The Jade Peony
The Jade Peony
A victim could be described as a person cheated, injured, or even fooled by circumstances. Yet it seems that the idea of victimization has become a symbol of Canada for Canadian authors. Margaret Atwood explains in, “The Victim Theory,” that in most instances of literature, the central theme is “bare survival in the face of ‘hostile’ elements”(Atwood, “The Victim Theory” 77) Hence, for the French Canadians after the English took over, “it became cultural survival, hanging on as people, retaining a religion and a language under an alien government”(Atwood 77). Unlike the style of the Americans or the English, who hold out excitement and security, the Canadian literature can be seen on the opposite side of the spectrum with its unwanted anxiety. Accordingly, The Jade Peony, written by Wayson Choy, is a story about a Chinese family living in Vancouver, within the heart of Chinatown. The story presents the struggles and misfortunes that the characters have undergone, thus acknowledging the idea of survival. As a co-relation to survival, Margaret Atwood introduces positions that make the character a victim, “First of which is denying the fact that you are a victim at all”(Atwood 79).
In the second position, however, the character is a victim but believes that it is there only by Fate. Moreover, in Canadian literature, the survivor is not a victor or even receive triumph but has only the fact of knowing his ordeal; and sometimes, the obstacles that a character faces are not even external factors, but rather it is a spiritual survival. Therefore, The Jade Peony, written by Wayson Choy agrees with Margaret Atwood’s “The Victim Theory.” Jung-Sum is a victim, but denying the fact that he is makes him fulfill the first primary position. Jung-Sum was brought in to Canada, due to the war that had took place in China; and soon became the adopted son of a Chinese couple. Jung-Sum effectively proves that he is a victim, for both his parents had died early in his life and he was left all alone with no one to take care of him. He is four years old, and yet he is forced to live a life that only one can dreadfully imagine of. Nevertheless, Jung-Sum denies the fact that he is a victim. During the process of adoption, his stepmother cunningly asks him, “Who feeds you now?”(Choy, The Jade Peony 83) Granted the situation, he replies, ” I FEED MYSELF NOW”(Choy 84).
His response to his stepmother proves that he is not ready to give up on life and he realizes there is a future ahead of him. At such a tender age, he is willing to take care of himself. With all the anger inside of him and no superior authority to care of his needs, he tends to “pretend that certain visible facts do not exist”(Atwood 79). He still thinks that his parents are alive and will come back for him, although he himself witnessed the death of his parents. Furthermore, he suppresses his anger by trying to carry on life by himself. “I grabbed my suitcase to run away. The Old One pulled me back”(Choy 82). He has courage to go on with life, although he has so many reasons not to. Yet, the fact that he thinks he can take on heavy responsibilities of life himself makes him a stronger person. He tries to deny the fact that he is a victim by reaching out for the future. Thus, he is willing to forget the past, and wants to make a life of his own. Poh-Poh, the grandmother, believes that there is an uncontrollable force behind her ordeal – Fate. Her ordeal is something most horrible to the human eye. When she was brought into the world, her mother confessed that she was “twice-cursed for being born ugly and a girl-child”(Choy 41).
Furthermore, Poh-Poh’s father wanting a son, spat at her mother’s face and left them forever. Nevertheless, she is long-suffering because she believes that she cannot change the situation herself. She doesn’t talk about her ordeals with anyone, even her family members, for she believes that it will tempt the gods to bring more curses on her. Moreover, she never fought to solve her ordeals, since fate would bring her something better in the future. As a result, she took in all the difficulties that life presented with endurance and submissiveness. She vividly proves the victim theory because she doesn’t need the feel to adjust her condition, having a passive acceptance of her fate. However, her ordeal did not end at a young age. When she was nine years old, she was sold into the Shanghai family as a servant. During her stay there, the First Concubine was not fond of Poh-Poh. Because Poh-Poh had not learned fast enough to knot pom-pom flowers, “her thin child’s back was whipped with a knotted belt and beaten with a switch”(Choy 35).
She believes that all these ordeals that she experienced was just lesson in life. Although life seemed to give her the worst side early, she got the best of life in the end. She was pronounced an ugly child at birth, and yet she grew up to marry and give birth to one son. She is forever thankful that fate had given her such a beautiful gift. Thus, Poh-Poh never wasted her energy trying not to be a victim, for she knew that she would only receive what fate would allow. Although Wong-Suk survived his ordeals, he never received triumph for his achievements. He had come to Canada, trying to forget the life in China.
His opportunity came when Canadian companies issued forth statements in China calling for able-bodied workers in building the railroad. Many men took this opportunity, not only to leave the ordeals behind but also to look for a new future and a new opening. They had also heard rumours of gold in the rivers that passed down the mountain cliffs, which would make a man very wealthy. However, in order for Wong-Suk to come to Canada, he “was to pay back, through his labour, the steerage fare from Canton, his bonding tax, plus give back so many years of his wages for shelter, food, and the privilege of being allowed to pay interest on his debts”(Choy 50). His want for a new life moved him to come to Canada. Even after he had come, it wasn’t easy.
The labour camps were often dirty, with no maintenance. He hardly had any money left for himself, for he sent most of it home. Finally, at the age of 80, he had finished paying his dues to the government. Meanwhile, his stay in Chinatown was not pleasant either. Wong-Suk’s face had the figure of a monkey. People were saying that his mother perhaps “fell in love with a monkey”(Choy 60). The whole town talked about his monkey-face figure. Though Wong-Suk had gone through many ordeals, there was no victory or triumph in sight. Thus, he proves that he has little left after his ordeal, and that is “gratitude for surviving the ordeal”(Atwood 77).