Diary of a Madman by Lu Xun

Evianne Darcy

Edited by Ketaki Zodgekar

Artwork by Kelechi Hafstad: Kelechi Anna Photography

The timeless, multilayered Diary of a Madman by Lu Xun tells the story of a now-recovered “invalid” (Lu 21), who had previously fallen ill to a “persecution complex” (21), through which he became convinced that everyone around him was a cannibal, be it his brother, neighbour, or the children of the village in which he resides. In his delusional frenzy, the “invalid” believes he is serving time for trampling on “Records of the Past” (22), and that the local village children are being taught to “Eat people!” (24) He even suspects that the words of an antiquated book and the neighbour’s dog – descended from wolves – are conspiring to eat him too. Eventually, instead of being eaten, our madman cowers under the “weight of four thousand years of cannibalism bearing down upon” (31) him.

In an ending which parallels Macbeth, Lu Xun’s madman surrenders to the all-consuming cannibalistic heritage of bygone feudalism, which usurps his village. He realises that he has gone so far into his mania – spurred by his vandalism of documents pertaining to his country’s history – that returning would be pointless. Despite his fleeting uprising, which was dismissed as insanity, he will never be truly human. As a child, he ate his little sister: the reader discovers that the madman himself is a cannibal.

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