What are some symbols in Saboteur?

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Three concepts dominate this starkly matter-of-fact story: deterioration, authority, and human warmth. Deterioration comes early in "Saboteur." We see it in the pigeons roosting on the statue of Chairman Mao. This august symbol of the People's Republic has been infested by a common, urban pest. This is reinforced by description of the smell of rotting melons. In both instances, the positive (the cultural reverence associated with Mao and the sweetness of melons) has been broken down by the ordinary and inevitable hand of time. Chiu's sickness has broken him down as well.

Authority is an ironic element throughout the story. The police act out a corrupt authority over Chiu when they intentionally throw tea on his feet, tossing the dregs of their consumption onto the bottom of his being, and arrest him when he complains about it. His stay at the local jail has him completely under the authority of the petty, brutal police, and though he tries to establish his own authority as a scholar, it is subsumed by the police's intention to punish him for something unknown. The failure of his own authority is symbolized by the arrival of his student, whom the police chain to a tree outside and torture. His actual and symbolic acquiescence in signing an untrue confession shows him giving up authority to the police while exercising an authority over his student. Even if indirect, he can only influence the student by giving in to the police, which allows the student to go free.

A pervasive problem faced by Chiu is one of human warmth, or rather the lack of warmth. The story begins at a small restaurant, a scene of social interaction and human connection. However, Chiu shows no affection for his wife. The narration never names her except to call her "his bride." When the police initiate the conflict with him, he coldly sends his wife away. The jail is clearly a setting of coldness and inhumanity, and ironically, we see Chiu responding to his situation in a cold, calculating manner. No fond memories of his wife and their love for one another or friendships or family offer comfort. And when we see him give in, signing the false confession, he exits the jail and returns to the setting of a restaurant. In fact, he visits several restaurants and eats small amounts of food, bringing his own personal corruption, in literal terms the hepatitis, but in figurative terms the disease on his soul, into the warm social environment of these eating establishments.

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In the short story "Saboteur" by Ha Jin, Mr. Chiu, a lecturer at Harbin University, finds himself arrested for a crime he didn't commit. In this short story, examples of symbolism are prevalent. At the onset of the story, "the air smelled of rotten melon. A few flies kept buzzing above the couple's lunch" (paragraph 3). The rotten melon can symbolize the rottenness of the situation that is about to unfold as well as the rottenness that exists in communism. This device also sets the scene for Mr. Chiu's arrest. The buzzing flies, like the policemen, are waiting for the opportunity to interrupt Mr. Chiu's lunch with his bride.

Fenjin, the recent graduate from the Law Department at Harbin University, becomes a symbol himself, illustrating the powerlessness of the law to intervene in a country where there is no recourse to fight against injustice. Fenjin is literally handcuffed to a tree, just as the law is bound by the shackles of communism. When tyranny exists, a country becomes lawless.

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Some symbols in Saboteur are:

1)The statue of Chairman Mao, the peasants, and the pigeons.

The statue sits in the middle of the square before the Muji Train Station. In the story, peasants nap 'with their backs on the warm granite and with their faces toward the sunny sky' at the foot of the statue. The statue, situated in a prominent place, symbolizes the pervasiveness of communism in every aspect of Chinese society. Nowhere is this illustrated more fully than in Ha Jin's description of Mr. Chiu's experience with the policemen. The police control over the populace is absolute; they may arrest anyone, anywhere in the country, for the flimsiest of excuses. The peasants at the foot of the statue symbolize what the citizens are reduced to under Mao's communist tyranny.

The flock of pigeons perched on the statue's raised hand and forearm symbolizes the dictator's incorporation of peace symbols into his communist rhetoric. Interestingly, after the Communist Chinese Revolution of 1949, Flying Pigeon bicycles were approved for public use as the main mode of transportation. China became known as the kingdom of bicycles, Zixingche Wang Guo. These bicycles were viewed as a symbol of equality, promising 'little comfort but a reliable ride through life' for the average citizen.

2)Mr. Chiu's hepatitis.

Mr. Chiu's creative revenge highlights the corruption average Chinese citizens have to face and the lack of options available to them in the battle against oppression; it is only by stealth (as Mr. Chiu's actions shows) that he can best a tyrannical regime intent on his debasement and submission. In this case, however, Mr. Chiu's revenge also ends up hurting those who may be innocent.

Thus, Mr. Chiu's hepatitis is a symbol of the sickness which pervades China during Mao's tenure. Communism has reduced the country to a weak and ineffective shell propped up through tyrannical measures. Any attempt at relief must only result in further suffering and degradation.

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