The Diary of Miss Sophia
The story The Diary of Miss Sophia is an intricate look at one woman's mental, physical, ideological demise, as well as her eventual rebirth. This can be looked at on many different levels of understanding. The first of which is to look at it at face value, meaning that we view the story as a piece of literature unto itself and not a political commentary. Another perspective that we may examine this story from is as a metaphoric piece in which Sophia herself represents a model of a new era of feminism in not only China, but globally as well. Finally, we may view the diary as an attempt by the May Fourth writer Ding Ling to stir-up the social consciences of the common people outside of the intellectual circles of the Universities where the main thrust of the movement had its base. Before we discuss the social ramifications of the story
we must understand some of the historical background. In the early part of the twentieth century in China a significant movement began to make waves. This movement was, for the most part a student movement, in the major cities where now western-style Universities had begun to emerge. The movement takes its name from a student demonstration which happened to occur on May 4, 1919 in which nearly three thousand students and faculty took to the streets of Beijing in protest against several issues. The most pronounced of these issues was the settlement treaty at Versailles, which gave Japan, a new emerging imperial power a significant amount of land within mainland China. The May Fourth movement was much more that this one event, it was a chance for the intellectuals of the early part of this century in China to have a unified voice, and to express radical ideologies which included notions such as down with Confucianism, traditional education, arranged marriages, patriarchal family structures, and suppression of women and their rights. In essence, what they wanted was a real change in the social and cultural consciousness, something that they and the rest of the country did not get in the "revolution of 1911". Some of the radical notions held by the participants in the May Fourth movement can be seen in very subtle ways such as the manner in which this story was written. Which is to say that the style in which it was written in someways emulates the western style of the time, with punctuation unseen in many classical Chinese Texts of Confusian style which were written completely without punctuation. That suggests that this is first a contemporary piece with it's use of Western text writing methods. Secondly, it is a direct blow to the old ways of doing things in China, a reflection of the May forth ideology of down with the old way of doing things and up with the new. Another one of these subtle literary hints that this is a May forth work is in the name of the main carachter "Sophia". This is obviously a western name, whereas the other carachters names in the story are distinctly Chinese. The significance of her name being different, in a way, asks the reader to view Sophia as a progressive woman with progressive notions and ideas. Outside of these subtle hints of this being a political piece of literature are the metaphoric types, such as Sophia the carachter herself. She is a representation of this relatively new idea of a freer woman . In this role, Sophia can be see as an example of the ideologies of the May Fourth feminists, though in practice, she struggles with this new found role in society. Had he dared to embrace me, passionately, I'd have fallen into his arms and cried,"I love you! God!I love you!...I even acceded to his insinuation that I try acting more feminine. That made me despise him even more than before, and I cursed him and ridiculed him secretly, even as inwardly my fists struck painfully at my heart. As we can see, she is constantly assaulting back and forth between what she would like to do, (which reflects the modern side of her) and what she actually acts upon. This can be seen as a representation of the May Fourth ideology regarding a woman's right to choose who is right for them. Yet, her actions more reflect her Confusianistic morals, which she was brought up to believe. This conflict between what she thinks is the right course of action and what she actually ends up doing is a significant problem. This represents a philosophical dilemma that is not only inflicting women in China but throughout all of the western world as well. To express this point we may draw many parallels between this text and another popular text in China around the same time, the play by Henrik Ibsens A Dolls House, clearly a non-Chinese text. Like Sophia's story, the main character was a female (Nora) who faced the same sort of inner dilemma dealing with what she was brought up to believe was proper behavior for a lady of her station and torn between what she felt was right for herself. In very much the same way Sophia is torn between her emotions for a man and what she was brought up to believe to be were societal restraints on such behavior. Where this conflict reflects the May Forth movement is in the question: when these women, or any oppressed group suddenly becomes "freed" should we expect them to suddenly and completely adhere to there new status? Did the Afro-Americans in the South, after being given their freedom instantly cease fearing, and begin trusting the white man? I think not! Why should we expect any more from these women who are suddenly being recognized as a higher class of human and themselves a relatively recently consciously seeing themselves in this new role. Yet, subconsciously they have yet to breakaway from what had been taught to them for years. In this sense this work can be seen as not so much a criticism of the movement, but more as a beacon to women and men that this transition may not be as easy as it many seem. In all, the story The Diary of Miss Sophia is a complex look at a short period in a woman's life as she bridges the gap between what her life was, and what it will become. In essence, theis story represents China during this turbulant time of radical change. It is also being forced to bridge that same gap, except China's is between Confusianism and modernism, rualization and urbanization or more simply put between the old and the new.