Part of your participation in the Common Reading Program requires that you email your discussion leader a 250-word response to one of the following five questions by Friday, August 17th at Noon CST. We will send you the name and contact information for your group discussion leader in early August. Your submission will only be read by the faculty or staff member leading your discussion group.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress follows a seventeen-year-old narrator and his friend, Luo, after they are sent to a rural mountain village during Mao’s Cultural Revolution in 1960s and 1970s China. During their time on the mountain, the boys are enchanted by both the Little Seamstress and a stash of forbidden Western novels. While receiving their own re-education, Luo promises that “with these books I shall transform the Little Seamstress.” Taking into consideration the end of the novel, how can we define what education is and who is being educated?
Early on, the narrator says, “The only thing Luo was really good at was telling stories. A pleasing talent to be sure, but a marginal one, with little future in it. Modern man has moved beyond the age of the Thousand-and-One-Nights, and modern societies everywhere, whether socialist or capitalist, have done away with the old storytellers—more’s the pity.” How do we see storytelling being valued or marginalized in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress?
We see a few examples of the narrator and Four-Eyes salvaging banned art and literature when the narrator keeps his violin to play “Mozart is Thinking of Chairman Mao,” and Four Eyes publishes the Old Miller’s songs after changing the lyrics in favor of the proletariat. In what ways has censorship impacted how citizens navigate the freedom of expression under Chairman Mao’s rule?
For most of the story, there is only one narrator. What is gained or lost by the inclusion of The Old Miller’s Story, Luo’s Story, and The Little Seamstress’s Story two-thirds of the way through the novel? And why does the narration switch back to the unnamed narrator afterwards?
Using examples from Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress and current media, illustrate how themes of freedom of expression will intersect with your experiences as a student at Washington University in Saint Louis.
Please contact (314) 935-5050 or firstname.lastname@example.org.