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The Main Story Of Thunderstorm English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2711 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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As the most influencing playwright in China, Cao Yu focuses his efforts and skills on depicting an illegitimate passion in female characters, superimposing upon it a multiplicity of motifs. A great measure of success is achieved by the character of Zhou Fan-yi, the wife of the host Zhou Pu-yuan in Cao Yu's play: Thunderstorm, written in 1934. From a traditional sense, scholars compare Zhou Fan-yi with various female characters like: Medea by Euripides, Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoy and Abbie in Desire under the Elms by Eugene O'Neill. In this article, it first explores reason of the tragedy of Fan-yi's fate and also discusses the significance of female consciousness in Cao Yu's work from a feministic perspective.

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Chapter 2 Tragic Female Characters in Cao Yu's Thunderstorm

2¼Ž1 The Main Story of Thunderstorm

Zhou Pu-yuan is a typical representative of the patriarchal family hosts in old China. He is the master of a respectable wealthy family. His first wife, a housemaid named Shi-ping, bears him two sons: Zhou Ping and Ta-hai. Later Zhou Pu-yuan marries a comely, genteel, and well-educated young woman, the main female character, Fan-yi, who is only several years older than her step-son: Zhou Ping. Before long, Fan-yi grows unsatisfied with her husband whose passion declines and only interested in his speculation of mine workers. Fan-yi, regardless of the social guidelines, steps into a clandestine affair with her step-son Zhou Ping, who then switchs his attention to a young maid, Si-feng, who shares the same mother as Ta-hai. The love between Zhou Ping and Si-feng enrages Fan-yi and she is resolved to take revenge at the end of the play by announcing the hidden affair. Driven by her fear of betrayal, Fan-yi compels Zhou Pu-yuan to prevent her paramour's leaving, but only to prompt her old husband to uncover his true relationship with Shi-ping, Si-feng's mother. Si-feng is unable to face the shame of her love with her brother, dashed out of the house and is electrocuted by a bare live wire in the yard in a thunderstorm night. The same fate overtakes Zhou Chong, who attempts to rescue Si-feng, a dream lover in his eyes. Having witnessed such a family tragedy, Fan-yi feels bitter remorse by begging her lover's forgiveness. Zhou Ping, who is finally reproached by his conscience, shoots himself to death, leaving the desperate woman insane in a crazy world.

The tragic action of the play is completely convincing: the irreconcilable conflict between the patriarchal man and refractory woman; the inhuman greediness of the man driven by an ungratified possessive instinct; the symbols of the house representing all that is strong, old and joyless; her attempts to break free of the past through an action of incestuous love, and her physical passion which is destructive and long constrained by the sense of sin.

2¼Ž2 Study on Script about Fan-yi

In the first act, Zhou Pu-yuan categorically declares that Fan-yi is sick and has to drink medicine. Standing in front of a beloved son and step-son who she secretly loved, Fan-yi faces a dilemma. Drinking is against her will and to nod to his husband; not drinking is embarrassing her lover.

Zhou Pu-yuan: Ping, persuade your mother to drink it!

Zhou Ping: Dad! ---

Zhou Pu-yuan: go, kneel down and persuade your mother!

Zhou Ping: (come to Zhou Pu-yuan) Dad!

Zhou Pu-yuan: (loudly) kneel down!

(Zhou Ping looks at Fan-yi, Fan-yi tears; Zhou Chong shakes with anger.)

Zhou Pu-yuan: you! Kneel down!

(Zhou Ping was about to kneel) (Thunderstorm, 47)

Prior to this, Zhou Pu-yuan requires Si-feng send drug to Fanyi to drink. She did not drink. Zhou Pu-yuan then orders Zhou Chong ask his mother to drink. She also refused. Zhou Pu-yuan finally requires Zhou Ping kneel down to beg his mother. Finally she represses her inner flame and makes a sacrifice in front her step-son. The drug is eventually drunk, which marks Fanyi's surrender to Zhou Pu-yuan's patriarchal power.

