The Diary of a Madman by Lu Xun Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The story contains thirteen fragments from the diary of a man who has lived in confusion for thirty years and suddenly gains spiritual insight from the moon. This lunatic sensitivity leads him to paranoia. Barking dogs, people’s glances, children’s stares, a mother’s cursing words to her son, a brother’s caring, and a doctor’s treatment—all converge, in his mind, into a sinister scheme about eating him. On a sleepless night he reads through a Chinese history with “Virtue and Morality” written on each page but finds the words “eat people” between the lines. Then he discovers his brother’s accomplice in the plan for eating him and realizes that his mother is also collaborating. He even discovers his unwitting involvement in eating his sister’s flesh. The story ends with the madman’s desperate cry: “Save the children.” In addition to revealing the cannibalistic nature of four thousand years of Chinese history and its governing ideology and ethics, “The Diary of a Madman” exposes the ubiquity of such cannibalism and how everyone is an accomplice in the game of eating and being eaten.

Lu Xun uses realistic characterization to compose an intriguing story and symbolic realism to convey his moral concern. In a preface to the story that is fiction cloaked as nonfiction, the author states that he copied out a part of a patient’s diary for the purpose of medical research. Lu Xun’s previous study of medicine and his knowledge, in...

(The entire section is 594 words.)

The Diary of a Madman Bibliography (Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Chen, Pearl Hsia. The Social Thought of Lu Hsun, 1881-1936: A Mirror of the Intellectual Current of Modern China. New York: Vantage Press, 1976.

Farquhar, Mary Ann. Children’s Literature in China: From Lu Xun to Mao Zedong. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1999.

Foster, Paul B. Ah Q Archaeology: Lu Xun, Ah Q, Ah Q Progeny, and the National Character Discourse in Twentieth Century China. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2006.

Hung, Sung-k’ang. Lu Hsun and the New Culture Movement of Modern China. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, 1975.

Lee, Leo Ou-fan. Voices from the Iron House: A Study of Lu Xun. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987.

Lee, Leo Ou-fan, ed. Lu Xun and His Legacy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985.

Lyell, William A. Lu Hsun’s Vision of Reality. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976.

Pollard, David E. The True Story of Lu Xun. Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2002.

Semanov, V. I. Lu Hsun and His Predecessors. Translated and edited by Charles J. Albe. Armonk, N.Y.: M. E. Sharpe, 1980.

Wang, Shih-ching. Lu Xun, A Biography. Translated by Zhang Peiji, edited by Bonnie S. McDougall and Tang Bowen. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1984.

Weiss, Ruth F. Lu Xun: A Chinese Writer for All Times. Beijing: New World Press, 1985.

Zhang, Zhaoyui. Lu Xun: The Chinese “Gentle” Nietzsche. New York: Peter Lang, 2001.