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The Old Demon
Transcript of The Old Demon
Pearl S. Buck
By: Anita Panesar and Zipporah van Oldenbarneveld
Point of View
Literary and Rhetorical Devices
Effect on Theme
Summary of the Story
The Old Demon is a short story about a little village in China. A woman named Mrs. Wang is their guardian, trying to protect them from this "evil" river and the possibility of flooding. Meanwhile they are unaware of the threat of Japanese invasion. When the japanese come she behaves heroically by sacrificing herself to save the people of her village.
Sacrifice is the ultimate expression of love.
Mrs. Wang loves her family and her village and her main goal throughout the story is to protect both of them. However, the Japanese army threatens what she loves and she defends them by sacrificing herself and releasing the river. Mrs. Wang’s sacrifice on behalf of her village and family is the ultimate testament of her love for them.
“It was evening and early summer” (1)
“Old Mrs. Wang knew of course there was a war. Everybody had known for a long time that there was a war for a long time” (1) This tells us that the time period this story takes place in has a war going on.
“The Village of the Three Mile Wangs on the flat banks of the Yellow River”(1)
Mood: “She was much more afraid of the river than of the Japanese” (1) This establishes the protagonist’s feelings toward her main fear.
“…they stood staring down at the malicious yellow water, curling along like a lot of snakes, and biting at the high dike banks.” (2) The mood appears to be ominous and foreboding.
Protagonist: Mrs. Wang
Little Piggy, Little Piggy’s wife,
Injured Japanese solider, Chinese soldiers. Mrs. Wang’s nephew (the baker)
Person vs. Person(s)
Mrs. Wang and the Japanese Army
Person vs. Nature
Mrs. Wang and the Yellow River
Inciting Incident/ Rising Action
The beginning of the rising action focuses on how devoted Mrs. Wang was to protecting her village and how much she loved and cared for the villagers and her family.
-Mrs. Wang has spent her whole life maintaining the dike and protecting the village from the Yellow river: “Mrs. Wang had climbed the dike steps, as she did every day, to see how high the river had risen.” (1)
-The villagers looked up to her as a wise elder and a central figure holding the villagers together: “Everybody listened to her since she was the oldest woman in the village and whatever she said settled something.” (2)
-Mrs. Wang loved her family since she enjoyed herself with them: “So Little Pig begin to sing an old song in a high, quavering voice, and old Mrs. Wang listened and forgot the Japanese.” (3)
-She protected her village by maintaining the dike: “Every day she herself walked up and down the length of the dike for which the village was responsible and examined it. The men laughed and said, ‘If anything is wrong with the dikes, Granny will tell us.’”(4)
-In order to stop the Japanese army and save the rest of her village and family, Mrs. Wang decides to release the river: “It was when she was about halfway down that she thought of the water gate. This old river – it had been a curse to them since time began. Why should it not make up a little now for the wickedness it had done?” (12)
-Before she opens the water gate, her thoughts turn to her family: “Well, it would be a pity not to see what sort of a baby Little Pig’s wife would have, but one could not see everything.” (13)
-Mrs. Wang undoes all the pins on the water gate holding the river back: “The rill of water burst into a strong jet. When she wrenched one more pin, the rest would give way themselves. She began pulling on it, and felt it slip a little from its hole.” (13)
-“The pin slipped away suddenly, and the gate burst flat against her and knocked her breath away.” (13)
-In her last moments, the river is finally let free and takes her and the Japanese army along with it. “Then she felt it seize her and life her up to the sky. It was beneath her and around her. It rolled her joyfully hither and thither, and then, holding her close and enfolded, it went rushing against the enemy.” (13)
In her final words, Mrs. Wang feels justified in her decision to sacrifice herself on behalf of her family and village as she yells to the river, “Come on, you old demon!” as it roared toward the Japanese army.
-In the aftermath of the Japanese attack, old Mrs. Wang saved a Japanese soldier she did not know was Japanese and was responsible for attacking her village: “…she heaved him somehow on her back; and, trembling, half carrying, half pulling him, she dragged him to the ruined village.” (7)
“She stared at him. He had black hair and a dark skin like a Chinese and still he did not look like a Chinese. He must be a Southerner, she thought.” (7)
“…she filled it with river water and brought it down again and washed his wound, and she tore off the strips he made from the rolls of bandaging.” (8)
Mrs. Wang retreats to the baker’s shop in order to retrieve some bread. However, when she returns the wounded Japanese soldier is dead and a crowd of soldiers surround him:
“Where did you get this Japanese, Old Mother?” they shouted.
