Love can be a very fickle and silly thing. It can pull the heart in so many directions and can pull one in directions that are against that of family, national tradition or culture and others. The stories of Cuicui in Border Town and are quintessential examples of how matters of the heart can make life and the feelings encountering during the same very hard to decipher, process and figure out. While the interests and allegiances of the women in both books reviewed for this report showed many different dimensions and posed many different questions, women must harness their ability to figure out who to love on their own terms rather than as a show of defiance or fakery to others even if the intentions are well-placed as the end result is rarely good.
The basic premise behind Border Town is not all that out of the ordinary. At its most basic level, it involves a girl that is coming of age and is starting to realize what love is. However, it is quite obvious even without understanding the social and cultural contexts of pre-Mao China (which is a story in and of itself) that Cuicui is in quite a proverbial pickle as it relates to her heart and who she's allowing it to follow. One issue is the fact that Cuicui is in fact an orphan and is being cared for by her grandfather. Her grandfather loves her greatly but is in declining health and he wants to see her find her center in life before he passes on up to and including finding a man that is right for her. However, this is complicated greatly when two brothers start to compete for her affections. If this was not bad enough, the grandfather inserts himself into this little love triangle and makes the wrong "decision" for Cuicui and it indirectly leads to the death of one of the brothers. This obviously could and would lead to bad blood and/or melancholy from both the surviving brother as well as Cuicui herself. However, Cuicui eventually seems to get herself together and realizes that she alone, and not her love interests and dreams, determine her life outcomes and destiny. Even if her grandfather had the best of intentions and bumbled things quite a bit and even if the death of the one brother was just a bad coincidence, at least Cuicui was able to become more realistic and be in more of a proper mindset of what love can and cannot do in the long run for a women in her situation. Her existence as an orphan with no family beyond her grandfather complicates things greatly, but Cuicui comes to understand this eventually just as well as the grandfather himself (Shen, 2009).
The other text to be reviewed for this report was Love In A Fallen City by Eileen Chang. Rather than being a single flowing story, this second treaties is actually a collection of short stories. However, even with that being the case the parallels that can be drawn between this and the work of Congwen is easy to map out. However, before the compare and contrast of the two works is done, a good snippet of the Chang treatise should be discussed in context. Of course, the times of China that the Chang book focuses on looks at a culture, not unlike other cultures throughout history, that focus on social class, maintaining that social class, honor and the powers that can be won or lost based on who is or is not married by a woman. Of course, women are much more prone to be left destitute if they are "unlucky" in love as men throughout history have been much more in control of their own destiny as it relates to power, status and wealth of any sort. A good example of this overall concept in Chang's work can be found with the character Liusu. In the climax of her story, she attains a victory when she gets her lover to marry her. This marriage secured her status and basically locks her into a fairly comfortable life. However, the social and cultural tatters that exist around her make one wonder if she really loves her lover or if she's just in love with what her marriage secured for her. Indeed, the use of the term "fallen city" in the book title is certainly not an accident and there was much suffering and death that went on around Liusu while she was focused on protecting her life's path (Chang, 2007).
One thread that is obviously present in both works is that marriage and love are seen as a way of securing one's future even if the dreams fly in the face of rationality, "true love" or just plain common sense. For example, Cuicui having an affinity for two brothers is a recipe for disaster. Completely strangers have hurt and killed over the centuries for love and to have two brothers mixing it up, and/or allowing Cuicui to allow this to fester, is something that almost guarantees a bad end. Despite the fact that one of the brothers died in a complete accident, he left the area based on the actions of the grandfather and, as it turns out, the grandfather was not accurate in his assessment of where Cuicui's love truly lied. However, a further point to make is that even if he did know what was in Cuicui's heart, he really needed to stay out of it as Cuicui needed to find her voice on her own and make her own decision. Instead, the grandfather was vicariously manipulating and kvetching about the situation but he was concern more about the financials and the security of the relationship that Cuicui would eventually end up in rather than who she really wanted to be with or who should she should be with (or not be with) overall. The takeaway from the Liusu situation is not all that different. The only real tangible difference is that she was not so heavily influence by any third party but was instead assigning this misguided view of love on herself. Rather than focus on the death and destruction around her and/or other important factors and facets of life, she was centered on how getting her lover to marry her would ensconce her in a comfortable place for years to come.
One would think that these parallels between the two works above have no firm correlation to modern life, but that is far from being the case. Speaking in generalizations and stereotypes is obviously not fair and indeed women in modern societies can absolutely forge their own life path and truly marry the person they truly love. Many women focus on the quality of the relationship rather than the size of the house, the number and quality of the cars and so forth. However, there are quite a bit of women that infuse the concepts of love and security and they have relationships and hopefully marry based on that fact. Not all of this is based on avarice, obviously, as there is nothing wrong with wanting security and safety with a mate and/or broader family. However, it can certainly be taken entirely too far and this is easy to see both in the Chang book as well as pervasively throughout modern life in the United States and other countries.
However, just looking at this dynamic through the prism of "gold digging" and safety/security is not enough, as there are other reasons why love gets manipulated and crafted based on the needs and desires of the woman one is talking about. There are many people that get married or stay married when the otherwise would not (or at least would wait) due to things like unexpected pregnancies and/or for financial reasons. After all, two income families are much more common in modern society and are often necessary (or at least easier) than working multiple jobs. The problem inherent to that is that if there is "love" involved, it is often not love being extended from the woman to the man, but rather the woman to the children or from the woman to other things such as safety, security, or other things. However, living comfortably from a financial standpoint is not the same thing as doing so from a personal, emotional and love standpoint. Cuicui eventually figured this out but Liusu obviously did not. The message that can be taken from both books reviewed for this report is that, in a nutshell, pursuing someone for reasons other than true love is an extremely bad idea and it is not worth selling out one's future, as precarious as it may be, just to assuage and soothe those that are concerned and/or that are otherwise manipulating the situation (e.g. Cuicui's grandfather).
Perhaps a way to make the point even better would be to talk about marriage in general. Just because a marriage is legally intact and/or just because…