Eileen Chang was a modern Chinese writer, whose novels and short stories became loved and popular in the whole world. Her stories “Sealed Off” and “Love in a Fallen City” tell about love and tension between a man and woman and reveal inner struggles of the protagonists. While reading these short stories, one can notice many similarities in the author’s writing style. Both pieces of writing are very detailed in the descriptions of the character’s surroundings, and these details help the readers better penetrate into the fictional worlds of narrations. Although “Sealed Off” and “Love in a Fallen City” have opposite endings, their hidden message and general mood are similar.
“Sealed Off” is a story about failed relationships and arranged marriages. The mood of the narrative is melancholic and, sometimes, encouraging. Chang uses many repetitive words and structures to emphasize the importance of her words and create the effect of reality. For instance, at the beginning of the story, she writes, “stretch, then shrink, stretch, then shrink”. Thus, the readers can hear the sound of the tramcar and deeply feel the atmosphere of a journey. The beginning of the story is incomprehensible because the author describes the sealed off city in the tiniest details, and the readers meet the male protagonist only in the seventh paragraph. Such long introduction may seem tiresome for some readers; however, it is the peculiarity of Chang’s writing style, and this peculiarity makes her short stories rich and insightful. On the contrast, the beginning of “Love in a Fallen City” is less descriptive, and the author does not repeat the words. Nevertheless, the actions of the characters and their thoughts are described precisely so that the readers can imagine everything in details. The mood of “Love in a Fallen City” is also melancholic and pessimistic because the readers feel tension in the relationships between the members of the female protagonist family. Thus, from the beginning, both stories create an effect of a heavy daily routine and constant burden the characters have to carry.
Chang uses the third person narration to give the readers a possibility to invent the feelings and emotions of the protagonists and imagine some events from different perspectives. In “Love in a Fallen City,” the characters seem to have no names since they call each other by numbers: “Third Master,” “Fourth Master,” “Sixth Sister”. However, while reading further, one can notice that only the members of one family call each other by numbers; the other characters have real names. Even the protagonist, the Sixth Sister, has got the name when she moves from her family. Such style is peculiar to the afore-mentioned story while in “Sealed Off,” almost every character has its name. Nevertheless, the difference is that in “Sealed Off,” there are no family members in a tram. However, this peculiarity is not as important as realism and directedness of the narrations.
Chang’s short stories are quite realistic due to detailed descriptions of the cities, the environment, and the characters’ actions and thoughts. However, when “Love in a Fallen City” is direct, focusing on the fate of Liusu, “Sealed Off” is rather indirect because it depicts the lives and desires of several people. It is difficult to understand whether the story is about Zhongzhen or Cuiyuan because both protagonists are shown equally. Only in the end, the readers can suggest that “Sealed Off” is a story about a woman and her unfulfilled desires and “unreasonable dream”. The story must be read for several times to comprehend its meaning and hidden message.
In both stories, the messages are rather implicit than explicit. In “Sealed Off,” the readers can assume that the hidden message of the story is an appeal to all women to stop hiding their feelings and desires. The author calls them to be more free and liberated and not afraid of revealing their intentions. In “Love in a Fallen City,” a hidden message is similar since it is related to women as well. Chang wants to show that women have the right to love and be loved in any age and conditions. Moreover, it is important to express one’s feeling and be not afraid of opening one’s heart to love. Another significant meaning of both stories is a transition from old traditional views of Chinese people to modern ones. In both narrations, one of the protagonists was unhappy in marriage. In “Love in a Fallen City,” Liusu ventured to divorce while in “Sealed Off,” Zhongzhen had no courage to break the rule and leave his wife. Nevertheless, he pretended to imagine that he would have another wife, and his dream ended with failure. The female characters of the stories showed their disobedience and desire to resist their parents, thus, being those who transit from old traditions to new ones. In the case with Liusu, everything ended happily for her. However, for Cuiyuan, the outcome was dramatic because her love was only her dream. Thus, both stories are focused on the relationships between men and women and women’s hidden desires and unfulfilled dreams.
In both readings, the main conflict is parents-children relationships. In China, people value traditions and try to preserve them. Therefore, the best choice of a spouse for a man or woman is made by his/her parents. Chang wanted to show that, sometimes, such tradition does not work well, and first of all, two people should have some feelings to each other. If the parents marry them because it is profitable for the family, such marriage will not last long, or it will be unhappy. People become the victims of such relationships and think of the ways to get rid of it. Liusu divorced, and Zhongzhen dreamed of another woman. In addition, the author represented another conflict – a conflict between women’s hidden desires. On the one hand, both female protagonists longed for their men and wanted them both physically and mentally. However, only one of them managed to suppress her fear and open her heart to her beloved man. Thus, the inner conflict is an essential subtheme of both stories.
After reading the stories “Sealed Off” and “Love in a Fallen City” by Eileen Chang, one can conclude that the author wanted to show the tension of hidden emotions and close relationships between men and women, parents and children. In a melancholic mood and changing tone, the author conveys her messages to the readers. Her writing style has some differences in two stories; however, these differences are minor and they depend on the plot. The general manner and style of writing are the same. The narrations are full of descriptions and details, and these details make the readers feel the atmosphere of the stories deeper. Descriptive language makes the works realistic. However, “Sealed Off” is indirect while “Love in a Fallen City” is direct. In spite of this, both pieces of writing have hidden messages about love, freedom, and the ability to express one’s emotions. To sum up, Eileen Chang represents two fascinating plots about women who have to make their choices. While one woman succeeds and makes the right choice, the other is left with her broken dream.