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In this essay I would like to analyse is Cao Yu’s most influential play Thunderstorm which was written in 1934. Both texts In this text, there would be great emphasis on feminism and the darkness of the feudal society. We begin with the master of an honourable and wealthy family, Zhou Pu-yuan, who is a classic portrayal of an old Chinese patriarchal family. He had two sons with his first wife Shi-ping, who actually was his housemaid. The names of those sons were Zhou Ping and Ta-hai. In the future Zhou Pu-yuan marries a well-educated and decorous young woman named Fan-yi, she is one of the main characters in the play. It’s also worth mentioning that she is only a few years older than his own son Zhou Ping. As the master gets deeply involved with the speculation of miners, Fan-yi gets impatient and the fervour that she once had disappears.
In spite of the law, Fan-yi gets into a covert affair with Zhou Ping. However, Zhou Ping tries to get closer to Si-feng who is the daughter of Shi-ping, the first wife of the master. The attraction between Si-feng and Zhou Ping really gets Fan-yi mad, she would do anything to seek revenge so finally towards the end of the play she reveals everything about the affair. This had huge repercussions as Si-feng runs away and accidentally gets electrocuted by a live wire during a thunderstorm. She ran away because she found out that Zhou Ping was actually her blood brother, she just couldn’t face the humiliation that came about. Zhou Chong also gets killed trying to save Si-feng. The whole ending becomes even more bizarre when Zhou Ping commits suicide by shooting himself leaving Fan-yi to go insane. Although the ending is catastrophic with most of the main characters dead it makes sense to end it this way. It’s quite a convincing ending as there’s an antagonistic conflict between the master and his wife; we can see that there is a huge hole in the space of patriarchalism and old Chinese moral values. There is symbolism of the greedy and sadistic man who is compelled by a frustrating possessive instinct; the household where all the action takes place symbolises the security and strength; Fan yi symbolises a woman who countless times attempts to escape her past through a deranged love affair and her palpable passion which ultimately is disastrous and extremely restricted by the sense of sin.
Fan-yi is the most interesting character in the play as her exploding vehemence disintegrates the shackles of morality, her yearning for revenge on her husband fulfils her wish of gratifying her repressed sexuality. If she was alive during the rise of feminism she would probably become the queen. Although in her heart she has the spirit of old China, she breaks free of the asphyxiating domain of the master’s house. She courageously resists the vendetta by harbouring an inexorable love affair with her stepson, an unpardonable sin at that time. Although psychologically she revokes the master and his household, physically she depends on it. She is definitely not self-sufficient and has to rely on the master to survive. Her confrontation with the master is not due to her strive for individuality but because of her despondency and hopelessness of love.
Fan-yi’s emotional dependence and exorbitant tenderness for Zhou Ping is crystal clear when she says, “Ping, this is the last time that I beg you; I have never spoken to someone like this, now please have mercy on me.” and “please take me away — take me away from here. In the future, even you live with Si-feng, I can endure it as long as you do not leave me alone.” (Yu, 1934) She tries her best to break Si-feng and Zhou Ping’s relationship by setting all sorts of hurdles in their path. She goes to the extent of making another man, Zhou Chong chase after Si-feng just so she can have Zhou Ping to herself. Not only is she selfish but she is divergent in a sense that she has both the powerful psychosomatic reliance on her lover and the spirit of disinclination.
Fan-yi’s mutinous assertion is charged with certitude and composure. Her pugnacious character manifests Cao Yu’s intentions that females should be powerful in their persona and must stand up to battle against the injustice and inequality that women at that time were facing. Finally, she breaks free of the constraints of the feudal moral values that had incarcerated her physical self. This portrays Cao Yu’s assertion and recognition of the heroine’s distinctiveness and the betrayal that she demonstrated in the midst of the stifling patriarchal hierarchy. Fan-yi is a heroine like an expeditious thunderstorm, fragmenting the ancient vendetta of the autocratic family; she was like a sparkling dagger, searing the contaminated atmosphere; she was like a deadly wasp ready to sting its opponents. Cao Yu’s true beliefs are depicted through this fascinating character, without a doubt he despises the bygone era of the traditionalist feudal civilisation.
Although this play was written in 1934, in the mid to late 1900s, along with the robust development of the feminist movement, theatrical writing had undergone tremendous changes. The development of feminist postulation not only widened everyone’s creative vision but also metamorphosed the male’s point of view. This ultimately foisted an unparalleled influence on mankind’s philosophy forever. All the idols formulated by men, however petrifying they may be, are to a certain degree inferior to him, and this is the very reason why men will inevitably have in his power the ability to annihilate them.
Feminist critics view conventional literary writings, substantially the ones written by males as the artefact of a prejudiced creation. Females exploit their own cravings by shaping a distorted impression of women. Their actions clearly manifest males’ own beliefs. Hence, feminist critics are dubious of the female characters that are developed by male writers. They recommend female readers to exercise an idiosyncratic interpretation, unlike the conventional interpretation of their writings.
Within a patriarchal society, the governing body has control over life by restraining the freedom of speech. Females were bereaved of their right to free speech, hence there was no chance for women to have their say on any matter. This is exactly the group that Fan-yi is a part of, this feudal society where she surrenders to the will of Zhou Pu-yuan. Along the halls of his heartless mansion, Fan-yi was deprived of her rights. In that era, China was predominantly a patriarchal society. Women’s lives’ were completely hindered. Although it was cruel, it was put there to uphold the family system and keep it steady. The mansion of Zhou Pu-yuan is a representation of a stereotypical bourgeois family and Fan-yi is a victim.
The cataclysms of the play distinctly manifest the calamities of that era. Readers are no longer oblivious of the portrayal of women, how authors have depicted female characters have greatly changed over the years, this play was one of the earlier ones to have a lead female character do rebellious things. There’s still a long road ahead for improvement, women in today’s world are still grappling for their rights. Women should take a lesson from this play and vanquish their imperfections. Eileen Chang, author of Love in a Fallen City is a really good example of an author who went above and beyond the expectations of the time, authors like her are the true gems of modern literature.
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