EALC 520, First Paper, Vered Arnon
Chapters 11 and 12 of Cao Xueqin’s Story of the Stone describe an interlude concerning the character Jia Rui and his infatuated obsession with Xi-Feng. These chapters illuminate the theme of the novel on three different levels.
On the structural level, these chapters provide continuity and consistency in their return to the ‘frame’ of the novel. The crazy Taoist character from the beginning of the book reappears. One theme of the novel is the interaction between ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ characters. Most of this is subtle, because Bao-yu and Dai-yu, while being the incarnations of supernatural things, are also natural human characters. The crazy Taoist, on the other hand, interacts with the natural characters without any ‘disguise’. He returns to offer the mirror with healing powers to Jia Rui. This reminds the reader that above and beyond the natural human drama, there is a deeper mysterious current underneath what seems like a simple dramatic plot.
On the surface level, this interlude helps to develop the theme of ‘love/lust/desire’ that underlies all the drama of the book. Bao-yu is the main character, and although he is not present in these chapters, this interlude nonetheless helps the reader to understand Bao-yu with deeper insight. Bao-yu is said to be the most lustful creature, but his ‘lust’ is an entirely different sort of desire than Jia Rui’s lust. The story of Jia Rui’s doomed attraction to Xi-Feng provides a base, negative contrast through which the transcendent nature of Bao-yu’s lust can be better understood. The demonstration of how someone preoccupied by desire in a selfish way quickly comes to death and ruin shows how traditionally lust is a trap that leads mortals to their downfall. While many characters are overly concerned with Bao-yu’s lustful nature, this interlude shows that their concerns are unwarranted, because the reader can clearly see that the base, visceral lust which everyone suspects Bao-yu of being afflicted with is in fact nothing like him at all.
On a deeper allegorical level, these chapters help to develop the theme of reality versus the unreal. Jia Rui’s infatuated obsession for Xi-Feng is very really, and is made even more real by her tricks and deceptions. Her interest in him is unreal, but this unreal interest gives fuel and makes his obsession so real that it consumes him. Then, when the magical mirror is given to Jia Rui, he looks into the back and sees an illusion of Xi-Feng. What he sees is not real, but it kills him, and his death is very real. These chapters illustrate how reality is made concrete by what is unreal, hearkening back to the lines from chapter 5, “Truth becomes fiction when the fiction’s true; Real becomes not-real when the unreal’s real” (vol 1 p 130).