An individual CRIT close reading for “Miss Sophia’s Diary”.
CRIT Reading of Miss Sophie’s Diary
Step 0: Select Passage
Diary Entries: 24 December (p.1), 10 January (p.8), 27 March (p.23)
Step 1: Paraphrase
24 December (p.1):
It’s blowing again today. The wind woke me up before daybreak, then the attendant came in to light the stove. I knew that would never get back to sleep again, and that my head would start spinning if I didn’t get up. If I lie wrapped up in my quilt I brood too much those weird notions. The doctor says it would be better ‘if I had plenty of sleep and plenty of food, didn’t read and didn’t think. But that’s impossible. I never get to sleep before 2 or 3 a.m. and I wake up before dawn. Windy days like this make you think of too many disturbing things.
Sophie has been sleeping and she is alone; she is awakened by the wind shortly after which the attendant enters the room to light the stove. She says she cannot go back to and explains that not even the doctor’s advice can work for her because she is too disturbed. She cannot sleep much on windy days.
10 January (p.8):
I want to possess him. I want him to give his heat unconditionally and kneel before me, begging me to kiss him. I’ve gone completely mad. I just keep thinking over and over again of the tricks and methods I’m going to use. I’ve gone right off my head.
Sophie has an unmatched desire for Ling, but she cannot let him know this. She does not want to giver herself to him. Instead, she wants to make him want her, love her. She is thinking of how she is going to achieve this.
27 March (p.23)
He asked me when I was leaving tomorrow and I told him. When I asked him if he’d come back he said he’d do very soon. I gazed at him with delight, forgetting haw contemptible his character is and how he only looks beautiful. Just then he was a lover out of romance in my eyes. Yes, Sophie has a lover!
With Wei’s arrival, Sophie decides to see Ling out. As they talk Sophie admires him and is glad that she has finally won in her bid to make him want/love her.
Step 2: Observe
The first entry depicts a weak subject; one who cannot sleep merely because of the wind. In many ways, the entry suggests that the subject is passive (also absent) and is at the receiving end. The ‘I’ subject is depicted as vulnerable and unable to protect self from external distractions.
All three sentences in the selected part of the entry start with ‘I’. Thus, this pronoun occupies an absolute subjective position in this entry. It serves to enact desire and action. The expression by the female narrator that she wants to possess the man reverses the traditional order where, often the female is considered as sex object at the male’s disposal. The implied reversal is very interesting.
The context of the third entry is very interesting because it reveals the unfolding of events that eventually lead to Sophie’s success as far as trying to make Ling her love is concerned. Sophie, who is narrating herself does this from an unmediated position as a subject, thus enabling the reader to gain access to her private and innermost thoughts. However, this narrated self appears certainly fragmented and split as is made clear by the narrator’s own reference to Sophie in the last sentence she says, “Yes, Sophie has a lover”.
Step 3: Contextualize
The entries reflect and fit in within the broader context of Ding Ling’s works in terms of themes like sexual repression and female sexuality among others.
The work can be interpreted to be a representation of the modern girl’s psychology.
The ‘I’ subject in the diary, from a sociolinguistic theory perspective, assumes a performative, social, and intersubjective status, an aspect that overall, gives this diary narrative a form of generic and formal multiplicity.
Step 4: Analyze
Use of the first person in this diary, the ‘I’, without doubt implies a figure that is abstract and in an intelligible and successful way works to the effect of enacting social relations. Here, the reader is enabled to situate whatever is happening to the narrator in the broader social context. Thus, the ‘I’ in a significant way acts as a kind of referential index which draws attention to the broader social context.
In reference to the same ‘I’, one notes a form of oscillation between an ‘I’ that is internal and one that is external. Whereas there is an internal ‘I’ who experiences everything as imposed by the outside world, there is a simultaneous existence of another external ‘I’ who plays a performative role in terms of expectations such as those relating to the dominant societal gender ideology that plays out in the context of the capitalist system. The internal ‘I’ absorbs and internalizes the dissents and criticisms of the way of life, which then come out as self-afflicted pain.
From the word go, the narrator depicts herself as a weak subject, one who is so vulnerable as to be awakened by the sound of wind. In the same breath, she speaks to the disruptions from her surrounding that cannot let her sleep. This draws the reader’s attention to what is happening not just in the narrator’s world but also outside of it, hence the broader social context.
Away from the multiplicity of the ‘I’ in terms of meanings, contexts, and perspectives, attention is also drawn to the use of the name Sophie in entry 3 where the narrator says, “Yes, Sophie has a lover”(p.23).Here, while the text may be set in the Orient, the narrator has a Western name, which for all intents and purposes is alluding to universality, more precisely universal femininity. Thus, this narration is not just Sophie’s story but by extension a representation of the experiences of millions of ladies like her across the globe.
Step 4: Argue
This literary work, being a first-person narration (diary narrative) affords the reader an unmediated access to the writer’s interiority, besides allowing the author to define and describe the speaking subject’s unmediated position, which is actually her own. Additionally, the contextual diary, Sophie’s, line any other, is a daily chronological account of the actions and thoughts of the subject, who is the speaking self. While one cannot dispute the self’s unmediated position in this diary, this self is fragmented and split, sometimes seen from the internal lens, and sometimes from the external. The self in this case speaks to internal issues, as seen from both the internal and external viewpoint. This way, there is a deliberate effort by the narrator to provoke the author’s mind as to look beyond circumstances of the narrator and extend to the broader societal context. In many ways, the diary addresses societal issues as experienced by the narrator, as seen from, and as they apply to the broader external context. In many instances, such as in the third entry above, Sophie addresses herself as if she is another person looking at herself from an external perspective. This self-objectification is an indication that the narrator is a subject to be studied in the context of the broader society, and from a perspective different from her own. In other words, the diary speaks to broader societal issues, precisely the issues that women like Sophie must face in life. As stated elsewhere, the use of this Western name is an indication of the universality of the piece’s themes.
Step 5: Reflect
Overall, the passage is confusing particularly if the generic and formal complexity of the first person is considered. However, with an understanding of the intent of the author (or narrator) to explore and interrogate various themes from multiple perspectives, one can only rest assured that with an open mind and a critical eye, everything makes sense at the end of the day. This aspect makes the piece confusing but when read objectively (as opposed to blindly), it can be appreciated as a unique approach to exploration of universal issues like feminism, female sexuality, and patriarchy just to mention but a few.
Ding, L. (1985). Miss Sophie’s diary and other stories. Beijing: Panda Books.