Humanitarian / Literature Essay

Irony in "Saboteur" by Ha Jin

“Saboteur” is a short story written by Xuefei Jin. Jin goes by the pen name, “Ha Jin” and was born in Liaoning, China on the 21st of February, 1956. Ha is an award-winning Chinese-American literary writer of the 50s from Harbin, a sub-provincial city in China.

“Saboteur” is one of his many short stories and it was first published in 1996 in “The Antioch Review”. Later in 1997, It was also republished in one of the editions of the short story anthology series, “The Best American Short Stories”. Again in 2000, Saboteur was also republished along with some other short stories in the collection “The Bridegroom”.

Like many of his stories and novels, Saboteur is set in China, in the imaginary Muji City. The setting of the short story was also around the time that the Cultural Revolution had happened. “Saboteur” is an ironic story that tells of a communist man and the activities of his communist state against him. Despite being a staunch communist, Mr. Chiu is not exempted from the inequality and injustices that the communist administration of Muji City seems to practice.

The story revolves around Mr. Chiu, a newly married man who decides to go 300 miles from his home in Harbin to Muji City for his honeymoon. Saboteur starts in a place very close to the Muji Train Station, where Mr. Chiu was having a quiet lunch with his wife. At this time, Mr. Chiu's two-week honeymoon with his lovely bride was just about to come to an end.

While Mr. Chiu discusses his concerns about a possible relapse on deadly hepatitis, he suffered three months before and his fear with his wife, a police officer on the street violently throws tea at them as they were eating, forcing Chiu to confront and challenge the policeman for wetting their feet.

An argument ensues and Mr. Chiu was arrested unjustly by the policeman. While he was being whisked away, he tells his wife, whose name we do not know, to catch their return train back to Harbin and not forget to send someone who would come for him when he doesn't return home the next day.

Eventually, Mr. Chiu is also charged with sabotage. Afterward, the police chief instructs his subsidiaries to severely punish Chiu simply because he's a member of the Communist Party. Despite the strong oppression he suffers in the hands of the police, Chiu still retains his claim that he's innocent and refuses to plead guilty to the charge against him.

For fear that his hepatitis may have returned after he was thrown in prison, he asks a guard to help him with the medical attention he needs. He also told them that if anything goes wrong with him, they'll be chiefly responsible. Nevertheless, they ignore him and his warnings.

Mr. Chiu later discovers that he doesn't actually miss his wife that much. He also vows to expose the corruption in the force by writing about the hard experiences he faced while in jail.

Despite all his protests, Mr. Chiu was kept in jail for the whole weekend. Eventually, in the early hours of Monday, he notices that his lawyer, Fenjin, was tied to a tree behind the jail. Fenjin was sent to rescue him by his wife, but instead, he was also seriously punished for calling abusing the chief police.

To get himself and his rescuer released, Chiu had to sign a statement in which acknowledges the charge against him and swears never to do it again.

After their release, Chiu and Fenjin decide to eat at different restaurants close to the station where he was held. At each restaurant, they eat two bowls at a time with Mr. Chiu wishing he could smite all the police officers that punished him unjustly.

The story ends on an unexpected and ironic note; “Within a month over eight hundred people contracted acute hepatitis in Muji. Six died of the disease, including two children. Nobody knew how the epidemic had started (Jin Ha, 1996; 1997; 2000).”

Analysis of the irony in “Saboteur”

At the beginning of the story, the reader was first introduced to a lawfully abiding citizen who is only in the City of Muji to enjoy his honeymoon with his lovely wife. However, we saw a decline in the character of Mr. Chiu, starting from his unfortunate confrontation with the policeman who pours tea on him and his wife, towards the end of the story, where Chiu eventually agrees to sign and acknowledge the said “sabotage” he was accused of.

The so-called communist state, where everyone is said to be equal, becomes a totalitarian one molding good men into criminals. According to Sexton (2018), the reader is able to know immediately they start the story that Mr. Chiu is a Mr. Chiu is “a true believer in Maoist communism”. Chiu was a true communist in the sense that he was law-abiding, educated, hardworking, intelligent and a loyalist to the Communist party he was a member of. However, we see an ironic decline in his loyalty and respect for his communist ideals when he eventually accepts his “crime” and also wishes other people bad.

Another instance of irony is the point at which Chiu realizes that he doesn't miss his wife as he ought to. A newly married man or woman is always eager to get to be with their partner no matter the cost. However, for Mr. Chiu, the opposite is the case (Kennedy & Gioia, 2007).

The upholders of the Communist ideals are indeed the ones shattering the foundation of an individual's strong belief. The police force forms the chief initiator of Chiu's resistance and backsliding. Fenjin who is also supposed to be a liberator becomes the oppressed when he attempts to rescue the protagonist of this short story. He's also severely punished and a part of Chiu's unexpected transformation (eNotes EditorialIrony in , 2013).

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