Style and Technique
Readers familiar with the literary tradition will see parallels between this story and the work of European writer Franz Kafka, especially Der Prozess (1925; The Trial, 1937), a novel in which a man is arrested and tried for a crime he did not commit. In Ha Jin’s story, as in Kafka’s work, the power of the state to deal summarily with its citizens is revealed as arbitrary and frightening. In “Saboteur,” the individual who has been wronged is able to achieve some measure of revenge. In doing so, however, he merely stoops to the level of those who have perpetrated injustice on him; there is no sense that retribution is justified.
The central literary device used in “Saboteur” is irony. Readers sense from the beginning that actions and consequences are disconnected and arbitrary. The arrest of Chiu is ironic, because he has committed no crime. The willingness of the citizens of Muji to come forward to give testimony against a visitor to their city is ironic because they do not know him. The arrest and torture of Fenjin is ironic because he had come to Muji as Chiu’s savior. Chiu’s intent to infect the citizens of Muji with hepatitis is ironic because by doing so he has become like his captors, a person who inflicts punishment on the innocent simply because he can.
Ha Jin is particularly effective in conveying this irony because he uses a controlled, understated style of writing that relies on simple sentences to...
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