Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress Summary and Analysis of Part III, Chapters 4-7


Chapter 4 - "The Old Miller's Story"

Chapters 4-6 are interludes narrated by other characters.

Chapter 4 is narrated by the elderly miller. He tells the narrator about passing a waterfall on his way to cut firewood, and seeing Luo and the Seamstress making love in the pool. He notes that many ravens were there, and then describes how the Seamstress later climbed on the rocks while Luo relaxed by the water. He promises never to denounce them to the Security Office, although others probably would.

Chapter 5 - "Luo's Story"

Chapter 5 is narrated by Luo. He describes teaching the Little Seamstress to swim, and her affection for diving from the high rocks.

One day, he accidentally dropped his key ring (from his parent's home in the city) into the pool, and the Seamstress immediately dove down to fetch it. After that day, they made a game of it. Luo enjoyed it because the keys inspired hope of leaving the mountain. Unfortunately, the day came when the Little Seamstress could not find the keys.

The same evening that they lose the keys, a telegram arrives, informing Luo that his mother is in the hospital. The village headman gives him a month to visit her.

Chapter 6 - "The Little Seamstress's Story"

Chapter 6 is narrated by the Little Seamstress. She speaks lovingly of her time with Luo at the waterfall, and describes how they once acted out a romantic scene from The Count of Monte Cristo. She then discusses the day that they lost Luo's key ring. As she dove for them, she saw a snake in the water and then surfaced from fear. She eventually regained her courage and located the keys, but the snake bit her hand before she could grab them, so she left them at the lake's bottom.

Chapter 7

The primary narrator resumes his control in Chapter 7.

Before he leaves the mountain, Luo asks the narrator to spend time with the Seamstress to ward off her other potential suitors. Flattered, the narrator readily agrees.

He visits the Seamstress frequently, and reads to her as she sews. Unlike Luo, the narrator likes to add embellishments as he reads. In addition to reading for her, the narrator also helps the tailor with chores, polishes the Seamstress’s nails, and even occasionally washes her clothing. All the while, he must balance his own attraction to her by reminding himself that he is protecting her for Luo.

One day, the village boys (potential suitors) corner the narrator, and berate him for washing the Seamstress’s laundry. He punches one of them, but is quickly tackled and beaten by the others. However, the beating stops when a Balzac novel falls from his bag. The boys are shocked, and study Balzac's picture, debating whether it is of Marx, Lenin, or Stalin. The narrator takes advantage of the confusion to grab the book and flee.

That night, the narrator has a nightmare about the suitors cutting his ear off. It turns into an erotic dream when the Seamstress rescues him. The narrator wakes up and masturbates.


This section offers a major stylistic departure from the rest of the novel, in that three of the chapters in this section are narrated by different characters.

Each character has a unique narrative style. The miller frequently refers to his own feelings when he describes spying on Luo and the Seamstress. Everything he relates is in the context of his own experiences, and his style is lewd and straightforward, consistent with the way the narrator previously described him. Like the miller's, the Seamstress’s narrative style reveals her relative lack of education. Her style is very conversational, and includes less sophisticated vocabulary than the sections narrated by the narrator and Luo. She also uses cliché expressions, such as “that’s all there is to it,” expressions that the narrator or Luo would be less likely to use.

Unsurprisingly, Luo’s narrative style is the most similar to the narrator's. Like the narrator, he has a broad vocabulary and concisely relates information. However, the subtle differences between his narration style and the narrator's reinforce what we know about Luo. Unlike the primary narrator, Luo relates information with relatively little reflection on what events mean. With the exception of his observation that it is “ironic that I shall be returning to my parents’ house without my keys,” he rarely includes much commentary on the events he describes (142). This reinforces the portrayal of Luo as action-oriented, rather than pensive.

Dai’s experimentation with structure in this section is not only a stylistic conceit – it also ties into the novel’s themes. The headings of each chapter emphasize that these interludes are ‘stories,’ and they indeed reinforce the novel’s assertion that story-telling itself can be an art, even if the story is not original. These chapters feature an element of self-reflexivity: the characters are telling their own stories, and their voices are just as engaging as those Luo and the narrator use to entertain the villagers, provided one takes the time to listen and appreciate them.

And of course, it is worth considering the stylistic departure in terms of the first-person narration. The narrator has chosen to shift focus, perhaps suggesting the need to relate events outside of his own perspective, or perhaps to emphasize the way he has continued to define himself by the others around him. The narrator does become more active in the proceeding chapters, as he begins to acknowledge the depth of his feelings with the Little Seamstress. One can arguably understand this shift as indicating the narrator's movement from viewing the world through others to viewing the world through his own feelings. Certainly, the fact that the elderly miller chooses to emphasize the ravens suggests that the narrator might have more control over these voices than he admits. Considering that the narrator has imbued the ravens with such import, it is strange that another character would describe the setting in terms of them.

Though Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress is a gentle, comic coming-of-age story, it is also frequently tinged with violence, and Dai highlights the novel’s darker side in this section. Violence has gradually become a more immediate threat over the course of the novel. The narrator's earlier fight with Four-Eyes is not portrayed in detail, and Dai plays it for laughs by having Four-Eyes lie to his mother about it. However, when the headman threatens the narrator with torture, violence becomes a legitimately frightening potential outcome. Dai’s depiction of violence culminates in this section when the narrator is actually attacked by a crowd of angry yokels because of his attempts to protect the Seamstress from male attention.

In keeping with the darker tone of this section of the novel, the narrator ‘betrays’ Luo by having erotic fantasies about the Seamstress. It is debatable whether this actually constitutes a betrayal; after all, the narrator takes a beating in his efforts to guard the Seamstress for Luo. Despite his increasing attraction to the Seamstress, the narrator never actually considers pursuing her. When he later learns about her pregnancy, his ideal situation is one in which Luo and the Seamstress live alone in the forest with the narrator as Luo’s “Man Friday” (160). This suggests that despite his love for the Seamstress, the narrator is actually a faithful friend, equally loyal to his friend as he is to his love.