlike all the world-renowned poets and fiction writers of his time, he was just a man of humble origin who desired to write about life in a rather simple and a not-so skillful manner (Heiter).
However, despite this admittance of his own weakness, Shen Fu’s work was still able to move the hearts of his readers for several years. His work was also regarded by a lot of scholars and critics as a perfect depiction of everyday life in China during the eighteenth century under the Ch’ing Dynasty (Heiter). Basically, Six Records of a Floating Life is an account of Shen Fu’s life. It is divided into six different chapters such as “The Joys of the Wedding Chamber,” “The Pleasures of Leisure,” “The Sorrows of Misfortune,” and “The Delights of Roaming Afar” — which explain why the title was called “six records.”
However, two of the six chapters have been lost through time, and losing these two chapters still causes a lot of speculations even today. All of the four remaining chapters have been the readers’ window to the colorful and dynamic life retold by Shen Fu. Aside from the colors of jasmine and peach blossoms and the wonders of the rivers and the gardenias, Shen Fu was also able to elaborate on the concepts of love and desire. This gives justice to the fact that this tale of Shen Fu is considered among the Chinese as a love story instead of a mere autobiography (Fu 9).
At the start of the story, Shen Fu introduced his object of affection, Chen Yun, who was both his cousin and wife at the same time. Although their marriage was arranged, Shen Fu admired everything about his wife Chen Yun. He was able to express clearly through this book his deep adoration of Chen Yun’s nature and abilities such as her ability to write poems. He would even recall so dearly that “even while small, she (Chen Yun) was very clever. While she was learning to talk she was taught the poem The Mandolin Song and could repeat it almost immediately” (Fu 25).
Yet, despite this honest love and desire for Chen Yun, Shen Fu’s faithfulness was challenged by the attractiveness of a young concubine, Han-yuan. Aside from this, Chen Yun also fell ill and her death was soon foreshadowed and predicted in the story. Nevertheless, these challenges all made Shen Fu realize how strong the concept of love can be. Just as soon as his wife died, Shen Fu expressed his great grief and inexplicable misery because of his other half’s passing.
Shen Fu’s emotions spoke to the readers so powerfully that it seemed to the readers as if they are looking at Shen Fu’s heart directly. These are but manifestations of how powerful and affecting the realities of love and desire can be that even an illiterate man was able to describe and explain how moving and overwhelming these emotions are. Truly, love and desire are just two of the most powerful things that can conquer literature as shown in these novels.