Fan-yi does not marry Zhou Pu-yuan for love but for "well-matched" in terms of social and economic status demanded by parents' will. Thus, she is "a wronged woman to start with as she was 'tricked into the family and has a child, Zhou Chong, who makes her escape all the more impossible.'" (李树凯, 1984) Yet, she is a woman of gross passion to love who she should not, and her sexual impetuosity is an irresistible part of her nature and not likely to be subdued by else's pressure. As Cao Yu describes her first appearance in the play:

She is obviously a woman of ruthless determination. The faint red of her lips is the only touch of color in her other wise pale face. Her large dark eyes and straight nose give her face a certain beauty, though a beauty with a sinister cast to it. The eyes beneath her long, steady lashes betray her unhappiness. Sometimes, when the smoldering fires of misery in her heart blaze into life, those eyes will fill with all the anguish and resentment of a frustrated woman. The corners of her mouth are slightly drawn back, revealing her to be a repressed woman controlling herself with difficulty… with her delicate health, her secret sorrows, her intelligence and her love of poetry and literature, she is a woman of old China; yet there is a primitive wildness in her which shows in her courage, in her almost fanatical reasoning, an in her sudden, unaccountable strength in moments of crisis. (Thunderstorm, 27)

Fan-yi is an incarnation of contradiction and extremities. Though she is a well-educated, genteel woman, she cannot stand for a moment the cold-bloodedness and ruthless mental persecution of her husband, as her vigorous life, permeated by a restrained primitive passion, thirsts for freedom and love. When Zhou Ping, young, restless, comes to her side to "offer comfort and understanding by letting her in on the confidence that he, too, hates his father" no less resolutely than she does, Fan-yi, as if "in deep water to an outreached hand," is moved to the loving commiseration of her step-son. She is more than willing to surrender her life and reputation in an exchange for her genuine love. Later in the play, even when timorous Zhou Ping becomes fearful and wayward, Fan-yi quickly defends her conduct, contracting her attitude with his: "I don't regret it. I've never regretted anything." Fan-yi, when attempting to convince her lover to elope, unshrinking asserts her innocence of the very deeds that Ping regrets:

Ping: (in an anguished voice) But surely you realize such a relationship must seem revolting to anyone else?

Fan-yi: (coldly) How many times have I told you that I don't look at it like that? My conscience is not made that way. (Thunderstorm, 132)

Her bursting passion shatters the chains of morality, and her desire of revenge on her husband meets her desire of satisfying her pent-up sexuality. Despite being a woman of old China in spirit, Fan-yi, walks out of the stifling encirclement of Zhou's House and bravely defies the feudal moral code by cherishing an unwavering love for her step-son, an unforgivable sin by the standards of the social order.

2¼Ž3 Fan-yi's Personality under Male Supremacy

The tragedy happens in the society of old China which is a typical patriarchal society.

Fan-yi repels Zhou's mansion psychologically but depend on it physically. Although she maintains full resentment of Zhou Pu-yuan, Fan-yi has no ability to survive independently. She is more reluctant to give up the pampered wife life if Zhou Ping did not betray her. She confronts with Zhou Pu-yuan because of disappointment and despair of love, not because she awakening awareness and pursuit of individuality.

Fan-yi devotes emotional dedication also excessive attachment to Zhou Ping. When Zhou Ping rejects her request, she prays to him: "Ping, this is the last time that I beg you; I have never speak to someone like this, now please have mercy on me." and "please take me away --- take me away from here. In the future, even you live with Sifeng, I can endure it as long as you do not leave me alone." She sets obstacles on Zhou Ping and Sifeng, begs Zhou Ping, ask him for courtesy. She is meager and shameful. Her attachment to Zhou Ping imposes her guilty and coward feelings that she can not escape.

Fan-yi is a combination of paradox. She knows Zhou Ping's love to Si-feng, but refuses to accept it. When she can not stop the love between them, she encouraged Zhou Chong to chase Sifeng. This reflects a woman's selfishness. Fan-yi actually is a contradictory individual containing both the spirit of resistance of her own love, and a strong psychological dependence on her lover.

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Fan-yi's rebellious statement is fraught with conviction and self-assurance and her defiant character reflects Cao Yu's wishes that female should be stronger in their personalities and should will, sooner or later, stand up to fight against unequal pressure. Fan-yi finally emancipates, having smashed the shackles of the feudal ethical values that confine her physical body, which shows the playwright's affirmation of and approbation of the heroine's individuality and of her iconoclasm of the suffocating patriarchal order. In the heart of Cao Yu, Fan-yi is a heroine, a heroine like a rapid thunderstorm, chipping the ancient feudal autocratic family; she was like a shining dagger, piercing the darkness of the night sky; she was like dazzling flame, illuminating the hell full of tyranny and prejudice. Cao Yu hates the outdated, conservative feudal society, and pours his deep sympathy to this female character throughout his writing.

Chapter 3 The Significance of Female Consciousness in Cao Yu's work

In the 1960s, along with the vigorous development of the feminist movement, dramatic writing has changed a lot. Emergence of feminist thought not only broadens people's artistic vision, but also changes the male perspective which is held to judge drama since the feudal society (in particular looking at the role of women), and finally imposed an unprecedented impact on people's thinking ever.