“What Japanese?” she asked, coming from them. (10)
“She felt his [the Japanese soldier’s] wrist bit could discern no pulse.” (11)
Mrs. Wang is surprised to discover the soldier she was helping was Japanese: “Is he a Japanese?” she cried in the greatest astonishment. “But he looks like us-his eyes are black, his skin –“
“Japanese!” one of them shouted at her. (10)
The soldiers Mrs. Wang that her brother in the neighbouring village of Pao An was killed by Japanese: “So he was dead, that one brother she had left! She was now the last of her father’s family.” (10)
Despite knowing that the man was Japanese, Mrs. Wang saves him from being stabbed by one of the other soldiers: “…old Mrs. Wang pushed his arm away. “No, you won’t,” she said with authority. “If he is dead,
then there is no use in sending him into purgatory all in pieces.” (11)
After the soldiers leave, she decides to travel to a neighbouring village in order to be united with her family: “…beyond them the blur of the next village, which stood on a long rise of ground. She had better set out for that village. Doubtless Little Pig and his wife were waiting for her.” (12)
-Before she can act on this, old Mrs. Wang sees an army of Japanese approaching from the eastern horizon: “But, as she started at it, very quickly it became a lot of black dots and shining spots. Then she saw what it was. It was a lot of men – an army. Instantly she knew what army. That’s the Japanese, she thought.” (12)
The middle part of the rising action deals with the lengths Mrs. Wang will go to in order to protect her family and the village against the Japanese.
At first, Mrs. Wang does not believe in the Japanese: “I don’t believe in the Japanese,” she said flatly. (2)
-“She was much more afraid of the river than of the Japanese.” (1)
However, this soon changes once Japanese soldiers begin attacking her village: “So she was not in the least prepared for Little Pig’s wife screaming at her that the Japanese had come.” (5)
-The Japanese attack on her village had destroyed it: “…the village was in ruins and the straw roofs and wooden beams were blazing.” (5)
-In spite of such chaos, Mrs. Wang refuses to leave her village and stays since she knows that she is old and slow and will only delay the others in escaping: “When Little Pig’s wife seized her hand to drag her along, old Mrs. Wang pulled away and say down against the bank of the dike.” (5)
-In the fact of death, Mrs. Wang still puts the needs of her family before her own. She implores Little Pig’s wife to leave her and save herself: “And when the girl still hesitated, she struck at her gently with her pipe. ‘Go on - go on,” she exclaimed.” (5)
The narrative spans the length of two days.
“It was evening and early summer, and after her supper.” (1)
“‘The moon is coming up!’ he [Little Pig] cried.” (4)
“Behind her the villagers came down, one by one, to bed.” (4)
“…she [Mrs. Wang] fell peacefully asleep.” (4)
“They had all run out at that, into the clear early dawn…” (5)
“The sun came up over the field of ripening wheat, and in the clear summery air…” (6)
This describes the village of which the story takes place: “The village of the Three Mile Wangs on the flat banks of the Yellow River, which was old Mrs. Wang’s clan village.” (1)
-“Mrs. Wang had climbed the dike steps, as she did every day, to see how high the river had risen.” (1)
-“Year in and year out she had spent the summer evenings like this on the dike. The first time she was seventeen and a bride…” (3)
-The weather conditions are described: “The evening was beautiful, the sky so clear and still that the willows overhanging the dike were reflected even in the muddy water.” (3)
-In terms of class structures, old Mrs. Wang is viewed as the patriarch and main mother figure in the village: ““Everybody listened to her since she was the oldest woman in the village and whatever she said settled something.” (2)
-In terms of gender roles, the beauty of a Chinese women seems to be based on the size of their feet. In the story, when Mrs. Wang was a bride, her feet are described as being a “trifle big.” (3)
-Moreover, female characters seemed to be viewed as secondary, especially since the wife of Little Pig is only referred to as “Little Pig’s wife.” (4)
-In terms of race relations, the people of the village seem quite close-minded and unwelcoming in their attitudes toward the Japanese: “I once saw a foreigner. He was taller than the eaves of my house and he had mud-coloured hair and eyes the colour of a fish’s eyes. Anyone who does not look like us – that is a Japanese.” (2)
Literary and Rhetorical Devices and Narrative Techniques
Point of View
The story is being told in third person omniscient. This type of storytelling is used when the narrator knows the thoughts and or feelings/ emotions of the characters. Also the story follows the main character's perspective usually.
