When their father hurts and kills his own daughter, his appeasement comes in the form of chocolates, biscuits and grapes that he lays out as offerings at her grave. In Eggs, the eggs become a symbol of the suppressed longings of the deprived child and mother. The six-year old girl yearns to satisfy her appetite with the eggs denied her by her jeering relatives, her mother deliberately uses her own money to buy half a dozen eggs to show that she can afford them. These she forces on her daughter to express her suppressed hurt and anger. Money Money is so important as a means of survival as well as an indication of status and respectability that the image assumes central importance in The Ugly One. The counterfeit notes cost Rosalind and Meng Choo to think of all sorts of ways to dispose of the bills in Meng Choos possession.
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When their father hurts and kills his own daughter, his appeasement comes in the form of chocolates, biscuits and grapes that he lays out as offerings at her grave. In Eggs, the eggs become a symbol of the suppressed longings of the deprived child and mother.
The six-year old girl yearns to satisfy her appetite with the eggs denied her by her jeering relatives, her mother deliberately uses her own money to buy half a dozen eggs to show that she can afford them. These she forces on her daughter to express her suppressed hurt and anger. Money Money is so important as a means of survival as well as an indication of status and respectability that the image assumes central importance in The Ugly One.
The counterfeit notes cost Rosalind and Meng Choo to think of all sorts of ways to dispose of the bills in Meng Choos possession. Under Rosalinds influence they are used to purchase an item from the old woman. The fact that they are counterfeit underlines the falseness of Rosalinds character that she pretends to be genuinely fond of Meng Choo and wants to help and protect her. In fact, she is like an Iago, corrupting the more naive younger woman and making her as vain and materialistic as herself.
The possession of money has elevated Mrs. Khoos position in society, and the loss of respect she fears becomes reality when Ah Soh can afford to buy the jade pendant from her. InMiss Pereira, the sum of fifty thousand dollars is the target of Pauls scheming and deception of the 11 pathetic spinster. It finally makes its appearance in the paper bag which Ahmad, the loyal old gardener, flings on Miss Pereiras bed, a symbol of his honesty and integrity, qualities which Paul totally lacked.
In the other stories, money, though mentioned or obsessed over, is not presented as such concrete images. Still, there is reference to the little present of money which the large-hearted employer gives to the grieving father in the story, The Father. The man counts the number of notes his wife hands timidly to him, and vows never to spend it on drink, deciding to use it to demonstrate his guilt and sorrow by buying the food items to be offered to the dead daughter.
Then, there is the oblique reference to the money donated to The Chosen One, but another image, the household item of the biscuit tin, is instead used, that it was filling up nicely. Possessions houses, furniture, jewels Elsewhere, the possession of money is expressed by the imagery of houses and property. Tay Soons dream house is the symbol of the Singaporeans dream of making it, arriving at a stage when he can possess landed property, a house of his own, in the fashion of VS Naipauls A House for Mr.
Money is mentioned as the forty thousand dollars initially saved, and then, poignantly, at the end of the story, as the ten thousand left for the funeral. In between the money become the shares which prove to be worthless when the market crashes, this is aptly conveyed by the image of paper, paper which is what the shares are written on, and become as insubstantial as the paper house which will be burnt to Tay Soon.
In The Journey, Richard amasses property and antique furniture which his wife sells to make further profits. Their large detached bungalow is well- furnished, and they live in luxury, but when he hears of his terminal illness, he can only star e down at the brown and gold carpet on their bedroom floor and is consumed with self-pity. At the end, he yearns to return to the simple village full of love and devotion from the elderly women who gave him what was more important than the transient possessions he had accumulated.
Furniture is often presented as a source of discord between generations. The different tastes and value 12 system of the well-educated and newly-rich like Karen is reflected in the disdain she feels for old grandmother who is sentimentally attached to the bed her daughter- in-law regards as the monster. Yet, like Richards wife, she shrewdly sees a business opportunity when she is told that the ancient bed is a collectors item.
Jewellery Gems, diamonds and precious stones like jade, much revered by the Chinese, become images of ostentation, outward show and symbols of wealth, status and power. In The Jade Pendant, the family heirloom becomes a powerful symbol of pride and power, and then ironically, of changed fortunes.
