Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Themes The Dream Of the Red Chamber

The novel is normally called Hung Lou Meng or Hóng Lóu Mèng , literally Red chamber dream. Red tower or red chamber is an idiom for the sheltered chambers where the daughters of wealthy families lived. It also refers to a dream in Chapter 5 that Baoyu has, set in a "red chamber", where the fates of many of the characters are foreshadowed. Chamber is sometimes translated as "mansion" because of the scale of the Chinese word but mansion is thought to neglect the flavour of the word "chamber" and it is a mistranslation according to Zhou Ruchang.

The name of the main family, Jia is a homophone with the Chinese character jia meaning false, fake, fictitious or sham. Another family in the book has the surname Zhen a homophone for the word real their son is also named Baoyu his name sounds the same as real Baoyu while the hero's is false Baoyu. Thus, Cao Xueqin suggests that the novel's family is both a realistic reflection and a fictional or "dream" version of his own family.

The novel includes depictions of many aspects of traditional Chinese culture, including traditional Chinese medicine, cuisine, tea culture, proverbs, Chinese mythology, Buddhism, filial piety, opera, music, painting, classic literature and the Four Books, landscaping and horticulture, kites, matchmaking and courtship, and so on. Among these, the novel is particularly notable for its grand use of poetry in the first 80 chapters written by Cao.

A number of foreign objects of Western origin appear in the novel. These include a wall clock and glass screen (Chapter 6), watches (Chapter 14), a Wester-style painting (Chapter 41), an ornate snuff box bearing "unica" snuff (Chapter 52), a toy ship (Chapter 57), wine (Chapter 60),, the Russian peacock feather snow cape, and perhaps the dressing mirror of Chapter 17. Many of these objects are found in Baoyu's chambers. In Chapter 16, Wang Xifeng gives the reader a clue to the source of some of these items.

She tells Nannie Zhao explains, "At that time my grandfather was in charge of all foreign tribute and the embassies going up to Court. Whenever any foreigners arrived, it was always my family that put them up. All the goods brought by the foreign ships to several seaports passed through our hands. The Wang family had dealt in foreign trade, and the closely related Jia clan may have received some of these items as a result.

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