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II Thunderstorm < and Desire under the Elms CHOU FAN-Y I an d Abbie Putnam ar e bound by the most uncomfortabl e of kinships: they bot h cheris h a n incestuous passion for thei r stepsons . But the circumstance s under which they become involved ar e different . Unlike Fan-yi , wh o ha s bee n tricke d int o th e Cho u family , Abbi e Putnam has a mind and a body of her own. At thirty-five, sh e is 'buxom, full o f vitality . He r roun d fac e i s pretty bu t marre d b y it s rather gros s sensuality. Ther e i s a strength an d obstinac y i n he r jaw, a hard deter mination i n he r eyes , abou t he r whol e personalit y th e sam e unsettled , untamed, desperat e quality'. 1 Sh e ha s com e t o Ephrai m Cabot' s far m with a definite aim : to inherit his property. I t could never have'occurred to her , o f course , tha t Ephraim' s thir d son , Eben , b y th e secon d wife , is n o les s determine d tha n sh e i s i n claimin g th e farm . H e want s t o revenge his mother, who m Ephrai m ha s enslaved to deat h b y excessiv e labour. S o n o soone r ha s Abbi e move d int o th e hous e tha n sh e find s out tha t he r 'conquerer' s consciou s superiority' 2 collide s wit h Eben' s interest.3 Bu t eve n without Eben , th e prospec t o f inheritanc e isn' t an y brighter: ABBIE : (with lust for the word) Hum ! (Her eyes gloating on the house without seeming to see the two stiff figures at the gate) It' s purty-purty ! I can' t b'liev e it' s mine. CABOT: (sharply) Yew'n ? Mine ! (He stares at her penetratingly. She stares back. He adds relentingly) Our'n—mebbe . . . .4 i 1 Eugen e O'Neill , Plays of Eugene O'Neill (Ne w York , 1954) , p. 221. 2 Ibid., p . 222 . 3 Eve n i n thei r tenderes t o f moment s togethe r befor e th e chil d i s born , thi s con sciousness o f self-interes t keep s the m apart , a s o n on e occasio n shortl y befor e th e consummation o f thei r illici t relatio n Eben says , 'This i s her [hi s mother] hum . Thi s is he r farm. ' T o whic h Abbi e rejoins , half-consciously, 'Thi s i s my hum . Thi s i s m y farm! Ibid. y p . 242 . 4 Ibid., p . 221. i6 Thunderstorm and Desire under the Elms This 'mebbe ' i s later translate d int o one condition: i f Abbie gives hi m a son, then sh e ca n have the farm . Thus, i n thi s context , Abbie' s advance s t o Ebe n ar e give n t o b e understood a s the mean s t o realiz e a n ulterio r purpose : t o gratif y he r desire an d t o hav e a so n b y him . Bu t a t th e sam e tim e thi s inten t i s complicated b y the fact tha t Abbie, though i n possessive determinatio n very muc h aki n t o th e Strindbergia n woma n o f prey , is , i n O'Neill' s own words, a woman o f 'gros s sensuality', which makes her vulnerabl e to the demand s fo r fulfilment a s a woman. Henc e her mind is confuse d when sh e learn s o f Eben' s simulate d rendezvous with Min , th e taver n harlot. Thoug h sh e hates to admit it , she is overcome by jealousy, and , to conceal her embarrassment, sh e says tauntingly: 'Did you think I was in love with ye—a weak thin' lik e yew? Nit much! I on' y wanted ye fu r a purpos e o ' m y own—an ' I'l l he v y e fu r i t ye t 'caus e I' m stronger' n yew be !'5 For a while she might have really thought she was 'stronger'n' Eben until , whil e playin g 'Maw ' t o Ebe n i n orde r t o seduc e him , sh e finds hersel f suddenly taken by a genuine feeling for her rival. Eben, o n his part, is as much taken aback as Abbie to find that he is responding to her advance s in spite of himself. As he springs to his feet, apparentl y i n an effort to free himself from her clutch, she moans: 'Don't ye leave me, Eben! Can' t y e se e it hain' t enouf—lovin ' y e like a Maw—can't y e see it's got t' be that an' more—much more—a hundred times more—fur m e t' b e happy—fu r ye w t ' b e happy'. 6 In her desig n to use Eben, Abbie has, it seems to me, overlooked th e duality o f huma n passion . N o doub t sexua l instinct s ca n b e exploite d for a give n purpose , an d t o suc h a n exten t sh e ha s succeeded . Th e libido, however , i s no t divisibl e int o measurabl e proportion s t o b e dispensed accordin g t o one' s ow n need . A woman o f larg e emotiona l capacity, Abbie finds it hard to limit her relationship with Eben to sexual gratification without awakening her compulsion towards love. Hence th e irony of the situation, a s Barrett Clar k comments on it, 'is in the scene s where Abbi e begin s t o realiz e tha t sh e ha s precipitate d a powe r sh e cannot cop e with'. 7 The situatio n i n whic h Cho u Fan-y i finds hersel f afte r marriag e i s different fro m that of Abbie. Abbie marries Cabot, as pointed out earlier, 5 O'Neill , op. cit. t p . 240 . 6 Ibid. t p . 