Written by students of FC1750.06
at Founders College, York University
by May Yuen
Xi Xi's narrator is obsessed with fate and believes everything in her life is predestined. As she was raised by Aunt Yifen, she believes that her life is meant to be like her guardian, a make-up artist for the deceased. The narrator had friends until they learned of her profession. They were all afraid and left her with "the sleeping dead" as her sole companions. She manages to get a boyfriend, Xia, whom she believes she will lose once he sees her workplace.
Her self-imposed alienation is a cause of her pessimistic outlook. When Xia approaches her with flowers, she sees a "bad omen" because in her profession, she says, "flowers are a last goodbye." Although she is aware of her option to change jobs, she is reluctant to make such a bold move. "What I ought to be doing, with my particular skill, is making up brides," she says. But she worries about competing with other make-up artists: "How could a girl like me . . . possibly hope to compete with others . . . .[W]eak are the prey of the strong.
Sun Yue, on the contrary, has taken control of her life from an early age. Idealistic, rational, sentimental, and confused, she always does what she wants without fear of the outcomes. Her ex-husband describes her as "irrepressible," and says his mother "was delighted by her unconventional daughter-in-law." Their marriage survived five years. He asked for a divorce, but regrets it and still loves her.
Her mentor and party secretary, Xi Liu, praises Sun Yue for being "brave and optimistic as any man." Although she does not see herself as an emotional person, her actions and speech prove otherwise. She is caring and forgiving. "Must we draw lines around friends who've made political mistakes, to prove our revolutionary fervor."
Sun's admirer, He Jingfu, has been in love with her since they were students in university. He appreciates "her multiple talents" as a poet, writer, and actress, and despite her rejections, his love for her grew with time.
As for her own daughter, Sun Yue at first appears to be an enigma. "Oh Ma, why is it only in the middle of the night that you are gentle and kind?" Sun Hanhan asks. She does not know anything about her father and Sun Yue refuses to tell her. One night this all changes when Sun Yue comes into her room and comforts her. She hugs Hanhan and apologizes, filling her with warmth and love.
Xi Xi's narrator is weak in contrast to Sun Yue. The narrator in her monologue reveals that she is unwilling to end her misery and admits that she has only herself to blame. Determined in whatever she does, Sun Yue is portrayed as a strong person by herself and other characters in Dai Houying's novel.
Dai Houying. Stones of the Wall. Translated by Frances Wood. London: Michael Joseph, 1985.
Xi Xi. "A Girl Like Me." Trees on the Mountain. Ed. Stephen Soong and John Minford.