The effect of society on the outcome of an individual’s goals in Lao She’s “Rickshaw Boy”
In our present society, the role of an individual may seem to have little significance in the grand scheme of things. However, the lifestyle one partakes is important, and it will shape not only oneself, but will also influence many of those around, as well as society influencing the role of the individual. In the novel “Rickshaw Boy” by Lao She, the protagonist, Xiangzi, is representative of an average man in the lower class of early 20th century China; starting out as an honest and likeable rickshaw puller in Beiping, he has a slow and gradual descent throughout the novel into the self-centered and tragic man he is by the end. This is certainly an effect of his own faults, but also an effect of the faults of the society he is placed in. Lao She makes a statement with the character about the wrongness of a society where this is the norm. As we may learn from looking at the place Xiangzi ends up because of his actions, in order to have a successful life, the role of an individual in society must be balanced between individualism and collectivism. Only then can the social order thrive, and one may flourish throughout life.
The lifestyle of a rickshaw puller is a selfish one, with no room for family or friends. The overall life from start to finish is similar among many men, even if the details are different. From the start of the novel, we know that Xiangzi’s life is not going to end up as he plans; the beginning chapter goes through the class system among rickshaw pullers for a reason. Xiangzi’s journey starts off like the high-class men (“young, energetic, and fleet-footed”) and ends up on the lower end of the spectrum. She states that men over forty or younger than twenty generally work only in hopes of “earning enough to pay for that day’s rent and food” and have to rent more beat-up rickshaws, working only to survive day by day. This alone implies that even the best...
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