Time in the literary constructions of self, love, and fate in Honglou meng
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date11/07/2024
Zhao, Eileen Yiran
This thesis primarily aims to explore the role temporal aspects play in the narrative constructions of personal experience in the eighteen-century full-length Chinese novel Honglou meng紅樓夢 (the Story of the Stone or Dream of the Red Chamber) written by Cao Xueqin曹雪芹(1710?—1765?). One of the most prominent features of Honglou meng lies in its unique narrative constructions of personal experience with great psychological and emotional depth. While most scholars approach the issue from the perspective of the thematical focus on the personal and the private, few have noticed the temporal implication in the narrative manipulation and configuration of characters and their relations to their self, to one another and to the world. Temporal reality in literature intrinsically defines artistic unity as it provides the most basic framework for the characters and events to inhabit. Moreover, it is an important element in the construction of personal and private experiences like suffering, remembering and anticipating. The central hypothesis of this thesis is that the temporal aspects of the fictive experience of characters’ inhabitation in the reality of Honglou meng greatly contributes to the emotional and psychological depth in its construction of personal experience. To demonstrate the idea, in the main body of the thesis, I choose the three most representative constructions of ideas in Honglou meng that have strong psychological and emotional emphasis, namely, self, love, and fate. To be specific, I first look into the narrative construction of the female protagonist Lin Daiyu, for whom feelings about the experience of impermanence and decay greatly shape her sense of self via her sick body. Then I turn to her romantic relationship with her lover Jia Baoyu, the quality of which is defined by a natural and realistic process of growth and maturation. Finally, I explore a sense of fate that everything has been predestined in the novel and how it is related to an imaginary understanding of the past and the future that the author establishes in his reader’s mind. With the study of these three cases, I argue that the preoccupation with time greatly shapes the way fictive experience is imagined, narrated and represented in Honglou meng. My thesis is firstly and foremost a narrative study of the literary manipulation and configuration of the novel. My research is not to recognise or affirm a certain idea of time and life suggested in the novel. Rather, it is an examination of how the author has managed to dramatise the idea through the feelings, thoughts and actions of the character in their most concrete temporal situations. Another purpose of this thesis, which goes beyond the criticism of the ideological and structural meaning of the novel, is to raise the experiential aspects of the problem of temporality in Honglou meng. I hope my study of the literary implication of narrative time and its function will not only renew our appreciation of Honglou meng’s significance as a novel of masterful manipulation by literary strategies and devices but also, its significance as a novel emphasising the experiential and existential dimensions of its protagonists.