In The Ugly One the paradox of such an ugly old woman selling such beautiful items of jewellery become a symbol of the ugliness of the rich young women who adorn themselves externally but care nothing for more intrinsic values such as honesty, compassion and love for the family. The irony of the students awareness of how far wasted offerings in The Father, for instance springs Lims characters present from the weak and violent character of the labourer credible portraits of different who, unable to control his drinking and his temper, types of Singaporeans.
See strikes at and accidentally kills his child. His maudlin Appendix F self-pity leads him to a demonstration of remorse and generosity in a gesture to appease the spirit of his dead daughter and his own conscience. The working class Singaporeans of all classes and different walks of life come in for their fair share of criticism. The working- class is presented as thoughtless and ignorant, driven by the sheer will to survive, burdened as they are by a lack of skills and good fortune, struggling to feed their dependants and to maintain a semblance of dignity.
The taximan has a family to feed so he cannot recognize the inherent contradictions in his fervour to pick up lucrative fares while moralizing on his daughters behaviour. Ah Soh and her mentally- challenged daughter are examples of this class while the woman and her six-year old daughter in Eggs are more helpless and can only rage in ineffectual demonstrations which inflict more pain on their own family members. They are often trapped by 13 superstition, the need to observe accepted rituals and observances as well as the struggle against their own addictions.
Ah Boh in Lottery cannot break out of her compulsive gambling, even when her mother dies in a road accident. In The Teacher, the unnamed teacher laments the inability of Tan Geok Peng to use correct grammar while the more important psychological needs of the student go unnoticed.
The final comment of the teacher, If only she had told me of her problems. But she was always too shy and timid to speak up, is highly ironical as the girl had spoken her heart out in the essay, but the teacher was only concerned about her incorrect grasp of English. Once again, the title of the story is ironical, as there is the implication that the teacher has no right to be called one, being unable to attend to the personal problems which traumatized her young charge.
Parents are also characterized as insensitive and uncaring in Adeline Ng Ai Choo as the man who came to see his daughters teacher could not understand why she took her own life, protesting that he only wanted her to be someone of significance, without realizing how he was pushing her to the limits of her endurance. Depiction of other middle-class characters is edged with the criticism of this desire to keep up with the standards of achievement expected, whether this is acquisition of wealth, status, property or possessions.
Given the competitive nature of Singaporean society and the tendency to compare themselves with friends and neighbours and those who are more established and accepted, middle-class workers like Tay Soon dream of making money and owning property which shows off their wealth.
There is also the presentation of some kind of community that provides gossip, commentary and speculation on events as well as advice on what to do. Very often, the advice is harmful and corrupting, while at other times, this community reflects the shallow values of those who envy the rich 14 but secretly take delight in their embarrassment, as in The Jade Pendant.
Depictions of the rich and established are unflattering. Khoo in The Jade Pendant despises poor relatives like Ah Soh and her daughter, and cares only for face, using her daughters marriage to show off while trying to hide the familys declining fortunes.
In The Journey, Richards wife is also contemptuous of his humble female relatives and respects only what money can buy, including the prospective cure offered by the trip to New York to see the best doctors.
The portrayal of Rosalind in The Ugly One is by far the most masterly in the conveyance of a proud, unfeeling socialite who is admired in society for all the wrong reasons. So rich, so happy, so respected in society! This is the portrait of a tai-tai who affects all the external appearance of charity and civic- mindedness, being a familiar face in the citys orphanages and Old Folks Homes. She appears to be kind to Meng Choo, including her in her parties and giving her some of her expensive dresses, but in fact, she is a vain woman flattered by Meng Choos admiration and patronises the younger woman by making her an adoring protg.
Her devious and unscrupulous nature is shown in her manipulation of Meng Choo as well as her schemes to pass the counterfeit money to unsuspecting parties, especially to the ugly old woman whom she derides as the monster guarding fabled treasures. Her lack of conscience over the death of the old woman exposes the hypocrisy of the rich who care only for public appearances and have no real sympathy for the disadvantaged in society.
