Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The True Story of Ah Q is concerned with the shortcomings of the Chinese national character and the deplorable state of the 1911 revolution, which toppled the old dynasty and introduced the Republic. Lu Hsun believed that the people in general were unaware, uncritical, and tied to an outmoded past. Their fatalism, backwardness, and rationalization of defeat all hampered China’s ability to compete with the West. Ah Q’s last thought, marking his growing awareness, is that the crowd is like a wolf, its eyes boring into him and hungering for his death. It is an ambiguous symbol, for this same unthinking and lethal crowd (the masses), if awakened, could accomplish great work.

By December, 1921, when The True Story of Ah Q was completed, Lu Hsun had noted the failure of the revolution. In the novel, when the revolutionaries arrive, evidently nothing has changed. Indeed, the revolutionaries ally themselves with the local gentry. Some titles have changed, but the same people are still officials. A revolution has occurred, but the people have been barred from it—even dim-witted Ah Q notices this, and thinks that since a revolution has occurred, it should have involved something more. The uneducated masses did not understand what was taking place, and their awakening was apparently yet to come. Meanwhile, the educated were managing to accommodate themselves and the revolutionaries were engaged in non-revolutionary activity. For Lu Hsun, the...

(The entire section is 516 words.)