Wow. Once the excrement hits the fan and gains some speed, it really spreads far and wide. I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. A lot of the events that happen in the book are foreshadowed in the beginning.
Take for instance, the deaths of many of the characters. Unfortunately, it’s all of the good, nice female characters that kick the can. Their ends, however sad and tragic, are foretold in a dream Baoyu had in the beginning of the book. Of course all the warnings are foretold in poetry – the only way fashionable people communicated in that period – and I understood none of it. Then again, neither did Baoyu and he was supposedly good at that stuff.
The disappointing thing about the end of the book is that despite all the bad stuff that happens, the criminal charges of murder, bribery and corruption – all of which the accused are guilty of – the situation magically becomes good again. Well, not magically, but the Emperor, whoever he is, decides to be a sap and forgive everyone. I get that he’s supposed to rule with the Mandate of Heaven and be a benevolent being, but the allegations against some members of the Jia family are plenty serious and they should all have been locked up and made to suffer.
The thing is, the end also leaves plenty of things unfinished. Many of the male members of the family are useless louts who waste their lives – and money – drinking, cavorting and generally misbehaving. I guess that the culture of bad behaviour from many of the rich kids in Chinese society in modern China has at least some historical precedence, though I doubt many have ever read this book. Similarly, the characters are always getting in trouble and never appreciate just what it takes to get them out of it. But many of the characters who do this do not learn anything out of it and are not even punished! Their character stories are therefore never resolved in the story. I guess it follows the tradition of sweeping the bad news under the carpet and hoping it all goes away.
In the end, the book is as much a social commentary on the era as it is trying to tell a fictional story. It also blends – somehow perfectly – the mystical and paranormal into the story, without seeming to be out of place. I can’t help but read the book and imagine the scenes filled not just with the twelve beauties of Jinling, but clouded by a white fog that over saturates all the colour so that each scene appears to be part of a dream or a distant memory. The thing is that, despite the rise of medicine and science in China during the Qing Dynasty, people still believed in the mysterious and paranormal, relying on numerology and horoscopes and putting their faith in fate, or rather, blaming every bad thing that happens to someone on fate.
I have to say that the journey of A Dream of Red Mansions, at the beginning, is about as exciting as a potato. But then, at the end, it’s like a bowl of wedges with salsa, sour cream and guacamole, topped by one of those little cocktail flags. But then, much like the bottom of a bowl of delicious wedges, the end is a bit empty and leaves you disappointed.