Water can represent rebirth, life or even death.
In the story's context the river is a paradox since it contradicts itself. Water symbolizes life and rebirth since it was a resource for watering crops, however, it also represented death since it took the lives of villagers as a result of floods.
Her name demonstrates the idea that she is a simple and conventional old Chinese woman since the name Wang is recognized as a traditional surname for the Mandarin people. Therefore, it shows that she is a part of a recognized cast. As a result, this justifies stereotypical expectations of the character.
Actions: indirect characterization
“She had climbed on the roof with the child and had saved herself and it while he was drowned.” (2); Determined; Mrs. Wang was a survivor since she did what was necessary to stay alive.
“And when the girl still hesitated, she struck at her gently with her pipe. “Go on — go on,” she
exclaimed.” (3); Selfless; she put the needs of others before herself.
Character’s physical appearance (indirect characterization)
“I can’t run,” she remarked. “I haven’t run in seventy years, since before my feet were bound. You go on.” (3); Frail, meek and physically weak.
“So, leaning on her bamboo pipe, she made her way slowly across the fields.” (3); Fragile and weak; she needed a bamboo pipe for support since she had difficutly walking.
What the character says: (indirect characterization)
““Fool!” Mrs. Wang said quickly. “The river god will hear you. Talk about something else.”(1); she respected the river as a person that could be dangerous when provoked.
“You’ll know them. I once saw a foreigner. He was taller than the eaves of my house and he had mud-coloured hair and eyes the colour of a fish’s eyes. Anyone who does not look like us — that is a Japanese.” (1-2); Close-minded; she believed things must be a certain way due to her presumptions/judgements.
“Once she would have said positively, “I shall not believe in an airplane until I see it.” But so many things had been true which she had not believed” (2); Realist; Mrs. Wang only took things at face value and did not believe something until it was proven before her eyes.
“Little Pig was already gone. “Like his grandfather,” she remarked, “always the first to run.” (3); Resentful; since she was reminded of her husband's neglect that resulted in his premature death.
““It’s hard to kill an old thing like me,” she remarked cheerfully to no one,” (4); boastful, she thought of herself as strong
““Come on, you old demon!” (5); Bold, tough and brash; she wanted to challenge the river.
Other characters’ reactions to the character (indirect characterization)
“Everybody listened to her since she was the oldest woman in the village and whatever she said settled something.” (2); Mrs. Wang was respected since the villagers listened to her.
“She descended slowly the earthen steps which led down into the village, using her long pipe in the other hand as a walking stick. Behind her the villagers came down, one by one, to bed. No one moved before she did, but none stayed long after her.” (2) ; A natural and wise leader; since people followed her lead and trusted her judgement.
This character’s private thoughts (indirect characterization)
“She was much more afraid of the river than of the Japanese. She knew what the river would do.” (1); she was afraid of the threat that faced her village.
“She had lain awake a little while thinking about the Japanese and wondering why they wanted to fight.... If they came one must wheedle them, she thought, invite them to drink tea, and explain to them, reasonably — only why should they come to a peaceful farming village...?” (2); Peaceful; believes in compromise; she prefers to solve conflicts by words and negotiation rather than physical violence.
“But she did not go, She sat quite alone watching now what was an extraordinary spectacle.” (3); curious, she has an inquisitive mind since she was interested in what was unknown to her.
"Her house was quite gone. She found the place easily enough. This was where it should be, opposite the water gate into the dike. She had always watched that gate her self.
Miraculously it was not injured now, nor was the dike broken. It would be easy enough to rebuild the house. Only, for the present, it was gone." (3); Optimistic; she believed in a brighter future in which she could rebuild her home.
“Yes, I suppose I must,” old Mrs. Wang agreed. She gazed at the river a moment. That river — it was full of good and evil together. It would water the fields when it was curbed and checked, but then if an inch were allowed it, it crashed through like a roaring dragon.” (2); uncontrollable, it ranged from helping the village people to destroying their lives.