Catherine Lims use of significant details in presenting the outward appearance of some of her characters is noteworthy. Although we hardly know what some of the main characters look like in Paper for instance, none of the characters are described physically , details of appearance in other stories complete the mental picture for us.
Miss Pereira, for instance, is described as plump and graying, imparting the air of vulnerability and ridicule to the portrait of an ageing spinster. Sixth Uncle in Properly Married is characterized by three long hairs on the black mole of his chin which give him 15 an unsavoury and lecherous air. Mei Kweis more innocent nature is conveyed by her round, plump face which is often wreathed in good-natured smiles. She is not as conniving as Sixth Uncle and her other relatives who are so much more aware of the implications if Thong Ngah dies without being properly married to her.
Thong Ngah himself is a caricature of a sick old man, literally on his last legs, with his protruding belly and round florid face. The presentation of decrepit old age in contrast to youthful beauty is accomplished in The Marriage where the year-old husband is seen at his worst at home in his singlet and shorts without his false teeth.
Attention is or drawn to his wrinkled sadly sagging skin, full of the blotches and the desolation of old age while his young wifes smooth fair young skin is a remarkable contrast. Thus, the sacrifice that she makes for the million he gives her and the three hundred thousand to her family is acutely brought out. Examine the way each story ends and point out how each ending is ironical. What aspects of Singaporean society are criticized in these short stories? Choose two stories and show how Catherine Lim comments on these features of Singaporean society.
With reference to two or three of the stories, show how money is an important factor in the decisions made by the main characters in the story. Comment on the part played by sickness and death in the lives of the main characters in two of the stories.
How is the relationship between parents and their children brought out in some of the stories? Refer in detail to any two stories of your choice. Several of the stories feature conflict within the family. With detailed reference to any two stories, identify the source of the conflict in each case, and how the matter is finally resolved. How are children or offspring presented in most of the stories? Referring in detail to two or three of the stories, show the importance of these children in the lives of the families concerned.
Very often, the victims in society are the very young or the very old. How true is this of any three of the stories in the collection? How are women presented in these stories as opposed to the presentation of men?
Refer to three or four of the relevant stories. Select two stories which seem to you to be narrated in an unusual but effective method, and say why you find the method of narration particularly suitable for that story. Choose two stories which you find particularly humorous and point out how the humorous effects are created.
Which stories do you find particularly sad or disturbing? Discuss why these stories have that effect on you. This volume of short stories is set in the period of the s to s. Write your own short story set in Singapore of the present day, i. Assume that you are the taximans daughter from the story, The Taximans Story and write about that day when you were with your friends outside the coffee-house and your father came along.
The short story, The Marriage seems strangely unfinished. Write a two-page sequel to the story of the young woman married to the elderly man. Write a humorous short story in the fashion of Properly Married which makes fun of a serious situation with comic excess. The Taximans Story, The Teacher. His highly emotional words can be spoken while a group of students posing as his other children lie hidden before they come out and greedily devour the offerings.
Paper: The scene where the funeral wake takes place can be dramatized with his mother and wife speaking in turns of Tay Soons yearning for a dream house. Miss Pereira: Students may choose to act out the final scene where she sits in a daze while the gardener comes in with his revelation, or the scene where Paul shows his true self to her and leaves her shattered.
Lottery: The dialogue between Ah Bohs employers can be acted out with the subsequent scene of her discovery of the mothers accident.
Male Child: The suspenseful climax when the husband awaits the news of his childs birth can be performed as a monologue detailing his disappointment with his female children and his subsequent affair with his mistress. Properly Married: Full justice should be done to the slapstick humour of the interfering relatives who do all they can to dress and prop up the prospective bridegroom up to the moment of his death as he reaches for the pen to sign his name for the registry.
Little Ironies _Notes
Early childhood reading was mainly influenced by British fiction, including Enid Blyton , Richmal Crompton and comics. In , she received her Ph. D in applied linguistics from the National University of Singapore. She also worked as a teacher and later as project director with the Curriculum Development Institute of Singapore and as a specialist lecturer with the Regional English Language Centre, teaching sociolinguistics and literature. In , she left her professional career to become a full-time writer. She received an honorary doctorate in literature from Murdoch University.
Little Ironies: Stories of Singapore