243 . 7 Barret t Clark, Eugene O'Neill: the Man and His Plays (rev . ed., New York, 1947) , p. 99 . Tsy ao Yii: a Study in Literary Influence 1 7 for a bargain,8 which in itself i s an evidence of self-will. Becaus e of he r sexual prowess , no t onl y ha s sh e manage d t o sta y undisturbe d unde r Cabot's dominance, she has, in Eben's words, 'made a damned idjit ou o' the ol d devil'. 9 Fan-yi , however , i s a wronged woma n t o star t wit h a s she wa s 'tricke d int o th e family an d [has ] a child, Cho u Ch'ung , wh o [makes] escape impossible'.10 He r fate being different fro m Abbie' s not withstanding , he r background , personalit y an d physica l appearanc e ar e as varied a s they can be between a farm woman o f Ne w Englan d an d a middle clas s woman o f China : Her complexio n i s pale , the faint re d o f he r lip s bein g th e only touch o f colou r in he r face . . . Beneath th e long , silen t lashes , he r eye s giv e expressio n t o he r gloominess . Sometimes, whe n th e smoulderin g fires o f anxiet y i n he r hear t blaz e int o life , thes e eyes will fill with all the anguish and resentment o f a frustrated young woman . . . Wit h her delicat e health , he r secre t sorrows , he r intelligenc e an d he r lov e o f poetr y an d literature,- she i s a woma n o f ol d China ; ye t ther e i s a primitiv e wildernes s i n he r which show s i n he r courage , i n he r almos t unaccountabl e strengt h i n moment s o f crisis.11 Like mos t unlove d wive s o f Chin a i n he r time , Fan-y i i s prepare d t o resign hersel f t o a life o f loneliness when, suddenly , Cho u P'in g come s out fro m th e countr y t o tak e u p residenc e i n th e sam e house . Young , romantic, restles s an d a s maladjuste d t o hi s situation a s Fan-yi , Cho u P'ing i s fit company fo r hi s stepmother. Thus , afte r h e moved in , the y spent man y smal l hour s o f th e da y commiseratin g wit h on e another . And, wheneve r sh e cried , mournin g th e undeserve d lif e a s a 'marrie d widow', h e woul d offe r comfor t an d understandin g b y lettin g he r i n on the confidence tha t he, too, hate d his father, t o such a degree that h e 'didn't eve n min d committin g patricide'. 12 To suc h displa y o f sympath y Fan-y i responded , understandably , a s one would i n deep water to an outstretched hand , an d a dialogue base d on commo n sufferin g thu s ensue d a t th e cos t o f innocence . But this relationship ha s not lasted very long before Fan-y i discover s that Cho u P'in g ha s switched hi s attention to the maid Ssu-feng. Whe n pressed fo r a n explanation , Cho u P'in g confesse s tha t h e ha s bee n troubled b y hi s conscienc e fo r havin g committed , 'i n a momen t o f 8 Counterin g Eben' s charg e tha t sh e sol d hersel f t o Cabo t lik e a harlot' , Abbi e retorts, 'Waal—wha t i f I nee d a hum ? Wha t else' d I marry a n ol d ma n lik e him fur? ' O'Neill, op. cit.y p. 226 . 9 Ibid., p . 229 . 10 Thunderstorm, p . 89 . 11 Ibid., pp . 45-46 . 12 Ibid., p . 90 . 18 Thunderstorm and Desire under the Elms impulse',13 a n ac t betrayin g th e confidenc e o f hi s father. 14 Fan-yi , however, doe s no t loo k at thing s that way. Chou P'ing has no sooner made known his intention to leave the family so that they don't have to remind on e anothe r o f th e deed s that the y 'regrette d most' , than she refutes him : 'I don' t regret what I did. It is not my habit to do things and t o regre t havin g don e them later'. 15 This statement , i t should b e pointed out at this juncture, is made with the same kind of self-assurance that O'Neill' s Abbi e evinced when confronte d b y a moral question of equal gravity. After reporting the death of the child (whom Abbie has smothered in an effort t o convince Eben that she is no longer swindling him), Eben suddenly discover s tha t h e ha s love d Abbi e mor e tha n h e realized . Running bac k to the house, he warns her that th e Sherif f i s coming: EBEN: I wok e hi m up . I tol d him . H e says , wait ti l I gi t dressed . I wa s waiting . I got to thinkin ' o ' yew . I go t t o thinkin ' ho w I' d love d ye . I t hur t lik e some thin ' wa s bustin ' i n m y ches t an ' head . I go t t ' cryin' . I knowe d sudde n I loved ye , an ' alu s would lov e ye ! ABBIE: (caressing his hair tenderly) M y boy , hain' t ye? EBEN : I begu n t ' ru n back . I cu t acros s the fields an ' throug h th e woods. I though t ye might hav e time t ' ru n away—wit h me—an ' . . . ABBIE : (shaking her head) I go t t' tak e my punishment— t ' pa y fu r m y sin . EBEN: The n I wn' t shar e i t wit h ye . ABBIE: Y e didn' t d o nothin' . EBEN : I put i t in yer head. I wisht he was dead! I a s much a s urged y e t' d o it . ABBIE: No . I t wa s m e alone ! EBEN : I' m a s guilt y a s yew be . H e wa s th e chil d o ' ou r sin . ABBIE : (lifting her head as if defying God) I don't repen t that sin! I hain't askin' Go d t' forgiv e that. 16 Seldom in literature has there been a more classic demonstration of the process of Eros redeemed by Agape. Unlike Racine, whose preoccupation with sin in Phedre precluded him from contemplating passion as less than a disease, O'Neill was able to examine its spell upon the individual 13 Thunderstorm, p . 