Stereotypes in Things Fall Apart and The Lover

Stereotypes in Things Fall Apart and The Lover

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Stereotypes in Things Fall Apart and The Lover

According to Oxford Dictionary, stereotype is a preconceived and oversimplified idea of the characteristics which typify a person or situation (Oxford). But in reality it is more like a subtle form of bias, such as those based on people's gender, race or occupation. For example, Americans are generally considered to be arrogant and materialistic while Asians, on the other hand, are expected to be shrewd but reserved. Obviously, not all Americans are arrogant and not all Asians are shrewd. So, if one just assumes what a person is like and don't look at each person as an individual, he or she is likely to make errors in estimates of a person's character. Such biases are easily ignored, yet are a fact of life. These biases can affect how people see others, as well as themselves, which may lead to unexpected consequences. Thus, stereotyping can influence the communication and understanding between people, usually in a negative way. To examine the side effect brought by stereotyping, I will go through Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and Duras’ The Lover and analyze the roles played by stereotype. The protagonists of both books are set in a background, to which they do not originally belong or where is colonized by foreign invaders. Therefore, stereotype becomes a mutual theme and plays an important role in these two books.
In The Lover, Duras tells the largely autobiographical story of a fifteen-year-old French girl’s amazing love affair with an older Chinese man in Vietnam, the place colonized by France during the 1930s. “She” was just a young girl attending a boarding school, living with an abnormal family, which had a life poor as beggars and violent as gangsters; “he” is the son of a Chinese millionaire, and settled in the colonies as one of “the financiers of Chinese origin who own all the working-class housing” (Duras 33). They meet each other on the ferry crossing the Mekong and on that day they start an unusual relationship. Such plot sounds like an ordinary love story—“She” is fragile and helpless while “he” is the symbol of power and wealth and has a strong sense of protecting her. They fall in love at the first sight and look forward to their everyday meeting. Then how could “The Lover” become an exception from the general standard love relationship? The phenomenon of cross-racial dating is too superficial to make the story rebellious, but the real consciousness behind the race—which known as stereotype—works.

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From the very beginning of the book, she says: “Very early in my life it was much too late” (Duras 4). This pessimistic monologue reveals that it is a forbidden love without a happy ending. And the reason leading to the tragic end is the stereotype of the white and yellow race. She says “We were white children, we were ashamed, we sold out our furniture but we weren’t hungry” (Duras 6), showing that white people have a strong feeling of self-esteem and rank themselves as the most noblest class among all the races. The yellow race, on the contrary, is considered as the colored race, which means low-grade, poor and should never have any connect with “the highest class”. Therefore, with an attitude based on such preconception, people consider the relationship between her and him is made up by pure sexual desire and money need, without any evidence of true love. Furthermore, it is also easy to tell that how stereotype affect her reaction. She herself does not acknowledge this affair to have anything to do with true love, except sexual desire for this young man. When her family discovers that she is involved with the Chinese man, she denies without any hesitation and said “How could I do that with a Chinese, so ugly, such a weakling?” (Duras 59) She considers it as kind of shame like “The story of my life does not exist” (Duras 8) and never allow herself to show even a minimal expression of love, neither giving any care and understanding in response. She hides her feeling behind a sexual relationship because it is the easiest way of accepting the impossibility of their being together, as well as the escape from the reality. Furthermore, when the Chinese invites her family to the restaurant, no one says a word to him as if he is invisible. But ironically, they cannot refuse his treats and money. In these cases, the love relationship becomes extreme complex when the difference of class and wealth tangle together—even though they are white colonizers but they have to accept the Chinese’s money; the yellow race should be at the second class but he attracts the white girl because of his wealth. This truth strongly challenges the stereotypical image but the white family still insists their exclusive racial status, which causes all the paradoxes between the girl and the man.
On the other hand, from the Chinese man’s side, his father’s disagreement on their rebellious relationship also contradicts the Western stereotype that a white woman can refuse the proposal from other races but not vice versa—in this story, the Chinese man has no reason to refuse the white girl. As she said, “[I] can’t love him, it’s impossible, that he could take any sort of treatment from me and still go on loving me. This is because he’s a Chinese, not a white man.” (Duras 51). But beyond their expectations, the Chinese finally obeys his father’s orders and marries a pre-chosen girl with a similar background. He realizes his seek for her gentleness and love is finally in vain, while she feel even more depress and lost because of the pompous stereotype.
The turn from a love story to tragedy is doomed from the very beginning because of the social and racial prejudices at that time. The novel is very dramatic and reveals the importance to speak out feelings, it challenges the existing relationship stereotypes.
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