In literature, imagery is a literary device that appeals to the audience’s senses. In the short story “Saboteur”, Ha Jin primarily uses food imagery to convey a message about Mr. Chiu, the saboteur. The story opens with a scene in which Mr. Chiu is having a lunch of...
In literature, imagery is a literary device that appeals to the audience’s senses. In the short story “Saboteur”, Ha Jin primarily uses food imagery to convey a message about Mr. Chiu, the saboteur. The story opens with a scene in which Mr. Chiu is having a lunch of “rice and sautéed cucumbers with pork” with his young bride at a restaurant on a busy square before Muji Train Station. Mr. Chiu orders his wife to begin her meal while he breaks “the connected ends of the chopsticks.” This imagery of the breaking chopsticks calls attention to the strained relationship between him and his wife and their imminent separation. Similarly, the first two sentences of the third paragraph suggest that something is amiss between Mr. Chiu and his wife:
The air smelled of rotten melon. A few flies kept buzzing above the couple’s lunch.
As the story continues, the reader learns that this imagery of decay (smell of rotten melons, buzzing flies) not only signifies the couple’s relationship but also Mr. Chiu himself. After an argument with two police officers sitting at a nearby table, Mr. Chiu is arrested and accused of being a saboteur. He is held at a prison, and while he is upset about being held captive and unjustly accused, one of the first things he notices is the sound of “a cleaver chopping rhythmically somewhere in the building.” By this time, it has become clear that Mr. Chiu is associated with imagery of food and gluttony, and it is suggested in the end that Mr. Chiu would rather sign a false confession to get released and be able to eat than stand up against political injustice. He hence sabotages himself—and by extension, society—by satisfying his physical needs rather than standing up for what is right.