In the novel Lust, Caution by Eileen Chang, there are debates of the reason why Wang Jiazhi made the decision to warn Yi and to let him go, which is not only a betrayal to her mission but also a suicidal action which eventually led to her death. This action of hers involves multiple psychological origins from Wang’s childhood memory and family structure through out her experience of being a student with her peers to her subtle relationship with Yi during her spying mission. Such experiences formed significant psychological defenses within her according to the psychoanalysis of Freud.
The movie Lust, Caution provides a much fuller explanation and details about what the author of book did not offer thoroughly, which is the family background of Wang Jiazhi. There is a scene in the movie that Wang is sitting in a shabby room and trying to organize her word for the wedding greetings to her father who moved oversea years ago with her little brother when she was a child. The experience of her father’s leaving at her young age leads to her fear of abandonment after she grows up, the unshakable belief that her friends and loved ones cannot be trusted.
The fact that her father brought her little brother with him but left her at home creates a further belief that she is less worthy than other people and, therefore, does not deserve attention, love, or any other life’s rewards, which is called low self-esteem in the psychoanalysis. Her fear of abandonment and low self-esteem add together and form her most essential mental defense: fear of intimacy, the chronic and overpowering feeling that emotional closeness will seriously hurt or destroy her and that she can remain emotionally safe only remaining at an emotional distance from others at all times. These mental defenses of Wang appear in different areas in her personal and social life, and largely affect Wang in her processes of decision making.
In Wang’s social life, the main part of the cause of her solitude does not come from her peers but rather from her prejudice to herself and hatred of her own life and identity. Within a patriotism student division, the members of the division are supposed to have an extremely strong and tight emotional bond. However, as the key factor of this operation, Wang and her view of her peers and coworkers are strangely biased and distanced. When she thinks about them, she sees the “detestable eyes” and “meaningful smile” appear on her friends’ face. Her belief of how her friends in fact hate her and laugh at her at behind reflects on the definition of fear of abandonment in the theory of the psychoanalysis.
During her spying mission, Wang’s interaction with Yi, a married “short man in his forties or fifties” according the description in the novel, revealed another psychological defense of Wang: oedipal fixation, a dysfunctional bond with a parent of the opposite sex that she does not outgrow in adulthood and that does not allow her to develop mature relationship with her peers. Despite the fact that Wang’s relationship with Yi is based on a conspiracy, Wang has certainly developed some kind of emotion that is beyond her position as a spy toward her role and her target, Mr. Yi. Although the fact that Yi is in his forties or fifties may impair his charm in many ways, for Wang the age of Yi provides her a sense of fatherhood, which has been absent from her life since she was a young girl. Also, having a love affair with a married man gives her the feeling of competing with another woman, which reflects her being influenced by her father’s marriage.
Being chosen to play the role of the mistress of Yi, Wang Jiazhi not only is an extremely skilled actress, but also has putted her full passion and dedication into her character even beyond the expectation of her job. Such a strong emotional attachment to her target and her life as Wang, the character, contributed largely to her excellence at the job; however at the same time, made it very hard for her to distinguish her own life as a spy and the life as Wang Jiazhi, who lives a luxury life and has no relation with the life of her own, the life filled with confusion, self doubt, and fear of betrayal. Wang’s small actions unconsciously depict a strong sense of hatred to her own life. She hates her family, her friends, and most importantly, herself. Her life is pointless except “when she is with Yi, she finds the meaning and purpose of living.”
Wang feels truly alive only when she is acting as someone else, someone who could be anyone but herself. Therefore, Wang becomes so attached to her character that has forgotten that the original intention of this mission is to end it. When she is in the jewelry store with Yi, she realizes that this is her final plot of being Wang Jiazhi. However, she can still control her ending pose. Wang chooses to warn Yi and to release him. As the result of her decision, she dies, and the Wang Jiazhi the character leaves the stage, but the play continues without Wang Jiazhi. In this way she does not have to return to her own life which she thinks is not worth of living. She, as an actress, has devoted her life for acting and has chosen to end her life as Wang Jiazhi for her stage and her own masterpiece. Her death has no direct relation with her affection to Yi. She has lived in her art and she died for her acting.