“All the world’s a stage; all of us are taking the elements of plot, character, and costume and turning into performances of possibilities”(Ward1999: 5)
Raise the Red Lantern tells a compelling and sorrowful story of a young woman whose life is destined to be ruined in a male-dominated society. This can be an awakening of some sort to any woman. As Ward states in her text, women learn the rules of our half of the world as well as those of the other half, since we regularly move in and out of the male world. There she defines women’s culture.
The term has also been used in its anthropological sense to encompass the familial and friendship networks of women, their affective ties, their rituals. It is important to understand that woman’s culture is never a subculture. It would hardly be appropriate to define the culture of half of humanity as a subculture. Women live social existence within the general culture. Whenever they are confined by patriarchal restraint or segregation into separateness, they transform this restraint into complementarily and redefine it. Thus, women live a duality- as members of the general culture and as partakers of woman’s culture. (Lerner 1986:242)
Much like the quote stated, Raise the Red Lantern is set in Northern China in the 1920’s. For thousands of years the people of China have formed family life around patrilineal decent. The assessment of traditional China life was patriarchal. A basis of this set up would be from Confucius.
In childhood, Before marriage, Obey your father
In adulthood, During marriage, Obey your husband
In widowhood, After marriage, Obey your son
States in the text, the lowest moment of a woman’s life was her wedding day. Cut off from her natal family, the young bride was an outsider and the object of deep suspicion in her new husband’s household. The only was to earn a place for herself was to have sons.
Songlian quits college after her father has passed away and becomes Zuoquian Chen’s fourth wife. When Songlian, who chooses to walk from her house to Chen’s house instead of riding in the wedding carriage, arrives at Chen’s house, there is no sign of a celebration, an omen of things to come. Bound by tradition and inflamed with jealousy, none of the three wives come out to greet the new bride. An old housekeeper welcomes and acknowledges ...
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...y. Much as the film was, as it was structured, this film could be a parable of some sort. Songlian would be the individual, the woman. The master would be the government and the customs of the house are the laws of the country. It is an archaic system that always rewards those that play and pay but destroys those who violate.
One thing I found appealing about "Red Lantern" is that while the film portrays a brutally patriarchal system in which women are clearly very oppressed and dependent on their lord and master for everything, it does not idealize the women or turn them into doe-eyed, sweet, saintly victims. The wives and concubines are resourceful, smart, competitive, and very determined to make the best of their situation... in any way they can. They can even be cruel and downright evil. Forget the cliche that men are interested in power and women are interested in love. These women are definitely interested in power and status -- though, of course, the only way they can obtain it is by winning the husband's favor. Yet their power struggles are just as ruthless as anything that happens in the "male" world of politics, business, or war, and just as fascinating to watch.
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