Analysis Of Bao Yu's Dream In Cao Xueqin's 'story Of The Stone'

3486 words - 14 pages

The Story of the Stone by Cao Xueqin is an animated, lively account of lifein a large Chinese household in the mid-18th century Qing dynasty. Itremains a fascinating novel for modern readers with its vivid and detaileddescriptions of the minutiae of daily life - from clothing, food andinterior design to education, marriage and death.For all its realism however, The Story of the Stone is not set entirely inreality. The very premise of the whole tale, that of a single rock left outof the goddess Nu-wa's repairing of the sky, is one based on amagico-religious dream world. The rock is found by a Buddhist and a Taoistwho take it down to the mortal world where it lives out a human life, thatof Jia Bao-yu, before attaining Nirvana. Once a rock again, a Taoist copiesthe inscription on its surface ''from beginning to end and took it backwith him to look for a publisher''.Cao Xueqin's emphasis on dreams can be seen in the alternative titles forhis masterpiece. A Dream of Red Mansions is the title by which the book isperhaps most commonly known. Twelve Young Ladies of Jinling is also a titlesuggested in chapter one. Both of these titles refer to the same dream. AsDavid Hawkes explains, 'hong lou', red mansion, has the more specialisedmeaning of the residences of the daughters of rich men and thus, the youngladies themselves.The dream alluded to in these appellations occurs in the fifth chapter ofvolume one, The Golden Days. Cousin Zhen's wife, You-shi, has invited thewomen of the Rong-guo house, accompanied by Bao-yu, round for a flowerviewing party. Needless to say, Bao-yu soon tires and asks to take a nap.Rather than going back to the Rong mansion, the wife of his nephew, JiaRong, leads him to her chamber to sleep. Bao-yu immediately drops off intoa vivid dream world.He meets the fairy of Disenchantment who shows him to the Land of Illusionand into the Department of the Ill-Fated Fair. Within this department ishoused the 'Jinling, Twelve Beauties of, Main Register', a record of thetwelve most notable females in Bau-yu's own province of Jinling. The fairyof Disenchantment allows Bao-yu to read the fates of the twelve girls asrecorded in the form of four-line verses. Bao-yu can make little sense ofwhat he reads. Later, the quatrains are expanded into a series of twelvesongs entitled A Dream of Golden Days. While the words are sung by a troupeof entertainers, Bao-yu reads along with the manuscript. He still does notunderstand.Indeed, both the verses in the register and in the song-cycle containallusions and metaphors not immediately obvious and not easily deciphered.Yet at a most basic level, they provide an outline of the fate of twelveprinciple female characters in The Story of the Stone. Their fate unfoldsthroughout the course of the five volume novel. The Golden Days therefore,is only the beginning. But, by the end of the first volume, to what extenthave the women already prepared the way for their future course?The first verse in the Main Register is a...

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