Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

by

Dai Sijie

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress can help.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress: Part 1, Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator and Luo have seen three films in Yong Jing, and for the Little Seamstress's village, they decide to tell The Little Flower Seller. It's a drama from North Korea, and Luo made even the headman cry when he told the story in his own village. Though Luo declared he was well enough to travel to the Little Seamstress's village, he suffers another bout of malaria on the way and is alternately hot and cold.
The Little Flower Seller is more commonly known as The Flower Girl. It's an extremely emotional film that shows the benefits of class struggle, and it was screened extensively in China during the early 70s. Showing the film, particularly in the cities, would paint the project of the Revolution in a positive light.
Themes
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Storytelling, Censorship, and Power Theme Icon
When they reach the Little Seamstress's house, Luo is dizzy with fever. The Little Seamstress cancels Luo and the narrator's performance and tucks Luo into her own bed, which boasts a mosquito net. She calls the narrator to come with her to pick "broken-bowl-shards," a plant with medicinal properties. Back at the house, she pounds it into a paste and applies it to Luo's wrist under a bandage.
When it comes to practical matters like treating malaria, the Little Seamstress shows that she has far more knowledge and education than Luo does. She also shows Luo loyalty here by canceling his performance and caring for him. Unlike the cold and greedy headman, she treats Luo and the narrator with kindness.
Themes
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon
Luo falls asleep in the evening. The Little Seamstress asks the narrator if he believes in "things you can't explain naturally." He replies that he doesn't always believe in them, but sometimes you can't deny them. The Little Seamstress asks if Luo's father is a Buddhist, and the narrator says he only knows that Luo's father is a dentist. He explains what a dentist is, swears the Little Seamstress to secrecy, and tells her that Luo's father worked on Chairman Mao's teeth. The Little Seamstress is quiet for a moment and then asks if the dentist would mind if sorceresses kept a vigil around Luo.
The Little Seamstress's knowledge of medicinal plants and remedies is contrasted here with her ignorance of dentistry, which in this situation becomes a marker of Luo and the narrator's urban roots. This shows again just how rural and uneducated the Little Seamstress is in comparison to the boys. Calling the sorceresses is an act of loyalty by the Little Seamstress; she truly believes in their ability to drive out evil spirits.
Themes
Education, Re-Education, and the Cultural Revolution Theme Icon
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon
Around midnight, four ancient and ugly crones arrive. One holds a bow and arrow that she claims never fails to kill demons. After a while, the sorceresses start to yawn and fall asleep. The Little Seamstress asks the narrator to tell the witches a story to keep them awake. He begins to tell the story of the flower seller, but he struggles to captivate his audience. Suddenly, midway through the narrator's recitation, Luo deliriously interjects, out of sequence, with the final line of the film. The sorceresses are moved to tears.
Luo's interjection here is a testament to his storytelling abilities—even when he's not actually telling the story, and even when he throws in lines out of order, he can still elicit emotions from an audience. This stands in contrast to the narrator's self-described poor performance, which sets the narrator up to grow and develop in this area as the novel progresses.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Storytelling, Censorship, and Power Theme Icon
Get the entire Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress LitChart as a printable PDF.
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress PDF
The oil lamps flicker and die, but the narrator sees the Little Seamstress kiss Luo before they go out completely. The narrator finishes the story of the flower seller and the sorceresses weep through the entire second half.
Luo's storytelling abilities seem especially powerful here, as his mistimed interjection keeps the sorceresses crying for about an hour (the film runs just over two hours) even with the narrator's sub-par storytelling.
Themes
Coming of Age Theme Icon
Storytelling, Censorship, and Power Theme Icon
Friendship and Loyalty Theme Icon