The basic elements of a good story are character, setting, plot, conflict and resolution. When all of these elements are explored in an interesting and imaginative way, the reader will have a satisfying reading experience. The short story "Saboteur" by Ha Jin is an example of how literary elements can combine to create a fascinating literary moment.
The story centers on Mr. Chiu, a professor traveling with his bride on their honeymoon to the province of Muji. Mr. Chiu, who has recently been ill with hepatitis, is having lunch with his wife while waiting for their train home . Whether accidental or on purpose, two policemen throw tea at the couple's feet. Mr. Chiu is outraged and demands an apology. However, the policemen accuse Mr. Chiu himself of creating the disturbance and arrest him for sabotage.
The characterization here is dramatic because we see a juxtaposition between Mr. Chiu, a member of the intelligentsia, and the arrogant and powerful policemen. Although the story takes place after the Cultural Revolution, and there is an ostensible equality in China, we see that police power still prevails.
The conflict in the story is that Mr. Chiu refuses to sign an affidavit declaring his innocence. As a professor and member of a university community, Mr. Chiu is a man unused to this type of treatment and unfairness. As he says himself, "Don't mistake me for a common citizen who would tremble . . . I'm a scholar, a philosopher, and an expert in dialectical materialism."
The conflict is exacerbated when a young lawyer who comes to help Mr. Chiu is himself tortured. Therefore, Mr. Chiu must capitulate and sign the declaration of guilt in order to free himself and the lawyer. We see that the conflict for Mr. Chiu in having to give up his convictions has been enormous. The narrator tells us,
If he were able to, he would have razed the police station and eliminated all their families. Though he knew he could do nothing like that, he made up his mind to do something.
The resolution to this story, while shocking, is fascinating in its presentation to the reader. The "something" that Mr. Chiu decides to do as revenge for his horrible mistreatment leaves the reader stunned. Mr. Chiu, who we remember had hepatitis, goes to several restaurants upon his release and eats out of several bowls.
The last lines of the story tell us,
Within a month over eight hundred people contracted acute hepatitis in Muji. Six died of the disease, including two children. Nobody knew how the epidemic had started.
Along with the elements that make a good story, there are also other literary components that can make the story richer and more thought-provoking. In the case of "Saboteur," it is irony that makes the story intriguing. If we have done a close reading, we will remember that Mr. Chiu's university paper was entitled "The Nature of Contradictions." In other words, Mr. Chiu himself is a contradiction, in that he does indeed become a saboteur.