The four stories “Wrong Number” by Liu Yichang, “A Women Like Me” by Xi Xi, “Transcendence and the Fax Machine” by Ye Si, and “Mother Fish” by Xi Xi, are all set it Hong Kong. They also share some common themes. In all the stories the theme of love is present in one way or another. Although, the love situations all differ none of the love themes include a marriage relationship. The other common theme that truly stands out in all the stories is a theme of social isolation, whether it appears as ongoing or temporary in the story. Each story’s main character’s social isolation is caused by different factors.
In “Wrong Number” although the mention of a love situation is very brief, it is what causes the climax of the story to be seen. In the story Chen Xi only ventures out of his home because he receives a call from his girlfriend, Lichang, asking him to go see a movie with her. He thinks he should stay home and wait for a follow-up telephone call from one of the employer’s he sent a job application to, “but since Lichang had called to invite him out to a movie, he definitely had to go” (Liu Yichang 277). Only because of the love for her does he experience the bus crash as a victim or an observer.
The basic plot line of “A Women Like Me” revolves around the I-narrator agonizing over how her boyfriend, Xia, will react when he finds out about her job. She had developed a relationship with him without ever revealing to him what her true job as a cosmetician was. She did not make “brides-to-be beautiful” as he thought, but instead her “job was to apply the final cosmetic touches to people whose lives had already come to an end, to make them appear gentle and at peace during their final moments before leaving the world of man” (“A Women Like Me” 315). She had kept her job a secret for fear of losing his love. Throughout the story she not only agonizes over Xia’s reaction, but also about if she will ever find the one, whether it be Xia or someone else, that will love her despite her job, although she half-heartedly believes ” a women like her is actually unsuitable for any man’s love” (“A Women Like Me” 315).
The love present in “Transcendence and the Fax Machine” is different from most love relationships as the love is not between two humans or even two living beings, but rather more of a metaphorical relationship between the I-narrator and his fax machine. First of all, the fax machine is not referred to as it, which would suggest that it is an inanimate object, but rather it is referred to as she, which suggests that it is a living, breathing object that can have a sex. Throughout the story the I-narrator’s interaction with his fax machine is described using imagery more often used when describing a love relationship between a man and a women. For example, when sending his paper he “caressed her dainty, delicate buttons a he gently moved the sheets of paper in and out of the feeder” (Ye Si 19). The I-narrator tried so much to fix the machine he loved that he gave “her massages and shiatsu treatments, fed her all kinds of paper purgatives, took her pulse, and checked her heartbeat” (Ye Si 20).
In “Mother Fish” the theme of love is presented in many different situations. Most of the love relationships in the story involve the goldfish. It is apparent that Cousin cares a lot about his fish. As he is leaving to study abroad, everything he says while his family is saying goodbye is about how Sis, the main character, should take care of the goldfish during his absence. The way Sis tries her best to take care of the fish for Cousin shows the familial love she has for him. She does not want to disappoint him by failing to help the goldfish deliver her babies and saving the goldfish. Her desperation is most prominently shown when she “cradled the mother fish in her own hands and gently massaged its belly, hoping that this might help it to release the eggs” (“Mother Fish” 119).
Also, portrayed within the story “Mother Fish,” although only sporadically, was the love relationship between Sis and her boyfriend. In the story she feels that she might be pregnant giving the reader the idea that they had more than just an emotional love relationship, but a more physical love relationship as well. One way the love of her boyfriend towards her is shown is through a scene where he tries to help her save the mother fish by searching for a male goldfish to be placed with the mother fish to help her release the eggs. When he found out that she thought she was pregnant he told her, “Why don’t we get married? We’re just in love, like other people: we’re just going to be parents; just like other people” (“Mother Fish” 125).
In all the stories the love relationships have an added importance, as only because of them the main characters come out of their social isolation, whether the isolation is implied as due to a temporary or ongoing situation. In “Wrong Number” the social isolation of Chen Xi is implied as a temporary situation. In the story he is staying home unless it is entirely necessary for him to leave. He does not want to miss a telephone call from one of the jobs he recently applied for. It was on this account that he had been staying home for the past few days waiting for phone calls from those companies and not going out unless absolutely necessary (Liu Yichang 277). The only time he left the house was when he went to meet his girlfriend at the movies; something he considered was necessary. The story implies that his social isolation will continue until he receives a positive reply from one of his job applications; therefore most likely a temporary situation of social isolation.
In ” A Women Like Me” the I-narrator’s experience of social isolation is more of an ongoing situation, as it is due to her job as a funeral cosmetician. The social contact she ever has is with Xia, her boyfriend, who has not learned of her true job as a cosmetician. Before meeting Xia she had already told her friends about her job resulting in her losing her friends. She frightened them all off; it was as tough she, who was sitting across from them, was actually the ghost of their own inner fears (“A Women Like Me” 316). Her past experience with her friends made her afraid to tell Xia that she worked on dead people and not living people. Another reason for her social isolation is a result of her “inability to express what she thinks and feels which, over a long period of time, has led to her habit of being uncommunicative” (“A Women Like Me” 316).
The social isolation of the I-narrator in “Transcendence and the Fax Machine” is not entirely apparent as being temporary or more ongoing. One comment made by the I-narrator; “I have remained single for one reason only; I am not very good at interpersonal relationships;” (Ye Si 14) suggests that it is more of an ongoing situation. There is also suggestion that he has social contact with friends, as in the beginning of the story it is his photographer friend that suggests that he buys a fax machine. This suggests that his social isolation is only temporary and lasts only while he is writing and working on his fax machine. His fax machine is his instrument that facilitates his contact with the outside world during his isolation. The fax machine was “always there, faithfully receiving, transmitting, ingesting, an absolutely trustworthy connection linking him and places far away” (Ye Si 15).
In “Mother Fish” Sis’s social isolation is never a situation of such complete social isolation as seen in the other three stories, but rather a temporary partial social isolation brought on by her worrying about the goldfish’s pregnancy and her own possible pregnancy. During the temporary social isolation she does have some contact with the outside world besides just her lover, but all the contact is related to her attempts to save the mother fish. During the Pure Bright Festival there were many guests in her house, but “she sat down