The Capillaries of Power: Hierarchy and Servitude in the Story of the Stone

  • Approaches to Teaching the Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber)

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  • This essay analyzes several of the maids depicted in The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber), demonstrating how through their behavior and what they say they actually reinforce the social hierarchy and status quo that underlie the social reality of Qing dynasty China. It highlights the representation of three key maids in the novel: Aroma, Patience, and Faithful. Each in her own way asserts her own personality and demonstrates how adherence to hierarchy is critical to harmony in the household and broader society. The essay then goes on to briefly mention the cases of some of the less prominent maids, such as Nightingale, Snowgoose, and Skybright. Ambiguous characters such as Caltrop, of "lost" scholar-gentry origin, and Er-jie, a woman who though not a maid is nonetheless abused in the novel, lend complexity to this sprawling Qing dynasty saga. The essay ends by illustrating that Tan-chun, half-sister to two of the main characters but the daughter of a former chamber maid, can both be elevated to the status of the social elite while remaining somewhat vulnerable to the vagaries of social hierarchy.

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    Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International