"All the world's a stage; all of us are taking the elements of plot, character, and costume and turning into performances of possibilities"(Ward1999: 5)
Raise the Red Lantern tells a compelling and sorrowful story of a young women whose life is destined to be ruined in a male-dominated society. This can be an awakening of some sort to any woman. As Ward states in her text, women learn the rules of our half of the world as well as those of the other half, since we regularly move in and out of the male world. There she defines women's culture. The term has also been used in its anthropological sense to encompass the familial and friendship networks of women, their affective ties, their rituals. It is important to understand that woman's culture is never a subculture. It would hardly be appropriate to define the culture of half of humanity as a subculture. Women live social existence within the general culture. Whenever they are confined by patriarchal restraint or segregation into separateness, they transform this restraint into complementarily and redefine it. Thus, women live a duality- as members of the general culture and as partakers of woman's culture. (Lerner 1986:242) Much like the quote stated, Raise the Red Lantern is set in Northern China in the 1920's. For thousands of years the people of China have formed family life around patrilineal decent. The assessment of traditional China life was patriarchal. A basis of this set up would be from Confucius.
In childhood, Before marriage, Obey your father
In adulthood, During marriage, Obey your husband
In widowhood, After marriage, Obey your son
States in the text, the lowest moment of a woman's life was her wedding day. Cut off from her natal family, the young bride was an outsider and the object of deep suspicion in her new husband's household. The only was to earn a place for herself was to have sons.
Songlian quits college after her father has passed away and becomes Zuoquian Chen's fourth wife. When Songlian, who chooses to walk from her house to Chen's house instead of riding in the wedding carriage, arrives at Chen's house, there is no sign of a celebration, an omen of things to come. Bound by tradition and inflamed with jealousy, none of the three wives come out to greet the new bride. An old housekeeper welcomes and acknowledges the arrival of Songlian, and he guides her to her new room through the house's elaborate structure. To her surprise, in a long walk from the front door to her room, she doesn't see a single person. The lack of human presence couples with the absence of a wedding reception to create an impersonal atmosphere that prevails throughout the film.
Songlian must as Ward mentions in her book, "swallow such customs as breaking and binding little girl's feet." Every evening, a red lantern is lit in front of the courtyard of the wife Chen chooses to sleep with. Contrary to it's traditional symbolism red is anything but festive. There is no love among the wives only hatred. The relationships between Chen and his wives are purely sexual. Rather than helping each other out and raising their status within the family, the wives are constantly fighting among themselves to win favors from Chen. The wives who live in separate houses must compete for the affections and privileges of the master in accordance with his customs. Jealousy abounds between the wives and the scheming keeps the tensions high. Each night a lantern is lit in favor of whom the master will be with. Shortly afterwards all the lanterns of the wife's home and courtyard are also lit and the privileges begin.
In all human cultures most women marry and bear children regardless of what women personally want to do. Ward states, "We live our lives against a backdrop of the social structures, rules and expectations from a particular point in history and with in those cultural framework. Through the four wives they...