90 . 14 Commentin g o n th e questio n o f inces t betwee n stepmothe r an d stepso n in Hippolytus , Davi d Gren e writes : 'I t i s no t necessar y t o debat e whether , t o th e fifth century Greek , sexua l relation s betwee n stepmothe r an d stepso n woul d be technicall y incestuous o r not . I t i s enoug h tha t w e ca n b e sur e tha t the y involve d a n extrem e violation o f the trus t an d affectio n betwee n fathe r an d son , an d somethin g worse than that, eve n i f th e evi l canno t b e exactl y charted. ' Introductio n t o 'Hippolytus, ' The Complete Greek Tragedies (Chicago , 1959) , p. 158 . Though Cho u P'ing' s relatio n with his fathe r i s a far cr y fro m 'affection' , i t is nevertheless a n 'extrem e violation' o f trus t for whic h h e no w feel s remorseful. ' 15 Thunderstorm, p . 88 . 16 O'Neill,'<# . cit., p . 266. . Ts'ao Yii: a Study in Literary Influence 1 9 with thoroughnes s an d objectivity. 17 Horrifyin g an d degradin g a s i t seemed t o Racine' s Phedre, passion , a s Abbie realize s it, i s not withou t its beneficent features : fo r though it has earlier reduced he r to a virtual animal o f lust an d greed , i t i s nevertheless th e sam e force tha t fortifie s her i n th e en d t o fac e u p t o he r mora l an d lega l responsibilities . T o borrow Auden's phrase again, Abbie has fallen for the 'temptation to sin' (seduction o f Eben) , mad e th e 'wron g choice ' (smotherin g th e child) , and just when the logic of the plot is about to hurry her to her doom, she rebounds surprisingl y an d reverse s the orde r o f her fate. 18 Of cours e i t can be argued that as an adulteress and a filicide her fate is certainly no t to b e envied ; afte r al l she will have to pa y fo r wha t sh e did . But to say this is to overlook the crucial differenc e betwee n impose d sufferin g an d willed suffering: precisel y because she has accepted punishmen t fo r her crime rather than evaded it, she has earned the sure consolation of pride for being able to assert her existential will as master of her ow n destiny , to sa y nothin g o f he r happines s i n Eben' s avowa l o f love. 19 That th e borderline o f passion betwee n Lus t an d Lov e is fragile an d tense, Abbie, fro m th e experience sh e has gone through, shoul d b e th e first t o testify . I t i s a nightmar e o f a n experienc e fo r her; 20 yet , unde r the circumstances, there seems to be no other way to convince Eben that she has undergone a change of the soul, and that he, not the farm, is her first concern . He r redemptio n is , o f course , a parado x o f a moral: the sincerity o f lov e ca n b e verifie d onl y a t th e sacrific e o f a huma n life . But, fo r thos e wh o celebrat e passio n a s the ultimat e o f realities , wha t Abbie an d Ebe n hav e don e evinces , i n Deni s d e Rougemont' s words, 'a passionate an d tragic atmospher e beyond goo d and evil, and a dram a 17 I n his preface to Phedre, Racin e wrote: 'I can assure you that I have never written anything in which virtue is extolled higher than in this one; the least faults are severely punished; th e mer e though t o f crim e is regarded wit h a s muc h horro r a s th e crim e itself.' Racine , p . 267 . Perhap s i t was becaus e Phedr e wa s punishe d b y Racin e fo r a crime mor e imagine d tha n committe d tha t prompte d Rolan d Barthe s t o asser t tha t Phedre i s a 'nominalis t tragedy ' an d tha t 'evi l i s a tautology'. On Racine (Ne w York , 1964), p . 116 . 18 I n this respect Abbie has what E. M. Forste r calls 'the incalculability o f life abou t it—life withi n th e page s o f a book' . Sh e is , then , a 'round characte r . . . capable o f surprising in a convincing way.' Aspects of the Novel (Ne w York, 1954) , p. 78. 19 Abbie Putnam's refusal to shirk judicial responsibility as an expression of the Sel f Will strike s a curiou s not e o f resemblanc e t o Kirillov' s suicid e i n Dostoevsky' s The Possessed. Fo r Kirillov , i n a world governe d b y th e divin e caprice s o f God , th e onl y freedom a man ca n asser t withou t frustratio n i s to tak e hi s own lif e a t will, which i s also an act to spit e God . 20 ABBIE : ' I didn' t want t' d o it. I hate d myself fu r doin ' it. I loved hi m . . . But I loved yew more—' O'Neill, op. cit., p . 