All the idols made by man, however terrifying they may be, are in point of fact subordinate to him, and that is why he will always have it in his power to destroy them.

­­--Simone de Beauvoir

Feminist critics see traditional literary works, especially the works of male writers as the product of a biased creation. Their abuse their own desires by shaping a "false" image of women and their works reflects males' own ideology. Therefore, they are skeptical of the female characters created by male writers and advocate female readers to use a unique perspective that are different from the traditional reading of their works.

3¼Ž1 Fan-yi -----the victims of the patriarchal society

Feminists have pointed out that "in a patriarchal society, the dominant groups control life by controlling speech power. They deprive women of the right to speak, so that they are long-term in a silent state. And therefore there is no ability for them to explain. A silent group will inevitably become buried groups "(Kang Zhengguo, 1994:12). Fan-yi exactly belongs to one of the silent ones. In feudal society, Fan-yi falls into the evil hands of Zhou Pu-yuan. In his callous, hypocritical mansion, she lost her freedom and love. Heavy choking air throws her into a cruel well. Since ancient China is a highly patriarchal society, the patriarch binds Chinese women's life path, let women suffered more than men with a spirit of family bondage. Patriarchal ancient society is a tool to maintain the family system, as well as the stability of the family. Zhou Pu-yuan's home is a typical bourgeois family, closed and coagulated. Fan-yi is one of the victims of patriarchal society.

3¼Ž2 The deformed pursuit of "love"

The works of Cao Yu has played an indelible role for the cause of women's liberation, but according to the feministic critics, the description of the image of women deliberately exaggerated the original female lust. Fan-yi and Zhou Ping also belong to the characteristics of the original works of the sexual lust. In a modern sense, love at least happens on two conditions: One is that both men and women love each other; Second is spiritual equality. These two factors, however, do not exist on Fan-yi and Zhou Ping. So according to Cao's writing, love between them two is an original sexual lust. By this way, Fan-yi is described as a bad woman who dares to love her step-son. If from traditional ethical point of view, it is indeed intolerable. But feminists suggest that scholars should analyze Fan-yi through a specific historical, cultural aspect in order to find a sympathetic understanding of this pathetic woman.

3¼Ž3 "Love" Is not Equal to Life

In Cao Yu's works, women abandon social ethics and even their lives, to pursue freedom and happiness. In real life, this kind of women is like jumping from one abyss into another more dangerous one. Their spirit of resistance is admirable, but the ignorant behavior by the oppression of women is meaningless. According to the theory of feminist literary criticism, it is dangerous for women to put the value of love equivalent to the value life as individuals. It is a natural right for women to find freedom, happiness and love as men do. Playwright Cao Yu captures the paranoid and limitations of the women in the pursuit of love and put them perfectly into the tragic fate of Fan-yi. Her tragedy is not an exception. Although she has a strong personality and a rebellious spirit, she lacks of groundbreaking capabilities; although she has a perseverant will and courage, she can not contend with the old feudal ethical code, decadent social custom and antiquated marriage system. When Zhou's feudal evil family is broken, her mental support is buried in the rubble, and their "love" tragedy is inevitable. In the old days, their lives, thoughts, ideals can not lead them toward the right path. They were unable to break through the shackles of individuals, families and society but to face the humiliating, cruel and inhumane ending.

Chapter 4 Conclusions and References

The tragedy of the drama reflects the tragedy of the times. Now readers do not unconsciously accept the image of women portrayed by authors; yet they set on the alarm and stand up to promote women's liberation in a feministic way: the Vagina Monologues by Eve Ensler; they re-think of the Greek tragedy of Troy Women by Euripides and even pay great attention to anti-extreme-feminism plays like Oleanna by David Mamet. But we still need to emphasize feminism, and we wish for more women-involved works. Development of female self-consciousness is a progress of human society. Nevertheless, struggling for their legitimate needs and rights is a long way to go. This is a tremendous challenge of the past misleading moral and patriarchal values. It depends not only on the support of male community, but also on more women to overcome their own shortcomings and save up knowledge to form a more mature character.

Cao Yu, Thunderstorm. Beijing: Foreign Language Press, (1964) Translated by Wang Tso-liang and A. C. Barnes. P27-28.

Cao Yu, Thunderstorm. 138. Translated by Wang Tso-liang and A. C. Barnes. Quoted by Lau.

Cao, Yu. "Random Talk on Playwriting," Drama 7 (1980) P124-130.

Kang Zhengguo. Feminism and Literature [M]. Beijing: China Social Science Press, 1994.

Simone de Beauvoir. The Second Sex. Trans. H.M. Parshley. New York: Vintage Books, 1989





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