In “Black Walls” by Liu Xinwu, the author uses Little Button as an unbiased observer, unhindered by cultural baggage, to provide us with insights. Explain how Little Button is an unbiased observer. Provide two examples.
In Liu Xinwu's story “Black Walls,” ten-year-old Little Button, in his unbiased innocence and lack of cultural presuppositions and judgments, gets straight to the heart of the matter in the neighbors' difficulty with Zhou's black walls. He points out that Zhou is painting his walls and not theirs, and he asks why they are talking about it. It is simply none of their business.
“Out of the mouths of babes oft times come gems.” This old saying is certainly proved true in Liu Xinwu's story “Black Walls” when ten-year-old Little Button, in all his innocent common sense, brings a group of adults up short and provides them with an important insight that not one of them had thought of before.
The story begins one bright Sunday morning in a small courtyard in Peking. Zhou, who is new to the courtyard, is getting ready to paint his room. Only forty-five minutes later, though, Zhou's neighbors have become extremely upset. Why? Because Zhou is painting the interior of his room black! Yes, black! The walls, the ceiling—everything black!
The neighbors gather at the Zhao residence to talk over the problem. They talk, and they talk, and they talk. Zhao himself suggests going to the police. Qian thinks that Zhou needs a doctor. Sun wants someone (but not himself) to go talk to Zhou and try to get him to stop. The conversation goes on and on, with the neighbors becoming more and more upset. What if someone from outside the courtyard notices the black paint? It would reflect on them all! They would all be thought crazy! Even if they weren't, they still have to live with this horrible black paint. It just isn't right. It isn't fair. Yet they can't agree on what to do.
That's when Little Button, Zhao's grandson, steps in. He has far more insight into Zhou than any of the adults, for he has actually taken time to get to know the man. Little Button says, “You don't know him; he's really nice, he's fun to play with.” Zhou once showed Little Button all kinds of colorful cardboard pieces and asked what the boy thought about them. He took the boy's responses seriously and even wrote them down. (Does this suggest why Zhou might be painting his walls black? Perhaps he is preparing a background for a marvelous work of art.) Little Button tells the adults to go see for themselves what Zhou is really like. They have been forming their opinions on their own presuppositions about what people should and shouldn't do without bothering to find out what Zhou is actually doing.
But Little Button doesn't stop there. When the adults don't respond to him, he asks them a pointed question: “Is Uncle Zhou going to come and paint all of our houses when he's finished his?” The adults are stunned. Their answer? No, of course not. None of them think the black paint will extend any further than the interior walls and ceiling of Zhou's own apartment.
Little Button is quick to draw his conclusion:
There's nothing to worry about then. Uncle Zhou is painting his walls, not ours. So why are you all sitting here talking about him?
In his innocence, in his lack of judgment and negative presuppositions, he has gone straight to the heart of the matter. The neighbors will rarely, if ever, see Zhou's black walls! The inside of his apartment has no affect on their lives whatsoever. The color of Zhou's paint is absolutely none of their business.
Yes, it takes a child, someone who is unbiased, someone who is not influenced by layers of presuppositions and cultural judgments, someone who doesn't care about what people think of him, to speak the truth.
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