261. 20 Thunderstorm and Desire under the Elms either loft y o r dreadful'. 21 And , i n Abbie' s case , ho w els e ca n lov e b e distinguished from mere indulgence of the flesh if not through laceratio n of th e hear t an d th e demonstratio n o f courag e fo r self-sacrifice ? There i s i n Abbie' s concep t o f moral s a crucia l differenc e betwee n incest and filicide, though in the context of the law, both are acts violating the order of society. Had sh e been more articulate, she would have mor e accurately, for this singular purpose, described her killing of the baby as a crim e an d he r liaiso n with Ebe n a s a sin, i n spit e o f the fac t tha t th e meaning o f thes e tw o term s ofte n overlaps. 22 Bu t fo r Abbi e t o dra w a distinction betwee n thes e tw o term s i s a t th e sam e tim e t o define he r respective responsibilit y t o the sel f an d t o society. Thus i t is importan t to not e he r differenc e i n attitud e whe n sh e says , ' I go t t ' tak e m y punishment—t' pa y fu r m y sin ' an d ' I don' t repen t tha t sin ! I hain' t askin' Go d t' forgiv e that!' Fo r lack of an education, her personal ethic s cannot have been more clearly pronounced than by placing an emphatic that befor e th e si n whic h sh e refuse s t o identify : incest . Th e filicide, however, i s a crim e o f which sh e i s not onl y peniten t bu t i s willing t o accept a s he r acknowledgemen t o f th e necessit y o f law , th e penalt y i t entails. He r relatio n wit h Eben , o n th e othe r hand , is, to her, a matte r of persona l morality— a moralit y tha t i s necessaril y autonomous , recognizing n o categorica l imperative . Thi s independenc e o f spiri t i s best exemplifie d i n a scen e i n whic h Eben , alway s more timorou s an d less assertive than Abbi e in his claim to happiness, tries to find a moral ground fo r thei r illici t engagement : EBEN : (his face suddenly lighting up with a fierce, triumphant grin) I se e it ! It' s he r vengeance o n him—so' s sh e kin res t quie t i n her grave . ABBIE : (wildly) Vengeanc e o' Go d on the hull o' us! What d ' w e give a durn? I lov e ye, Eben ! Go d know s I lov e ye.23 The Go d tha t Abbi e defie s i s th e Go d tha t Ephrai m Cabo t ofte n invokes in his defense—a Go d that is 'in the stones',24 twisted to his own image, 'hard' , lonesome' , unforgiving , unlovin g an d unlovable. Thus , Abbie's defiance ca n be more accurately described a s an act against man, 21 Denis d e Rougemont , Love in the Western World (Ne w York , 1957) , p. 12 . 22 The Shorter Oxford Dictionary define s a crim e a s 'a n ac t punishabl e b y law , a s being forbidden b y statut e o r injurious t o public welfare' an d a sin a s 'a transgressio n of the divine la w and a n offence agains t God' . Thu s i t can be maintained tha t ou r firs t association o f th e ter m 'crime ' i s more ofte n juridica l tha n religiou s o r moral ; an d i t is on thes e definition s tha t th e distinctio n o f Abbie' s respectiv e responsibilit y t o th e self an d societ y will be drawn . 23 O'Neill, op. cit., p . 244 . 24 Ibid., p . 237 . Ts'ao Yii: a Study in Literary Influence 2 1 or, agains t God . Thoug h i t woul d b e pointles s t o speculat e whethe r Abbie would be as adamantly impenitent o f her 'sin' as she is if she were situated i n a les s puritanica l society , wher e virtu e i s no t equate d wit h physical fatigue , o r marrie d t o a man wh o doe s no t loo k upon her a s a commodity—it i s possible to argue that the circumstances i n which sh e moves ten d t o extenuat e (i f no t exonerate ) th e gravit y o f he r mora l impeachment. It is thus understandable that Cho u Fan-yi, when placed i n a simila r situation, shoul d hav e taken Abbie's stance : P'ING : (in an anguished voice) Bu t surel y you realiz e suc h a relationship mus t see m revolting t o anyone . Don' t yo u understan d tha t m y dail y indulgenc e i n alcohol an d dissipatio n i s a reflection o f my self-disgust , self-hatred ? FAN-YI : (coldly) Ho w man y time s hav e I tol d yo u tha t I don' t loo k a t i t lik e that ? My conscienc e doesn' t fee l tha t way. 25 In thi s connection , i t should b e pointed ou t that the Chines e patriar chal famil y syste m i s a s stiflin g a s wa s Puritanis m i n Americ a t o th e emotional growt h o f th e individuals . Cho u Pu-yiian , fo r hi s mora l euphoria an d obsessio n wit h self-righteousness , i s Ephrai m Cabo t reincarnated, despite hi s lack o f Cabot' s tragic potential. T pride mysel f on having one of the most satisfctory and well-behaved families possible', he tell s Cho u P'in g i n on e o f hi s homilie s clos e to th e end of Ac t One, 'and I think my sons are both good, healthy lads. I hav e brought up th e two o f you , an d I won' t hav e yo u givin g anybod y a n excus e t o gossi p about you'. 