Critical Evaluation

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

The stories that make up the plot of All Men Are Brothers originated many years before the novel as a whole was composed and probably have some basis in fact. There are many more versions of this novel than of other Chinese novels. This may be the result of the vastness of its scope and characterization, or the suitability of the novel to shorter versions. The translation of the shortest version runs to more than twelve hundred eventful pages. One hundred eight named chieftains form the band at the close of the book. The plot outline given above conveys only a little of the extraordinary bloodthirstiness of these “good fellows,” who slaughter entire households of their enemies, who occasionally indulge in cannibalism, and whose reasons for becoming outlaws are not always noble. The characters, however, are vividly portrayed, the story is always interesting, and all is presented with the greatest realism and vigor. Long attributed to Shi Naian, the novel, many scholars claim, may be the work of Luo Guanzhong or of another author whose identity is unknown.

All Men Are Brothers was translated into English in 1933 by noted author Pearl S. Buck. Buck, the daughter of American missionaries and the wife of a missionary, was familiar with the Chinese people and culture. Buck titled her translation All Men Are Brothers because she thought the literal translation of the title (“water margin novel”) was too remote for the sensibilities of Western readers. Her title comes from the Analects of Confucius and is intended to capture the novel’s human spirit.

Readers may wish to distinguish individual bandits from others by means of the vividness of their characterizations and the uniqueness of their stories, but readers should not expect to keep the identities of the myriad bandits straight, beyond some exceptional personalities and incidents. Perhaps not every leader of the bandit gang is...

(The entire section is 794 words.)