The narrator is clear that he and Luo are best friends and always have been. They grew up in apartments next door to each other, watched their parents publically humiliated at political rallies, and are sent together to Phoenix mountain for re-education. However, what the narrator says about the strength and depth of his friendship with Luo is complicated by the questionable ways that Luo treats the narrator. As the narrator navigates the trials and tribulations of being Luo's friend, the novel suggests that loyalty isn't as simple or as straightforward as the narrator would like to think.
Though the narrator never says so outright, Luo is a somewhat difficult person to be friends with. He's occasionally violent and often selfish, getting first dibs on Balzac's books from Four-Eyes' suitcase. As a result of this, the narrator situates himself as more of a sidekick to Luo than an equal. Further, the narrator seldom takes issue with this state of affairs, suggesting that their relationship is built on unequal footing. The narrator's style of storytelling reinforces the idea that he's a mere sidekick or onlooker to the story, and that (in his mind at least) the story itself is really about Luo and the Little Seamstress, and the ways in which the narrator supports them and their relationship. He gives this impression by consistently re-conceptualizing events to emphasize others rather than himself, as when he revises his initial mention of "his [the narrator's] tormenters" to "the Little Seamstress's swarm of disappointed suitors." This shifts the focus away from him and makes it clear that he believes his own existence is inconsequential in relation to those around him. This habit of putting others first, both in the narrator's actions and his words, becomes its own way of showing loyalty.
The narrator's idea of loyalty becomes even more complicated when Luo leaves the mountain temporarily and charges the narrator with watching over the Little Seamstress in his absence. With Luo gone, the narrator can no longer ignore the fact that he himself is in love with the Little Seamstress. He transfers his physical displays of loyalty and friendship from Luo to the Little Seamstress, helping her with household chores and painting her fingernails for her. Initially, this leads to what the narrator deems a betrayal of sorts, as he masturbates thinking about the Little Seamstress, and in his sexual frustration, he begins to brainstorm ways to break his promise to Luo. However, the narrator's loyal nature returns when the Little Seamstress confides in him the following day that she's pregnant with Luo's child. The narrator takes it upon himself to talk her out of inducing a miscarriage with herbs or bodily harm, and procures an illegal abortion for her in Yong Jing.
At the end of the novel, the narrator finally suggests that he views loyalty as being transactional, as he's angry with the Little Seamstress for leaving without telling him. The narrator feels he's owed this information, since he arranged her abortion, which he sees as the sole reason the Little Seamstress can even consider leaving her mountain home. He feels that the Little Seamstress owes him her life as she knows it, and he thus considers her leaving in secret to be the ultimate betrayal. This suggests that as the narrator grows up and comes of age, he begins to place more value on the loyalty that others show him, rather than simply effacing himself out of loyalty to others. While he still places himself in the role of mere spectator and supporting character to his friends' failing romance, his feelings of anger and betrayal suggest not only that he believes that he's deserving of loyalty, but that loyalty from both sides is a necessary element of an equal friendship.
Friendship and Loyalty ThemeTracker
Friendship and Loyalty Quotes in Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress
The change he had undergone since receiving his mother's letter was truly remarkable. A few days before it would have been unthinkable for him to snap at us like this. I hadn't suspected that a tiny glimmer of hope for the future could transform someone so utterly.
But I shouldn't let it worry you too much. Right now, ignorance is in fashion, but one day the need for good doctors will be recognized once more. Besides, Chairman Mao is bound to need your father's services again.
"So are you weeping tears of joy?" I said.
"No. All I feel is loathing."
"Me too. Loathing for everyone who kept these books from us."
He shut the suitcase again and, resting one hand on the lid like a Christian taking a solemn oath, he declared: "With these books I shall transform the Little Seamstress. She'll never be a simple mountain girl again."
I couldn't resist taking slight liberties, adding bits here and there by way of a personal touch to make the story more interesting to her. When I felt good old Balzac was running out of steam I would contribute little inventions of my own, or even insert whole scenes from another novel.
It was not long before I took it upon myself, out of a sense of courtesy and respect for womanhood that I had learned from Balzac, to relieve the Little Seamstress of her laundering duties...
Although illiterate, my tormenters, or rather the Little Seamstress's swarm of disappointed suitors, were flabbergasted by the sight of this recondite object: a book.
I felt as if it were my child that she was carrying, as if it had been me and not Luo making love to her under the majestic gingko tree and in the limpid water of the secret pool. I was deeply moved; she was my soul mate and I was ready to spend the rest of my life taking care of her, content even to die a bachelor if that would help.
There was nowhere for them to go, for there was no conceivable place where a Romeo and his pregnant Juliet might elude the long arm of the law, nor indeed where they might live the life of Robinson Crusoe attended by a secret agent turned Man Friday.
I wondered what was making me chase Luo across this treacherous mountain slope? Was it friendship? Was it affection for his girlfriend? Or was I merely an onlooker anxious not to miss the ending of a drama?
Although I was fully aware of my role as spectator, I felt just as betrayed as Luo, not by her decision to leave the mountain, but by the fact that she had not thought to tell me about it. I felt as if all the complicity we had shared in procuring the abortion had been wiped from her consciousness, as if I had never meant more to her than a friend of a friend, which was what I would remain forever.