Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
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"Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" Characters Analysis

By Dai Sijie

fiction | 176 pages | Published in 2019

1971: Mao's cultural Revolution is at its peak. Two sons of doctors, sent to 're-education' camps, forced to carry buckets of excrement up and down mountain paths, have only their sense of humour to keep them going. Although the attractive daughter of the local tailor also helps to distract them from the task at hand. The boys' true re-education starts, however, when they discover a hidden suitcase packed with the great Western novels of the nineteenth century. Their lives are transformed. And not only their lives: after listening to the stories of Balzac, the little seamstress will never be the same again.

ISBN_13:9781448163106
ISBN_10:1448163102

Estimated read time: 6 min read

List of Characters

Character NameRole
LuoProtagonist
MaProtagonist
The Little Chinese SeamstressProtagonist
Four-EyesAntagonist
The Village HeadmanSupporting Character
The TailorSupporting Character
The Old MillerSupporting Character

Role Identification

In the novel "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" by Dai Sijie, the main characters are Luo, Ma, and the Little Chinese Seamstress. Luo and Ma, two educated youths, are sent to a remote mountain village during China's Cultural Revolution. The pair form a strong bond with the Little Chinese Seamstress, a local girl. Their experiences unfold their individual character arcs while exploring the dynamics between them and the village community.

Character Descriptions

Luo

Luo is a confident and quick-witted young man with a rebellious spirit. He is resourceful and serves as the storyteller of the group, often narrating the Western books he and Ma discover. Luo possesses a charming personality and has a deep affinity for literature, which plays a pivotal role in shaping his character throughout the story.

Ma

Ma is a more introverted and thoughtful intellectual, contrasting Luo's outgoing nature. He is intellectually curious and introspective. Ma acts as Luo's steadfast companion, supporting and participating in their shared endeavors. He is known for his talent in playing the violin.

The Little Chinese Seamstress

The Little Chinese Seamstress is a beautiful and vibrant young woman from the nearby village. Initially portrayed as naive and innocent, she gradually embodies a growing hunger for knowledge and transformation. Through her interaction with Luo and Ma, she experiences a series of life-changing events that shape her future outlook.

Four-Eyes

Four-Eyes, another educated youth who Luo and Ma meet in the village, serves as a foil to Luo and Ma's characters. He possesses an air of superiority due to his urban upbringing and shows a lack of empathy for the oppressed villagers. Four-Eyes represents the corruption and self-interest that can arise among those who wield power.

The Village Headman

The Village Headman is an authoritative figure in the village. He is depicted as an uneducated man with a strict adherence to Communist Party policies. The Village Headman embodies the oppressive regime and serves as an obstacle to Luo, Ma, and the Little Chinese Seamstress's pursuit of knowledge.

The Tailor

The Tailor is an elderly resident of the village and a talented craftsman. Despite his simple and uneducated lifestyle, he possesses wisdom and serves as a source of guidance for Luo, Ma, and the Little Chinese Seamstress.

The Old Miller

The Old Miller is an enigmatic figure in the village, known for his storytelling abilities. He represents the oral tradition, sharing folktales that provide valuable lessons and insights into the culture and history of China.

Character Traits

Luo

  • Resourceful
  • Charismatic
  • Rebellious
  • Adventurous
  • Quick-witted

Ma

  • Introverted
  • Thoughtful
  • Intellectual
  • Loyal
  • Skilled musician

The Little Chinese Seamstress

  • Naive
  • Curious
  • Determined
  • Transformative
  • Adaptable

Four-Eyes

  • Superior
  • Unsympathetic
  • Self-interested
  • Urbanized
  • Educated

The Village Headman

  • Authoritative
  • Uneducated
  • Oppressive
  • Traditionalist
  • Conformist

The Tailor

  • Wise
  • Skilled craftsman
  • Humble
  • Supportive
  • Traditional

The Old Miller

  • Enigmatic
  • Storyteller
  • Wise
  • Cultural preserver
  • Traditional

Character Background

Luo and Ma, both sons of intellectuals, were sent to the remote mountain village as part of China's Cultural Revolution. They are sent for "re-education" with the aim of purging bourgeois thoughts. The Little Chinese Seamstress comes from a peasant family and becomes the object of affection for Luo and Ma.

Four-Eyes, having grown up in the city, initially appears more educated and privileged in comparison to the village youths. The Village Headman represents the dominant ideology, enforcing the cultural and political norms of the time. The Tailor and The Old Miller symbolize the wisdom and traditions of the village community.

Character Arcs

Luo

Luo begins as a rebellious and adventurous youth, eager to challenge the conventions imposed upon him. Through his encounters in the village and his relationship with the Little Chinese Seamstress, he undergoes personal growth and develops a deeper understanding of love, sacrifice, and morality.

Ma

Initially, Ma is more reserved and introspective, focusing on survival and adapting to their new environment. As the story progresses, he becomes more actively engaged in their endeavors and undergoes a transformation in his understanding of love, sacrifice, and friendship.

The Little Chinese Seamstress

The Little Chinese Seamstress's arc showcases her journey from naivety and innocence to a hunger for knowledge and personal liberation. Through her interactions with Luo and Ma and exposure to Western literature, she embarks on a path of self-discovery and empowerment.

Four-Eyes

While Four-Eyes undergoes a limited character arc, he serves as a catalyst for conflict and tension within the story. His character ultimately highlights the corrupting influences of privilege and the dangers of holding power without empathy.

Relationships

Luo and Ma share a deep bond, representing friendship and solidarity. Their shared experiences, hardships, and literary explorations bind them together as they support and challenge each other throughout their time in the village.

The romantic relationship that unfolds between Luo and the Little Chinese Seamstress illustrates their mutual growth and the transformative power of love. Their connection also highlights the clash between traditional values and the forces of cultural change.

The relationships with other secondary characters, such as Four-Eyes, the Village Headman, the Tailor, and the Old Miller, shape the experiences and choices of the main characters. These relationships contribute to the exploration of themes such as power dynamics, tradition versus modernity, and the preservation of cultural heritage.

By examining the character traits, backgrounds, arcs, and relationships of the key characters in "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress," readers gain a deeper understanding of the story's themes and the complex dynamics between individuals and society during a tumultuous period in Chinese history. With their multidimensional portrayals, the characters enrich the narrative, offering insights into the human capacity to resist, adapt, transform, and find hope amidst challenging circumstances.