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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cao Xueqin, The Story of the Stone

J. Douberly

The novel The Story of the Stone is considered one of the greatest Chinese works of literature of all time. The novel found in its completion fills five full volumes, which fits the paradigm of a long Chinese novel. The reading that the class covered is only a small section of the entire novel and that must be taken into consideration when analyzing the text. First, to fully understand the complexity and historical significance of the piece on must first analyze the themes of the selection, next understand a few of the major players, and finally uncover cultural subtexts.


Several themes are constantly and consistently present throughout the selections we read in class. First, the use of “flowers” is seen several times throughout the piece. Dai-yu in chapter 27 buries flowers as a hobby. This is a theme that overall articulates what the importance of flowers are in the piece. “Flowers” are representative of women in the selection. Therefore, when looking at the themes in The Story of the Stone “flowers” are present for the purpose of symbolism rather than just their beauty. The use of food is also a present theme in the selection. In chapter 26, the Jia household has a plethora of food that has been prepared for a meal. As a customary rule they invite extended family to enjoy the food with them. This small section of the piece represents a larger theme as a whole, food is used as the epicenter of social interaction in The Story of the Stone. Several other themes are present however due to lack of space they have been omitted.

Major Players

The selection focuses on the relationship in-between three key players: Jia Bao-yu, Dai-yu, and Bao-Chai. Jia Bao-yu is the main character of our selection, seeing as he is at the tip of love triangle. He is the last male heir of the Jia household and is looking for a partner to propagate the family’s name. On the bottom right of the love triangle falls Dai-yu who is the emotional lover of the two women. With strange hobbies such as burying flowers, we see her as the weird lover of the three. Finally, we have Jia Bao Chai the final tier of the love triangle and the winner of Jia Bao-yu’s affection. She holds herself to be a little more pretentious than Dai-yu; however, she is also far less strange. These three characters fill the pages of The Story of the Stone and are the main focus of the selection read in class.

Cultural Subtexts

Although elements of Chinese cultural can be delineated from the text, one must realize they are only found the interpretation of subtext, the lines between the lines. The first major presence of cultural significance is the use of a patriarchic system. The men in the piece have major power over the women and it can be deciphered that it is a representation of how women were treated in China during the creation of this piece. Next, the use of vernacular as the vehicle this piece operates through, is an interesting tenet to examine in the novel; moreover, if the piece is written in the voice of the people it is safer to say that it is more accurately represents the cultural of China at that time. Other elements of Chinese cultural are present in the text but due to lack of space they have been omitted.


C. Wilson

The Story of the Stone, also known as the Dream of the Red Chamber, is an old Chinese masterpiece dating all the way back into the middle of the 18th century. The tale had one original author, but many authors attempted to finish the work. "Only the first 80 chapters were written by Cao Xueqin. Various authors have submitted more than 100 alternative endings, often adding 40 complete chapters to the complete novel." (Wikipedia). It is an extremely well known work, in fact Wikipedia had it as "One of China's Four Great Classical Novels". The book is not only a classic full of wonderful story telling it is also said to be very accurate with what went on in 18th century China. "The novel is not only remarkable for its huge cast of characters and psychological scope, but also for its precise and detailed observation of the life and social structures typical of 18th-century China aristocracy." (Wikipedia).

The Story of the Stone begins with telling how the goddess Nu-Wa was repairing the sky so she melted down a mass of rocks. She proceeded to use every stone but one. Since this stone was melted and molded by the goddess it was a special and magical rock. One day the stone told a story to a monk and a Taoist that he had seen traveling. This story became the Story of the Stone. He tells how a long time ago he was born into a powerful family. The Stone goes into detail about all the relationships within the family.

The Story of the Stone is based mainly off the multitude of relationships found within the story. There is the love triangle relationship between Bao-yu, Dai-yu, and Bao-chai and, the several relationships between the maids and the masters. There are also a number of small relationships that pop up intermediately throughout the reading.

An important theme consistent throughout the story is that of the love triangle with Bao-yu, Dai-yu, and Bao-chai. We pick up in the story with Bao-yu and Dai-yu visiting and flirting with each other. A chapter later, Dai-yu goes to visit Bao-yu but gets locked out. She can only hear Bao-yu and Bao-chai talking with each other having a good time. Dai-yu is both angry and devastated. She has such strong feelings for Bao-yu it has broken her heart to think he likes Bao-chai. One night Bao-yu goes to try and find Dai-yu when he hears a girl crying. He investigates the noise and finds Dai-yu crying and reciting poetry. They soon make up and are back happy together again. Later in the story the readers discover that Bao-yu actually marries Bao-chai. These events demonstrate struggles of the characters caught in a never ending love triangle.

The story also explores the relationships between the maids and their masters. It seems that the relationships between the masters and their maids resemble a friendship than a traditional master/maid relationship. This is particularly true when examining the relationship between Bao-yu and Aroma. Bao-yu and Aroma have a special relationship. Since the two are in a sexual relationship together they seem to surpass just a simple friendship. To the maids, serving a powerful family is seen as an honor and a privilege. When considering the nature of these relationships, it becomes clear to the reader that they can be seen in a positive light.

The Story of the Stone is filled with the theme of relationships. The reader follows the relationships between the characters as the story unfolds. All of these work together to form this classic piece of literature. Even though many have added their own endings to this story, it remains an important part of Chinese culture.

1 comment:

  1. "One day the stone told a story to a monk and a Taoist that he had seen traveling."

    This is incorrect. The Stone asks the Taoist, Vanitas, to read and publish his story. The Buddhist (Impervioso) and the Taoist (Mysterioso) at the beginning, find the stone and take it down to the "world of mortals" where the story takes place.