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Fighting Back: Three Modern Stories of Oppression

Updated on December 11, 2009

Oppression Exposed....


Modern literature embraces many topics. However, in the wake of various wars, including world wars, a subject that continues to show up in modern stories is the idea of political and religious oppression. Three authors specifically write about subjugation in their works. Borges, Lu Xun and Achebe describe three entirely different cultures that experience similar struggles. In fact, the stories might not mention oppression directly, but “The Garden of Forking Paths“, “Diary of a Madman“, and Things Fall Apart all give the reader a clear picture of the issue of domination. In fact, when comparing the three stories, it becomes evident that the idea of political and religious tyranny is, in fact, a universal one. Although the concept is a common one, the way the individual characters respond to the pressure of their surrounding cultures differs.

“The Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Borges does not describe political and religious oppression in a straight-forward way, yet the underlying theme is a critical part of the main character’s personality. Dr. Yu Tsun, is a Chinese man who is a spy for the Germans. This is ironic, since his country has been invaded by these people, and he clearly states in the story that he does not care for them (1020). His response to being politically repressed is to show the Germans he is a worthwhile person-- that he is intelligent enough to provide them with information (1020). A deeper interpretation of the story relates to the allegory of the labyrinth. Dr. Stephen Albert deciphers the riddle of the book and the labyrinth, deciding that they are one and the same (1023). This labyrinth represents the idea of the infinite amount of choices a person could make that affect the outcome of the future. Dr. Albert suggests that all of these possibilities exist, which explains the confusion of the book. Dr. Tsun illustrates this reality when he shoots Dr. Albert in order to communicate information to his Chief (1025). This allegory can be applied directly to the repression of people. For example, the tyrants could choose not to dominate other people. Indeed, the tyrant could possibly not be born at all. More specifically, Dr. Tsun could choose to respond differently to his own oppression, and fight the Germans, or he could choose not to kill Dr. Albert and try to communicate the information in some other way. Personal choice plays an important role in this story, and, as Borges indicates, choice is also important specifically in regards to the idea of people being oppressed.

Lu Xun’s story is entirely different. He writes “Diary of a Madman” as a symbolic representation of political and religious domination The main character, of course, is the madman, who at first glance appears simply to be just that--mad. He believes that people in his society are cannibals and are at any moment planning to eat him (914). This is the main premise of the entire story. However, the madman describes the culture’s cannibalism in ways that make it obvious that there is a deeper meaning. For example, the man refers to the evolution of man, which led them to cease eating human flesh and be “real human beings” (918). The critical reader interprets this as an indication of a society that has not “evolved” enough to stop taking advantage of people. Lu Xun suggests that the society is oppressive, and the more powerful people use the less powerful people for their own purposes. He also submits that people are afraid to speak up. He suggests that it is easier to go along with the system that has been in place for 4000 years (921) than try to change it; “They’d rather die than take that one little step” (918). The madman has responded to the oppression in his culture by raging against it, yet his efforts may be in vain, because everyone thinks he is mad. However, the dramatic imagery of the story may be poignant enough for modern readers to understand his meaning.

Things Fall Apart

is a fitting and descriptive title for Achebe’s novel. In it, an African village is “invaded” by missionaries who are slowly destroying the culture of the indigenous people. The main character, Okonkwo, illustrates a dramatic reaction to the oppression of his government and religious beliefs. His anger is evident immediately, and he is the only one in his village who stands up against the tyranny. He kills one of the foreigners and then kills himself. However, sadness also overcomes him when he sees a lack of courage or conviction among his people. “Worthy men are no more” (1187) he says. Okonkwo represents a different type of character than the other two stories. While, Dr. Tsun and the madman in ways that are figurative and passive, Okonkwo is prepared to fight what he feels is wrong directly and actively. While the others in his village are convinced by their fellow citizens and the foreigners not to fight the invasion, Okonkwo insists; “I shall fight alone if I choose” (1187).

These three modern stories do more than entertain, they enlighten and inspire the reader. Putting these stories side by side and comparing them forces the reader to question the choices she would make in an oppressive society. Would she be like the spy who would seek to prove himself to his captors? Would she be like the unnamed madman and protest with deranged ramblings? Would she, in fact, stand up and actively fight the evil that threatens her way of life? Sadly, it seems that another common theme in these pieces of literature is the concept of fighting alone. Although only fictional representations of these ideas, it seems clear that these works are important to study for the sake of the future of the modern world.


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    • lmmartin profile image

      lmmartin 8 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      "the more powerful people use the less powerful people for their own purposes." Sounds like real life to me. An excellent look at three interesting metaphors. Thanks.