Convinced that his parents are engaging in cannibalism – and are grooming him to be cannibalized in the near future – the madman progressively loses his grip on reality. Indeed, the brilliance of the story is that the protagonist, though ostensibly insane, is actually the only character to see the inhumanity of his “man-eat-man” society with an unimpeded view.
It was also not by chance that Lu Xun chose to offer such a scathing critique through the character of the madman.
Similar to the allegorical uses of madness in Western literature, the insane in modern Chinese fiction – by dint of their marginality – laid bare the social order even as they renounced it.
‘Sing, goddess, the wrath of Achilles’ is the opening prayer of Homer’s , but in the original Greek, the word μήνιν, ‘wrath’ or ‘anger’, comes first, in the place of emphasis.
The anger of Achilles is the central theme of our civilisation’s first and most powerful epic.
Achilles is angry because Agamemnon has grabbed his girl, his booty in the war against Troy.
A great insult to his honour and prestige, which Homeric values count as injury to the person.More pressing for Lu Xun, however, was a metaphorical type of cannibalism, one meant to indicate the repressive feudal order of his time.For Lu Xun, Chinese society as a whole was cannibalistic, oppressing and devouring those who were least able to fend for themselves.“Perhaps there are still children who have not yet eaten men? “Save the children…”Criticizing the barbarism of his fellow countrymen, the madman simultaneously evokes hope for a more humane future: one in which the lucidity of his “madness” is exposed for the sanity that it truly is.It is an injunction that, one hundred years on, continues to feel .In Xu Zhuodai’s 1923 satirical short story ‘The Vain Lunatic’ (), meanwhile, an arrogant, spoiled schoolgirl is unwilling to confront her unfounded feelings of superiority, and subsequently descends into madness.In all three cases, madness appears less as pathology than as a metaphorical signifier of a stultifying and supercilious tradition.This study of rage restraint in classical antiquity must have been completed before 11 September.In the shadow of that trauma, it has a topicality its author can hardly have expected.In Lu Xun’s writing, the madman is the only character to offer a sober analysis of his family’s deep moral failings – and the only character, moreover, to extend a prescription for redemption.By acting as a foil to the benighted masses, madmen in the literary imagination have often been used to expose the rotten marrow of their political and cultural institutions, particularly in the Republican period (1911-1949) in which Lu Xun was writing.