26 Cold , tyrannical , self-confiden t an d self-adoring , Cho u is seen i n th e pla y no t onl y a s a fearfu l symbo l o f th e powe r absolute i n Chinese patriarchy,27 bu t also as an 'enemy of the people' contemptuous * of the lament s o f his hirelings . Her conscience pitted against such paradoxes of virtue, it is only natural that Fan-y i should have refused t o be judged by the conventional mora l 25 Thunderstorm, pp . 198-199 . 26 Ibid., p . 75. 27 Thi s i s eviden t i n a highl y melodramati c scen e i n Ac t On e in which Cho u com mands Cho u P'in g t o be g Fan-y i o n hi s knee s t o drin k th e her b medicin e whic h i s supposed t o hel p eas e he r mind . Th e questio n o f Fan-yi' s sanit y i s brough t u p b y Chou t o n o clea r purpose . Ou r firs t reaction , guide d perhap s by our familiarit y wit h the techniques o f Hollywood' s murde r movies, is that Cho u want s t o ge t rid o f her b y turning he r int o a paranoiac . Thi s surmis e i s supporte d b y hi s invitin g th e Germa n brain specialis t t o trea t her : w e suspec t immediately a n underhanded collaboratio n i n murder. Late r development , however, disappoints ou r expectation and Chou' s motive s still remain cloudy as ever. But whatever his purpose, this persecution incident follow s the logi c o f th e plot : i t heighten s th e dir e aspec t o f th e patriarcha l syste m wit h it s abuse of power. Also, it might be that this madness motif i s intended a s a counterpoin t to accentuat e Fan-yi' s passion . 22 Thunderstorm and Desire under the Elms standards to which the Chous only hypocritically adhere. This she makes very clea r i n he r counter-charg e t o Cho u P'ing' s admonitio n tha t sh e should no t abus e hi s 'respectabl e family' . 'Respectable! ' sh e retorts , 'Eighteen year s no w I'v e bee n i n thi s "respectabl e family " o f yours . I've hear d al l abou t th e sin s of th e Chous—an d see n them—and com mitted the m myself . No t tha t I'v e eve r considere d mysel f on e of you : what I'v e done , I'v e don e on my ow n responsibility. No . I' m no t lik e your grandfather, o r your great-uncle, or your dear father himself—doin g the most atrociou s things in private, and wearing a mask of morality i n public. Philanthropists, respectable citizens , pillars of society!'28 To th e extent tha t persona l happines s an d freedo m i s th e highes t goo d t o b e attained a t al l expenses, Fan-y i is a Chines e Nora , a standard-bearer of the self-emancipatin g wome n i n modern China . I n a tradition in which no illicit passion can be depicted without affecting a moralistic tone, that Fan-yi shoul d b e spare d punishmen t fo r he r incestuou s adulter y i s a n anomaly.29 He r insanit y a t th e en d result s fro m th e shoc k of havin g to witness so many violent deaths, for which she feels one way or the othe r responsible, an d i s therefore no t t o b e construe d a s punishment a t all. Fully awar e tha t hi s tendentiou s lenienc y towar d Fan-yi' s immora l behaviour woul d dra w criticism , Ts'a o Yii anticipate s hi s defens e fo r her i n his Preface : She is a real Thunderstorm character . . . . Her life is interwoven with the most inhuma n love an d mos t inhuma n hatred . Sh e i s full o f contradictions i n conduct , al l tending t o the extreme . Extreme s an d contradiction s ar e th e tw o basi c mode s o f natur e in th e oppressive atmospher e o f Thunderstorm . . . I a m mos t happ y t o se e a woma n lik e her . . . her tragi c pligh t stir s m y feeling s o f pit y an d respec t . . . I a m willin g t o forgive her , despit e he r so-calle d mos t 'heinou s crime ' fo r neglectin g he r sacre d re sponsibility o f a mother. I hav e lost coun t o f how many Fan-yi s I met (bu t o f cours e they are not the real Fan-yis: they don't have her courage). These women, even thoug h 28 Thunderstorm, p . 89 . 29 C . T . Hsi a ha s writte n a n illuminatin g essa y o n th e traditiona l Chines e story tellers ' uncertain attitude s toward the conflicting claim s o f th e sel f an d society , espec ially i n thos e storie s tha t dea l wit h illici t lov e i n th e Min g collections . Whil e hi s honesty urges him to respect the importance of fulfilment o f the individual's instinctiv e needs, th e story-telle r mus t a t th e sam e tim e demonstrate his public loyalt y to societ y either by openly deploring the lovers' lack of restraint or chastising them with a severity often greate r tha n thei r behaviou r deserve s s o a s t o uphol d orde r an d morality. Thu s how fa r shoul d th e claim s o f love and natur e b e pushed without betraying hi s privat e sympathy