From: Dr Mike Loh
Date: 25/05/2010 23:27
Subject: Short story
Here’s a short story for you to enjoy. Do let me know how you feel about it.
Thank you so much for forwarding me this piece of short story – ‘Breaking Free” . I really enjoy reading it. It reminds me of my student days when I was given a photocopy piece of writing for critical appreciation during my English Literature class. Here is my critical analysis of the story…
Thanks for your very sharp observation and analysis, I guess I can’t escape being “caught” by an astute investigator like you. Here’s another one for you to enjoy.
A Critical Appreciation on the short story – “Breaking Free”
‘Breaking Free’ is a well crafted simple short story narrated by the main character / victim about her trials and tribulations before she finally ‘breaks free’ from the shackles of her trapped misery or destiny! The setting is in old China though the time frame was not specified. It’s definitely a rural traditional China village with those age old traditions i.e. arranged marriages at very young age with all the rituals and customs etc..
The main character cum narrator, namely Poh Choo tells us how she was arranged to be married off at a tender age of 14 yrs to another young man of about 16 or 17 yrs. He is cute and the most outstanding feature is his ‘pig nose’. We do not know his name throughout the story. This ‘pig nose’ seems like a village retard who just knows how to enjoy, is happy-go-lucky and likes to play crickets and chase after dogs with the village boys. He never seems to grow up and the narrator feels like a surrogate mother, playing companion and washer woman to him. They never had sex. He sleeps like a pig in “comatose” every night!
To make matters worse, Poh Choo is raped by the pig nose’s father – her father in law. When another lady got married into the household – pig nose’s uncle’s bride – she was also raped by the same father in law!
The narrator then instigates her to retaliate resulting in both of them dead – the new bride and the father in law. The husband of the dead bride – younger brother of pig nose’s father – left but still keeps in touch with Poh Choo. She later falls in love with that man.
Eventually Poh Choo decides to get rid of her pig nose husband by pushing him into a deep pond on a fishing trip. He does not know how to swim and gets drowned! She then left that dreadful village to start a new life with the man she loves! A real man full of muscles with bulging veins on his big powerful hands!
Let’s look at the style and characteristics of the writing and the writer.
This short story is definitely not a translated piece. It’s not originally written in Chinese and then translated into English. In fact, I feel that it is written by a Western educated ethnic Chinese. I do not think that a typical Chinese educated in the Chinese classics can describe Poh Choo’s destiny or fate under the yoke of misery as ‘like an albatross round my neck!’ There is no similar reference in any Chinese classics notwithstanding 5,000 yrs of unbroken recorded Chinese history except that it’s found in Samuel Coleridge‘s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” poem.
The writer is not only a Western educated Chinese but also with a background in Hokkien or Teochew dialects – definitely not an origin from the northern sphere of China. The ‘sio chia’ & ‘keem siu’ terms used in the short story are definitely dialects of coastal China reinforced with names of places such as Amoy and Swatow! Some of the rituals and customs practiced before, on and after the Chinese traditional wedding also reflect those coastal Chinese region.
Next, the writer gives a good clear description of the father in law who rapes the narrator repeatedly as ‘an ape of man’, ‘icky kaoliang infused breath’ with ‘food fragments stuck in gaps of teeth’ as if the narrator can actually see and picture the smell and sight so near when that ‘keem siu’ (animal or beast) ravages the narrator every night with her ‘pig nose’ child-husband snoring in a state of ‘comatose’ nearby! Despite that ape of a man, the narrator in ‘flashes of lightning actually felt slight tinges of forbidden pleasure’ followed by a deep sense of guilt! How subtle and delicate in the description of her confused state of mind.
In other words, the narrator is giving a truthful account of her misery. Her desperate sexual needs as a young sexually deprived wife who regales in reading ‘ribald tales’ vis a vis ‘Jin Ping Mei‘ and ‘Hsi Men Ching’ is also highlighted and conveyed subtlely by the writer! After all the husband never really consumates the marriage. Her 1st and only sexual experience is only with her father in law who rapes her every night!
The narrator’s wish for a real man – powerful and masculine who loves her is fullfilled in the end!
The most striking style of the writer is his penchant for one sentence paragraph such as ‘It had indeed’ followed by a pause and another one sentence paragraph as in, ‘At least on the surface’ and lastly, ‘Continued walking, I never look back’ when she calmly murdered her ‘child husband’ by pushing him into the deep pond in order to ‘break free’ from the yoke of misery & agony so that she could lead her dream life as a real woman and wife and start a family with the man she truly loves!
My Dear Dr Mike,
I believe that writer is none other than you! An excelllent piece of creative writing with much ideas and emotions portrayed by the narrator in the context of old China.
‘Breaking Free’ sums it all!