Eileen Chang Sealed Off Analysis

Improved Essays
Many writers in China, especially those associated with the May Fourth movement, used their literature to further social change, however the writer Eileen Chang did not. Her writing instead focused on the day-to-day life of average people and their relationships and absurdities. Eileen Chang uses the interactions in Sealed Off to reflect what she perceives as the unthinking nature of the people of Shanghai. Eileen Chang very clearly insinuates that the people of Shanghai don’t think at all. She describes a man who rolls walnuts in his hand: “a rhythmic little gesture can substitute for thought” (Chang 1943). In Chang’s view, routine action takes the place of thought. This includes the rhythms of urban life. Through this section of Sealed Off, Chang accuses those whose lives fall into patterns, such as of work or school, of using their routines to avoid meaningful thought; instead, their thoughts are “walnut-flavored: smooth and sweet, but in the end, empty-tasting” (Chang 1943). This is a cutting commentary about the citizens of Shanghai, and how thoughtlessly Chang felt they navigated the world.
In addition, Chang criticizes how people look to the outside world to tell them how to think.
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Wu Cuiyuan describes her family as “good people”, as opposed to “real people”, and says “they never tuned into local folk-opera, comic opera, that sort of thing, but listened only to the symphonies of Beethoven and Wagner; they didn’t understand what they were listening to, but still they listened” (Chang 1943). The family in this quote avoids local, Chinese stations, and only listens to Western music. Chang makes a point of saying that they don’t understand it, but listen anyway. This listening without understanding reflects how western culture had been embraced in Shanghai- that people dutifully absorb western culture without skepticism or genuine interest, but only as a requirement for being “good

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