fo r hi s characters ' pursui t o f happiness becom e fo r the story-teller no t onl y an artisti c problem , bu t a n emotiona l on e a s well . Th e result , a s Hsi a point s out , i s that 'thoug h illici t lov e i s stil l deplored , an d thoug h compulsiv e lus t an d excessiv e debauchery ar e actuall y viewe d wit h horror , th e youn g lover s a t least , insulate d i n a world o f mutual deligh t t o which th e claim s o f honor an d religion are for th e momen t completely irrelevent , ar e describe d wit h gust o an d treated wit h generou s sympathy. ' See 'Appendix : Societ y an d Sel f in th e Chines e Shor t Story' , i n The Classic Chinese Novel: A Critical Introduction (Ne w York, 1968) , pp. 311-312 . Ts'ao Yii: a Study in Literary Influence 2 3 they liv e thei r live s i n spiritua l squalor , aspir e t o ris e t o a highe r mora l plan e tha n their situatio n woul d warrant . Usually , the y ar e wome n o f virtu e an d innocence , bu t unfortunately th e societ y in which they move denies their emotion a chance for prope r growth, whic h graduall y reduce s thei r personalitie s t o caprice s an d incomprehensi bility . Consequently , the y have become pariahs among friends, heretic s in society, an d are force d t o en d thei r live s i n suffocatin g frustration . Amon g suc h a hos t o f unfor tunate women , Fan-y i [fo r he r uncompromisin g spirit ] i s o f cours e worth y o f one' s praise. Sh e ha s a blazin g passio n an d a dauntles s hear t whic h pushe s he r throug h al l obstacles i n he r life-and-deat h struggle s [wit h conventiona l morality] . Thoug h i n th e end sh e nevertheles s fall s int o insanity , i s sh e no t al l th e mor e worth y o f one' s pit y and respect ? I s sh e no t al l the mor e admirabl e tha n thos e morally castrate d men who , in exchang e fo r a humdru m existence , ar e alway s mor e tha n willin g t o sacrific e thei r principles.30 It shoul d b e clea r fro m thi s statement—whic h read s lik e a belate d Naturalist Manifesto—that Fan-y i is, above everything, the playwright' s personal heroine designed to embarrass the 'chicken-heartedness ' o f the morally castrated men. Hence the unsparing glorification and idealization of he r 'revolutionary ' spirit . Bu t a s a characte r i n th e play , sh e i s a s nebulous as the moral issues in which she is involved. What, for instance, exactly i s the natur e o f her 'blazing passion'? Despit e her declaration to Chou P'in g tha t sh e i s the one wh o 'trul y understands an d loves ' him , Fan-yi appears to me a pathetic and sexually harassed woman for whom love and lust have become hopelessly synonymous. Chou P'ing's offens e to her in running away with another girl, then, is not so much an offens e against fidelity as an act of sexual deprivation. This becomes apparent i n her answer to Cho u P'ing's ple a for forgiveness : 'I t i s not a question of forgiveness. You see I was just about to be reconciled with my fate, quietly waiting fo r m y deat h . . . then yo u cam e an d revive d m e an d restore d me to life. And no w you want to hurl me back to where I started, where I shal l withe r awa y an d eventuall y di e o f thirst . Tel l me , tell m e wha t would yo u d o i f yo u wer e i n m y place?' ai Had sh e loved, say, with the same intensity as Abbie had loved Eben , she would no t hav e agree d t o shar e Cho u P'in g wit h anothe r gir l onl y for the sake of getting away from 'thi s insufferable house' . For, after all , what i s jealous y i f it s term s fo r exclusiv e possessio n ar e negotiable ? Thus, wha t 'thi s insufferabl e house ' represent s i s far mor e unbearabl e than the disgrace of having to accept love at a reduced rate. This 'house' , decadent, savage , is , o f course , th e ver y embodimen t o f everythin g abominable i n th e anachronisti c patriarchis m o f China . And , a s the ' family i s often sai d to be a miniature society , th e house , therefore , ca n be seen as a syndrome of Confucian Chin a in its moral decay. 'Oh it is so 30 Preface, Thunderstorm, pp . vi-vii . 31 Thunderstorm, p . 91. 24 Thunderstorm and Desire under the Elms hot an d s o oppressive' , Fan-y i exclaim s i n Ac t One , 'Thi s hous e i s becoming mor e an d mor e unbearable . I wis h I coul d tur n mysel f int o the openin g o f a volcano s o that I coul d bur n everythin g to ashe s just by a simple eruption'. 