Saboteur, written by Ha Jin exposes a difficult period of China: the Cultural Revolution and its consequences on people’s life. Through the author’s skillful use of setting, symbolism and the main character’s dynamism, the reader is able to understand the theme of the story that is revenge.
The setting of a story has a ponderous influence on the reader’s perception as it often justifies a character’s behavior. In Saboteur, the story takes place in communist China as witnessed by the concrete statue of Chairman Mao in the middle of the square. During this period, the communist leader Mao Zedong was ruling with authority and transforming the society based on a Marxist model. The author states that “the Cultural Revolution was over already and recently the party had been propagating the idea that all citizens are equal”(26). The statue is located in the middle of a square before Muji train station. Muji seems to be a middle sized province town. The place is very busy as suggested by the “food and fruit vendors crying for customers in lazy voices” (3). The place “smells of rotten melon and a few flies kept buzzing above the couple’s lunch”(3) foreshadowing a unpleasant event. The season in which the plot takes place is summer since Mr. Chiu and his bride are both wearing sandals. Additionally later during the story Mr. Chiu is offered to sign his self criticism carrying a date that is July the 13th.
Through the description of the characters the reader understands better the conflict between the protagonist Mr. Chiu and the political system represented by the policemen. Mr. Chiu, with a “thin jaw” (4) and worried by a bad liver and acute hepatitis appears to be weak. His wife whose cheeks are pale wears “glasses”(4), which could be perceived as a sign of fragility. They live a comfortable life as indicated by the fact that they own a color TV, something that only a certain elite could own at the time of the story. However, even she looks sick: she suffers from a headache. The couple obviously belongs to the intellectual elite and it helps justifying the policemen’s behavior towards them: during and after the cultural revolution, the relationship between the government and the intellectuals was not among the most pleasant. It is easy to understand that an uneducated people is easier to rule than a well-informed one. Even Chiu asse...
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...times hopeful at the beginning. The protagonist is even confident that he is going to be “provided with a letter of apology”(50) to explain his tardiness to his university. The tone becomes hopeless when Chiu realizes that nothing but his signature is going to stop his nightmare. The tone is also ironic. Sabotage is defined as a willful damage to machinery, materials in the Oxford dictionary. Chiu accused the policemen to be the saboteurs of the social order”(42) whereas he ends up being a saboteur himself when he infects eight hundred innocent people with Hepatitis and even kills six inhabitants including two children. The reader also feels the hero’s anger when “holding back his rage” Mr. Chiu says, let me look at that”(92) or when he keeps saying. “if only I could kill these bastards”(106).
The theme of the short story is revenge. Ha Jin suggests in his work that even the most reasoned individual, as a university teacher could be, can reach his personal limits and commit a crime if his personal freedom is taken.
“Sabotage.” Oxford Dictionary Thesaurus and Wordpower Guide. 2003.
J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 4th compact ed. New York: Longman, 2005. 174-181
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