Dreams of Joy

15 02 2012

Just finished reading Dreams of Joy by Lisa See. It’s actually a sequel to her Shanghai Girls, which I read a couple of years ago and liked very much. Shanghai Girls had been a story about two sisters Pearl and May, set in the 1930s to 1950s. They both are well-educated, lived a stylish life in Shanghai  and used to sit for ZG’s paintings. Pearl loves Z.G. and believes that he too cares about her but is devastated when informed by May in an awkward confrontation after twenty years that it is she whom he loved and that they had been lovers back then (before marrying rickshaw pullers and fleeing to America). The blow felt by Pearl at this revelation is heart-wrenching. Throughout Shanghai Girls, we get to see Pearl as the wiser, patient, compassionate, responsible and enduring person whereas May is depicted to be childish and self-indulgent. But May’s argument in the end of the book that all Pearl did was to attract misfortune and glorify herself as a martyr; that she could have escaped being gang-raped on that fateful day when they left home in an attempt to leave China, the event which scarred her heart for life, if only she stayed where she was instead of trying to play the “big sister” thing in order to protect May. This accusation or rather insight is as devastating to me as it is to Pearl I guess.

It’s interesting to see how Pearl and May perceive each other. Each has completely different and seemingly opposite personalities and they have a certain disdain for each other alongside the sisterly love. The calm and composed Pearl resents the care-free and selfish nature of May, while May scorns the “air” taken up by Pearl.

Coming to Dreams of Joy, it starts where Shanghai Girls ends – Joy, the daughter of May raised by Pearl as hers, decides to leave America and go to China to help build the People’s Republic of China and mainly to escape the guilt of being the cause of her father’s suicide and also shocked and hurt by the fact that the truth about her parentage has been hidden from her and thus been deceived by her mother and aunt. After Joy leaves, Pearl follows her to China to bring her back.. And the story continues.

In Shanghai Pearl meets Z.G and all her old feelings surface. Even after 20 years, she feels the same for ZG, despite knowing that he loves May and not her. As hurting as it is, she still feels for ZG. As the story proceeds, they get to meet often.. And Pearl deliberately avoids writing about ZG in her letters to May, though May keeps on asking about him. Pearl enjoys taking a small revenge against her sister, even though she realizes that it’s a fruitless exercise. At last, there comes the moment – she sleeps with ZG and then, just like that – she gets over him. She finally accepts the fact that ZG loves only May. He doesn’t feel about her, Pearl, as he feels about May. And then all of a sudden she feels free of burden, joy and happiness. She falls is love with a person from her past in a true sense (not like she felt for her husband out of responsibility and gratitude)and marries him in the end.

What got me curious was the fact that it took her so long and so much to get over ZG. Finally, what really made it possible for her? What’s the tipping point? It’s not very clear. It’s just a momentous realization akin to enlightenment, but it’s not easy to come by – it usually takes decades, not just years. At one time she recollects May telling her that she is only infatuated with ZG and weighs that remark later, while in China, – she doesn’t care whether it’s only infatuation..and only seeks contentment in basking in the pleasure of his company.

My doubt is – is hers infatuation or love? Who is the best person to judge?  Is hers considered infatuation because her feelings are unrequited? Would like some answers here. 🙂

Also, I wonder what really makes a person, especially a woman, to grieve over her unrequited love and forever make a place for her lover in her heart? Is it because that gives her satisfaction and approval? Approval of whom? Unrequited love has forever been romanticized in literature and people who agonize for their lovers, or rather their unfulfilled love, till their death are glorified beyond extent. Does she feel guilty to forsake the reminiscences of her first love? Why does she feel it as her duty, more than anything, to be loyal to her love (even though unrequited, or especially because it is unrequited), even though he doesn’t care a bit about what she does or does not feel for him?

In love, mostly it’s the feeling of being in love, that people love most. People love being in love. It’s even more true in the case of one-side love or unrequited love because they have no other base to carry on with their love.

There is one philosophy which claims that – anything between two persons should be two-way. There must be both “give” and “take”. The balance must be maintained in every and any relationship for sustainment . Otherwise, the relationship won’t last for long. The giver just gives up sooner or later. But the one-side lovers have only this “romanticized” view of being in love as the reason to continue being in love with the same person. They refuse to give up hope to get something in return from their beloveds until a very long time.

But to what effect? They will never be able to love any other man in the same way and they just have to wait for that magical moment when they can get over their first love, which usually comes too late in old age or just never comes. What a pity! I believe that- if only the state of being in love is not romanticized so much, people would have easily moved on to find new love in their lives, which is actually a more fruitful exercise. Is the real test of love to be with the person you love for long and still continue to love? In the absence of which, the only love you feel is for the “imagined” or “expected” traits of the beloved and/or nuances of life.

This is all the mind speaking. But the heart goes on its own way. But the thing is the heart is influenced and shaped by the culture, society and literature and media around it. So, ideally the mind should win. But the heart always knows how to sneak in. it lures the mind with promise of instant gratification in certain thoughts.

I’ve had similar thoughts even while reading about Scarlet’s blind love for and fierce devotion to Ashley in Gone With the Wind. What did it all fetch her in the end? It ruined her life. In a way, it was so upsetting to read about it.

Coming back to Dreams of Joy, it’s my first encounter with anything related to communism. It is shocking and sad to know how flawed leadership has led to the great famine that lasted 3 years, killing millions of people. The novel also depicted how despite the lofty ideals of equality, there are certain classes of privileged people  in the Mao’s New China. Hypocrisy is prevalent and common man suffered. I admire Joy for the way she handled things in China, coming to terms of her life, shocking though it was as it unfolded before her, but never losing her courage and spirit.

I must say that the tale of Pearl, May and Joy has cast a deep impression on me and greatly influenced some of my perceptions. I wouldn’t forget the three ladies and their intricate story.



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