32 More the playwright's objec t o f adulation tha n a heroine o f the play , Fan-yi i s thus entrusted wit h the mission, as noted before, of a Chines e Nora to set an example for her sisters who are in a similar plight but lac k her 'courage' of defiance. But what she gains as champion of the oppressed she loses as a character in a drama labourin g to assume the dignit y o f a Greek tragedy . I n reality , however , Thunderstorm i s Gree k onl y i n it s extreme superficialities—suc h a s the observanc e o f th e unities o f tim e and action and the use of the Prologue and Epilogue, the function of which I hav e briefl y discusse d i n m y summar y o f the plot . Th e deat h o f th e 'innocent' an d th e survival o f the villains is a point o n which th e play wright keeps harping to force an appearance of the tragic; but these are, despite their persistent claims, tragic only in the newspaper usage of the word. For , beside s rehearsing what i s already a commonplace situatio n (the goo d dyin g young) , wha t doe s this wreckage mean ? An d t o wha t serious purpose does this violence lead? Precisely because such wreckage and violenc e bege t n o freshnes s o f insight , th e shock s the y engende r are shock s withou t recognition . Apparently , Ts'a o Yi i ha s confuse d the unjust wit h th e tragic , hysteri a wit h heroism . The onl y characte r i n th e pla y wh o i s investe d wit h tragi c potentia l is, as noted before, Fan-yi . As a student of Western literature, Ts'ao Yii must have learned from hi s reading that one of the essentials that made a character tragi c i s th e conflic t o f will . This , a t least , enable s hi m t o observe i n hi s Prefac e tha t sh e i s a woma n 'ful l o f contradiction s i n conduct, al l leading to the extreme'. Ha d h e been more consistent wit h his ow n observation , h e woul d hav e allowe d Fan-y i t o develo p int o a character mor e i n coherenc e wit h th e interna l logi c o f th e plo t an d hence give n mor e respec t fo r he r emotiona l truth , rathe r tha n merel y complying wit h th e playwright' s reformis t zea l an d th e dictate s o f the well-mad e play . Sh e would , fo r instance , hav e becom e a Phedr e torn betwee n th e pul l o f lov e an d honour , whic h woul d hav e don e justice to her endowmen t a s a woman of 'contradictions' . Or, sh e would have bee n fashione d int o a Heste r Prynn e whos e mora l ambiguit y a s expressed i n ' I kno w not . I kno w not ' continue s t o linge r i n ou r imagination. Thunderstorm, p. 93. Ts'ao Yii: a Study in Literary Influence 2 5 Lest I shoul d b e accuse d o f encouragin g literar y imitations , I mus t hasten t o point ou t that I cal l upon thes e famous^heroines onl y to bear witness to what I mea n by 'coherenc e with the internal logic of the plot' and 'emotiona l truth' , an d no t t o impl y tha t Fan-y i shoul d b e thei r replica. By design, Fan-y i i s modelled upon Abbie Putnam in her defianc e o f traditional morals . Bu t Abbie , thoug h refusin g t o b e judge d b y th e rigidity of religious standards, has not slighted her responsibility towar d society. And, t o the exten t that lov e is regarded a s the highest orderin g reality i n th e huma n scheme , Abbie' s adultery , th e consequence s o f which she accepts with as much agony as exhilaration, can be viewed as a self-justifying affirmatio n o f a persona l faith— a fait h tha t i s sociall y frowned upo n but for the lovers at least has a sanctity of its own. In thi s respect, Desire under the Elms is a closer kin to the Tristan legend in its passionate insistence upon the'autonomy o f love than to the Hippolytu s myth. I refer particularl y to Wagner's operatic version in which Trista n and Isolde , onc e descende d int o th e nocturna l world o f passion, coul d 1 exul t i n spit e o f approachin g danger : How ou r heart s float upwar d now ! How al l senses faint wit h bliss ! Opening flower o f yearnin g passion ! Exulting joy overflo w m y breast . Isolde—Tristan: Tristan—Isolde . Free fro m th e worl d an d wo n b y me , Truly t o m e alon e revealed , Highest ecstas y o f love. 33 The world of light and reason against which are ranged the traditiona l claims o f honou r an d dut y hav e become, fo r th e moment, irrelevan t t o our heroes . Thi s monomania c clingin g t o passio n a s the all-inclusiv e experience is, for Deni s de Rougemont, the very expression o f Wester n man's secre t preference fo r a n 'exquisite anguish'.34 Fo r 'passio n mean s suffering'.35 And, for the implicit faith the lovers attached to it as a power to lif t th e soul , i t i s a 'religio n i n th e ful l sens e o f th e word'. 36 But Fan-yi has neither the moral anguish of Phedre or Hester Prynn e nor th e thoroughnes s o f attachmen t o f Abbie or Isolde. Sh e is, as I se e it, characteristicall y a creatio n o f a write r whos e attitud e towar d hi s 33 Richar d Wagner , Tristan and Isolde, tr. Frederic k Jameson (London, 1886) , p. 26. 34 Deni s d e Rougemont , Love in the Western World, p . 27 . 35 Ibid., p . 41. 36 Ibid., p . 139 . 