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Ha Jin's Saboteur is filled with irony upon irony. The title of the work comes from the French word sabot, meaning "shoe." The protagonist, Mr. Chui, walks from restaurant to restaurant (in his shoes) spreading his illness.
Other ironies are the following:
- His honeymoon ends in jail. The police are the guilty perpetrators.
- Mr. Chui has to pretend to be guilty to be set free. He signs the confession though he committed no crime.
- Mr. Chui's lawyer, who tries to help Mr. Chui, ends up in jail and tortured.
- Then, Mr. Chui secretly becomes a saboteur in the end.
The ironies work because they do not seem contrived. Irony is used throughout much political fiction especially in authoritarian regimes. Ha Jin demonstrates the disparity between the authoritative governing body and the brutal reality that exists. Irony does not always have to be humorous as in de Maupassant's works, but it can be a tragic necessity.
The historical background set as the time period after the Chinese Cultural Revolution underlines the irony of the society that existed after such turbulence. Chiu Maguang, the main character, is a well educated “scholar, a philosopher, and an expert in dialectical materialism” who is enraged at the injustice of the police. Despite his effort to fight against the police, he is instead under arrest for two days and forced to signature a sheet of “self-criticism”. Mr. Chiu tries to threaten the chief of what may appear in the newspaper but he simply laughs calling the story “fiction”. Thus, although the Cultural Revolution was over, the society was still not in order; those physically strong and of “athletic build” still had more authority than those who were educated.
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