347 Cross Cultural Contemporary Literature
Optimism in ‘The Cattle Shed’
Imagine this: you are confined in a small room as a prisoner, forced to be a laborer because of the political preference Communism, and the love of your life is locked up in his own ‘cattle shed’. How is a person supposed to stay optimistic in these horrible living conditions? In Ding Ling’s “Sketches from the ‘Cattle Shed’”, the narrator who is placed in solitary confinement due to being a Communist struggles through her everyday life to survive. Most people would be sullen, defeated and angry, but Ling’s narrator embraces glimmers of hope through her lover’s, C., secret letters. C. is a very important character supporting Ling’s, his letters in the form of poems are inspiring, hopeful and powerful. They relieve the stress of confinement for only a moment, but the lasting effects change her outlook at the end of the story. Optimism at a time like this is crucial for the narrator and support from her lover is exactly what she needs, C. chooses his words carefully and subtly eases his lover’s tension. This is shown when the beginning and ending lines of the short story are compared and analyzed.
The beginning of the short story starts off as a very vivid description of the prison she is in, Ling uses words like, ‘shrill whistle shrieking’, ‘ear piercing sound’, ‘darkness’, and ‘naked electric light bulb’ (142). Ling sets the tone of the story right from the beginning, using this depressing language to enhance the miserable atmosphere she has been placed in. There is hopelessness in the language used at the initial setting described by Ling. Because of the weighted controversy, the reader expects the narrator to continue with her feelings of hopelessness and defeat. However, when the letters by C. are introduced, they fill the narrator with feelings of optimism and inner strength.
The letters by C. are very political and poetic. He is acting as...
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