““It’s worse than the Japanese, this old devil of a river,” Little Pig said recklessly.” (1); Ruthless, feared by all villagers because of its wrath.
““Fool!” Mrs. Wang said quickly. “The river god will hear you. Talk about something else.”(1); feared, the villagers were superstitious of the river's destructive power.
““You old demon!” she said severely. Let the river god hear it if he liked. He was evil, that he was — so to threaten flood when there had been all this other trouble.” (5); the river for the most part was sinister; the constant worry of the river left the villagers vulnerable to other threats like the Japanese.
“This old river — it had been a curse to them since time began. Why should it not make up a little now for all the wickedness it had done? It was plotting wickedness again, trying to steal over its banks. Well, why not?” (5); Terrorizing; the river was always a constant reminder to the villagers to what they had lost due to its destructive potential.
This short story can teach us many lessons. The main theme in this short story is
sacrifice is the ultimate expression of love.
Mrs.Wang spent her whole life caring for her village and in the end she gave her life to save the lives of others. The village was like her family and, therefore, felt justified in her sacrifice. The empathy that Mrs. Wang displayed effected the reader experience the story from her perspective. In the end, she felt as though her life was made meaningful since it was used to save the people she loved.
This story can teach us the value of love through the theme of "sacrifice is the ultimate expression of love." Mrs. Wang's sacrifice for her family and village teaches us to value the precious moments we have with our loved ones. For instance, one must appreciate the little things in life and avoid taking our loved ones for granted.
Mrs. Wang vs. The River
Similes and Metaphors
emphasizing aspects of violence, love/relationships and destruction. In the face of such adversity, Mrs. Wang demonstrated bravery and self-sacrifice for the greater good of her family and village.
-“...like wild geese flying in autumn, were great birdlike shapes.”(5) The airplanes of the Japanese are being compared to wild geese.
-“It [the river] would water the fields when it was restrained and checked. But if an inch were allowed it, it crashed through the dike like a roaring dragon.” (4) The force of the river is compared to that of a roaring dragon.
-“…the men roared at her and made jokes about her. A pretty piece of meat in your bowl...” (3) In Mrs. Wang’s flashback, she is described as being a pretty piece of meat in her husband’s bowl. In other words, a pretty woman that he has married.
-“Feet a trifle big,” he had answered deprecatingly.” (3)
-The river is a major element of irony because it is a force of nature that has always threatened to destroy her and everything she loves, however, it is used to save her family and village.
-Old Mrs. Wang manages to save help and prevent one Japanese soldier from getting stabbed, but ultimately ends up killing an entire army.
-Mrs. Wang ends up meeting the same fate as her husband, by drowning in the Yellow River
The overall tone of the story is ominous and foreboding and it is supported through physical objects found throughout the story.
-“…now they stood staring at the malicious yellow water, curling along like a lot of snakes, and biting at the high dike banks.” (2)
The river is one of the most central manifestations of the ominous and foreboding mood created by the story. It seems to be a great destructive force that perpetually threatens the characters.
-“Little Pig had suddenly stopped singing. ‘The moon is coming up!’ he cried. “That’s not good. Airplanes come out on moonlight nights.” (4)
The presence of the moon contributes to an overall ominous sense. He seems to act as a premonition of the Japanese and the destruction that is to come.
Images of self-sacrifice, despair and desolation.
-“Then she felt it seize her and life her up to the sky. It was beneath her and around her. It rolled her joyfully hither and thither, and then, holding her close and enfolded, it went rushing against the enemy.” (13)
The author uses descriptive language to appeal to the reader’s sense of touch as Mrs. Wang decides to sacrifice herself to protect her village and family.
-“…the village was in ruins and the straw roofs and wooden beams were blazing.” (5).
This excerpt appeals to the reader’s sense of sight and smell. Mrs. Wang fails to protect the physical aspect of her village, but manages to aid in saving some of the villagers and her family by not slowing them down and escaping along with them.
-“…one of them pointed suddenly downward, and, wheeling and twisting as though it were wounded ,it feel head down in a field which Little Pig had ploughed only yesterday for soybeans. And in an instant the sky was empty again.” (6) This appeals to the reader’s sense of sight and provokes feelings of desolation due to the destruction of the village.
Thanks For Listening