26 Thunderstorm and Desire under the Elms own work is uncertain: which of the two obligations—as writer o r social critic—should receive more emphasis? I n the hands of a more competent writer, however , thi s seemingl y incompatibl e relatio n betwee n ar t an d social criticis m (an d b y extension , ar t an d nationalism , religiosity , patiiotism, etc.) can be resolved into compelling drama without offendin g our artistic sensibihty. Arthur Miller, in this respect, seems to me to have most abl y realized this possibility in his Death of a Salesman: fo r Will y Loman commands as much—if not more—attention as a distressed fathe r as do the social problems which his death arouses. But it would be hard t o imagine Fan-y i i n any position othe r tha n a s a social rebel; she simpl y doesn't com e of f eithe r a s a wife , a mother , o r a frustrated mistress . Probably, wha t distinguishe s a n artis t o f Miller' s calibr e fro m a lesse r one like Ts'ao Yii is that while the former ha s the generosity o f mind t o loosen hi s strin g an d le t his characters develop their live s i n fulfilmen t of thei r possibilities , t o allo w them t o 'spea k fo r themselves' , the latte r yields to th e temptatio n o f tampering with them accordin g to his intellectual or emotional inclinations. This arbitrary intrusion into the privacy of hi s character s ha s prove d t o b e a fatal flaw o f Ts'a o Yii— a flaw s o pernicious tha t i t ha s impoverishe d hi s creativ e imagination . Hence, th e hazines s an d flatness o f Fan-yi' s character . Wha t ar e w e to mak e o f her? 37 Sh e i s not, a s we hav e earlie r observed , a woman o f mythical passion in honour of which Isolde gave her life. Nor is she, much as the playwright intended her to be, a woman of 'contradictions', since, in the cours e o f carryin g out her merciless scheme for revenge , she ha s not shown any sign of moral hesitancy. On the surface, she seems to have radiated i n th e mos t defian t o f Abbie' s spirit s i n he r clai m fo r mora l autonomy. Upo n close r examination , however , tw o basi c point s o f difference betwee n thes e tw o wome n emerge . First , Abbi e defie s Go d because under he r circumstances only by so doing is she able to testify t o the strengt h o f he r own passio n and the meaning sh e has attached to it. Having defied God , Abbie regards passion not only as her raison d'etre — or death—but a s a religion in itself. Such is not Fan-yi's case, as passion for her has never been accorded a place of such supremacy. Second, wha t 37 I n contras t wit h Abbie Putnam, Fan-y i has the appearance of what E . M. Forste r calls a 'flat' character because she is 'constructed aroun d a single idea or quality'. Hence, she i s easil y 'recognize d b y th e reader' s emotiona l eye , not th e visua l eye ' wheneve r she come s in . Aspects of the Novel, pp . 67-68 . Th e ter m 'fia t character, ' i t mus t b e pointed out , doe s no t denot e failure ; flat character s ca n b e ver y successfu l i f the y appear i n comi c situation s handle d b y a skille d artist . Bu t ' a seriou s o r tragi c flat character is apt to be a bore,' Forste r bluntly concludes, for 'eac h time he enters cryin g "revenge" o r "M y hear t bleed s fo r humanity " o r whatever hi s formula is , ou r heart s sink'. Ibid., p . 73, Ts'ao Yii: a Study in Literary Influence 2 7 Abbie ha s trie d s o hard t o maintain—th e balanc e betwee n societ y an d the self—i s no t Fan-yi' s concern at all. By submitting herself to law fo r smothering the baby, Abbie has demonstrated in unequivocal terms he r respect fo r th e fundamental s o f socia l order . Bu t Fan-y i recognize s neither such bonds nor the need for them: she desecrated her only tie to humanity by using her son , Chou Ch'ung, as an instrument for revenge. And, when Cho u Ch'ung fails to carry out her instructions, she inveighs against him: 'Don' t yo u ever think I a m your mother. Your mother ha s died lon g ago- — crushed an d suffocate d b y your father . I a m n o longe r your mothe r now'. 38 v Adhering to no values, abiding by no law, and honouring no commit ment o f a mother, what else could Fan-yi' s allege d 'defiance ' poin t to i f not mora l anarchy ? Sh e is , typically , th e su m produc t o f a n ag e o f transition in China in which iconoclasm was one of the most fashionabl e occupations, i n whic h th e mer e murmu r o f th e wor d 'modern ' woul d evoke apocalyptica l joy . Howeve r courageous , passionate , an d eve n sacrosanct sh e might hav e appeared tovhe r creator , t o us sh e canno t b e more tha n a gloss y abstractio n o f inordinat e intellectua l pretentions , strutting i n th e dark , he r fac e al l a blur . Thundetstorm, p. 226. ...


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