Symbols And Subversion In 13 Happiness Street

2133 words - 9 pages

"13 Happiness Street" is a political satire which relies largely on the subversion of conventional symbols to convey its message. By subversion, I mean the process by which Bei Dao uses unconventional meanings of conventional symbols to undermine accepted literary norms. That is, he offers in place of the common associations of a symbol, another symbolic association that draws its meaning from the context of the narrative. Indeed, the very meaning of the narrative is couched in the language of metaphors and symbols. It is here that the author constructs a narrative using conventional symbols which play upon and also against the reader's expectations. Before we examine the means by which the author subverts the archetypal notions of symbols, it is first imperative to understand how these symbols stand in relation to the narrative and the reader.

Symbols find their place within a narrative through a conscious desire of the author to create a pattern of meaning, while the reader on the other hand, attempts to re-construct these meanings by drawing upon conventional associations with events. Conventional symbols are thus internalized in our mental consciousness and associated with what we take to be their predisposed meanings. That is, our minds works to form preconceived mental pictures of what these symbols should universally represent. "13 Happiness Street" is thus a narrative that gains much of its significance through the subversion of conventional symbols against our expectations.

The subversion of the archetypal symbol takes place within various levels of the narrative, the first being the immediate layer of the narrative itself, and the second being the symbols within the narrative. I shall first discuss how Bei Dao subverts conventional plot structures and accepted character norms un the topmost layer of the narrative. I shall then proceed to examine how he subverts major symbols within the narrative and the effect this achieves.

Bei Dao subverts the conventional plot structure by playing against what we expect from an archetypal narrative. Literary critic Tzvetan Todorov sees the ideal narrative structure as one that constitutes the "unfolding of an action, change, difference" (24). On the other hand, Aristotle defines the ideal narrative as one that consists of a "complication and a resolution", as well as a "change of fortune" in the persona of the protagonist and the villain (Holden). We can therefore see that the one common thread which runs through these two theories is the need for movement and change within the narrative. In order to examine how "13 Happiness Street" subverts conventional plot structure theories; let us first look at the events that unfold as the protagonist ventures on his quest for truth:

1. Fang Cheng learns of Young Jun's disappearance

2. He goes to the place where he is last seen in order to find him

3. He is met with closed doors when he stumbles upon the house "13 Happiness Street"

4. He...

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