Task 2: Written Assignment A Dream of China by Ovidia Yu A Dream of China is written by Ovidia Yu, a Singaporean writer during the 1980s. This story talks about a woman who grew up with many stories revolving around China. The stories were told by her father who was from a wealthy family. He and his brother joined the army to fight off the Japanese in Singapore and were disowned by their father for doing so. After the war ended, the narrator’s father decides to stay in China while the brother chose otherwise. For this choice, the father feels extremely guilty throughout the years.
Being convinced that China was amazing, the narrator grabs the opportunity to visit China and finds out for herself many things that differ from her father’s stories. According to Oxford Dictionary (2010), criticism is defined as the analysis and judgement of the merits and faults of a literary or artistic work. Literary criticism therefore, means judging of literary works for both the good and bad. According to a handout of Twentieth-Century Literary Theories, there are many different kinds of literary criticism which include Formalism, Reader-Response, Sociological, Historicism, Structuralism and Psychoanalytic.
Several of the mentioned theories are applicable to this text by Ovidia Yu while the others are not very suitable. One of the literary theories that are applicable to A Dream of China would be Reader-Response Criticism. As the handout describes, reader-response criticism is a critical view that sees the reader’s interaction with the text as central to interpretation. This criticism involves the reader’s elucidation and opinion towards the text because as different readers read it, they will have expectations.
From those expectations, there lies a perfect explanation in the back of the reader’s mind. The beauty of it is, nobody has the exact same opinion and that is where variety of interpretations could be established. Collaboratively, these responses could be put together to criticise a text completely from the inside out, covering all aspects of the text. My response towards this text will be regarding the theme of the text which is an unnecessary guilt of a father. The narrator’s father’s choice of staying in Singapore after the war is a rational one ecause he has already settled down unlike his brother who was still unmarried then. “He had a wife and my eldest sister, who was already born,” (p163) perfectly justifies that the father’s choice of staying was a rational one. I believe that any man caught in that situation would make the exact same choice he did as it was the best choice available. Besides that, after the Japanese left Singapore and China, staying in Singapore was a smarter choice as it was much smaller thus, suffered less damage compared to China which is many times bigger and of course, more severely damaged.
Furthermore, Singapore remains the trading hub of overseas traders which gives the place that much more advantage in its nation’s recovery and growth compared to China. With such advantage in the nation and a weight of responsibility towards the family, I would not see how one father would choose otherwise. This is proven the right choice again by the narrator during her expedition to China when she finally meets her nobly described uncle who turns out to be a ‘drab old man’ (p173), ‘barely tolerated by people’ and ‘children throw names at him’ (p170).
All in all, they contribute and directly support the theme ‘unnecessary guilt of a father’. Another suitable literary criticism theory would be historicism. Historicism focuses on a text in relation to the historical and cultural contexts of the period in which it was created and critically evaluated. In the case of this text, it is written in the 1980s. During this time, Singapore has already made great progress with their country’s development and is far more organised and modernised compared to China then in which some parts still live in extremely poor conditions.
The narrator’s father however, settled in Singapore around 1945 as that was the year the Japanese left Singapore. At that point of time, Singapore as mentioned above stands a greater chance of recovering their loss and move on with development of their tiny country whereas China is so vast and was undergoing post-war clashes politically at that time. In 1946, civil war in China erupted yet again. With such circumstances, it is of no doubt that the narrator’s father, who was married and had a family living in a peaceful developing country, chooses to stay.
Going back to China at such times would only be asking for trouble. This is also one of the reasons why the father feels guilty. It would be because he let his own brother make the unwise choice without trying to make him stay as stated in (p170) ‘If my father had only given him a word of warning he would now be in Singapore living in the lap of luxury… ’ In the 80s when the narrator finally visits China, which was then undergoing another reform related to communism of Mao-Zedong, she met her noble uncle who turned out to be dull, arrogant, rude and living in poverty, hated by most of the villagers.
Seeing such sight would make anyone compare with their own home, in this case, Singapore, which was far more modernised and civilised where husbands treat their wives as equal in status and power unlike in Sechuan where the narrator’s uncle still ‘swore continuously at his wife’ (p169). Even now, we can still see how staying in Singapore would be the best choice at that time. In this 21st century, Singapore has become one of the most modernised countries competing alongside Japan as well as America.
While in mainland China, some parts are much modernised, but many other parts are still, till this day, without electricity and water what more to say, education. In conclusion, both theories of literary criticism has their unique own way of approach towards literary works. The choice of theories is still ultimately up to the readers to choose which is most suitable. Without literary criticism, literature would have lost their art form that has been appealing to linguists for centuries, similar to how art would lose its value if nobody cares to analyse and evaluate it. References
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