The story contains thirteen fragments from the diary of a man who has lived in confusion for thirty years and suddenly gains spiritual insight from the moon. This lunatic sensitivity leads him to paranoia. Barking dogs, people’s glances, children’s stares, a mother’s cursing words to her son, a brother’s caring, and a doctor’s treatment—all converge, in his mind, into a sinister scheme about eating him. On a sleepless night he reads through a Chinese history with “Virtue and Morality” written on each page but finds the words “eat people” between the lines. Then he discovers his brother’s accomplice in the plan for eating him and realizes that his mother is also collaborating. He even discovers his unwitting involvement in eating his sister’s flesh. The story ends with the madman’s desperate cry: “Save the children.” In addition to revealing the cannibalistic nature of four thousand years of Chinese history and its governing ideology and ethics, “The Diary of a Madman” exposes the ubiquity of such cannibalism and how everyone is an accomplice in the game of eating and being eaten.
Lu Xun uses realistic characterization to compose an intriguing story and symbolic realism to convey his moral concern. In a preface to the story that is fiction cloaked as nonfiction, the author states that he copied out a part of a patient’s diary for the purpose of medical research. Lu Xun’s previous study of medicine and his knowledge, in...
(The entire section is 594 words.)