Sample Literature Critical Thinking on Use of Symbols and Metaphors in “The Golden Cangue”

Use of Symbols and Metaphors in “The Golden Cangue”

Use of symbols and metaphors has been a common practice among many authors, as they endeavor to portray human experiences in their work. Eileen Chang is one of the writers who have exploited symbols and metaphors in most of her work. Her work, which is full of morals and realistic events, usually incorporates metaphors and symbols to express the paradox of human experience. The Golden Cangue is a story that touches on unjust social systems as portrayed by an elite family that wants to dominate others through its wealth. Ts’ao Ch’i-ch’iao, a girl from a poor family, is being coerced to marry Chiangs’ crippled son. Some of the symbols incorporated in the story include the pebbles, the cangue, and the moon while the metaphors include the moon, the cangue, and the mirror. The use of symbols and metaphors in The Golden Cangue depicts the every-day events that happen in the society, which include compromised love, conflict between responsibilities and self-fulfillment, conflict between family members, and endurance.

Moon is a predominant symbol in Chang’s world, which she uses to illuminate the irony of love in The Golden Cangue. Chang uses the moon symbolically to depict continuity in human experience. The moon has been utilized from the start of the novel towards its conclusion to depict life’s journey that consists of both desirable and undesirable moments. Just like the new moon, which does not produce enough light, Ch’i-ch’iao’s life began as humble girl who hailed from a poor family. Her life changed as she grew up, where she experienced a continuous suffering throughout a span of 30 years. The misery began when Ch’i-ch’iao became a daughter-in-law and persisted even when she was a mother-in-law. The suffering the daughter went through as a daughter-in-law transformed her into a cruel mother-in-law, a situation that was experienced even before her death. 

The moon particularly denoted the mixed feelings of longing, hope, cheerfulness, as well as frustration and sorrow. Ch’i-ch’iao experienced all those feelings, which kept on repeating themselves as the moon does every month. Although the time has passed and many people have died and replaced by another generation, the patriarchal principles remained and continued to preoccupy the new generation in the cycle of oppression. As the moon goes through its 30-day-cycle, so do the daughters-in-law encounter struggles from their mothers-in-law, which generates an unyielding model of female subjectivity that is experienced by the lives of daughters-in-law. 

The “golden cangue” is a symbolism that depicted the viciousness of Ch’i-ch’iao, the leading character, who seemed to be imprisoned by fate, but also punishing. A cangue is a wooden tool, hanged at the neck of petty offenders as a form of punishment (Gray, 2002). Ch’i-ch’iao was perceived as a woman who was full of life, with a humble origin, but her marriage to a gentry’s family destroyed her character, as she became an object of ridicule from her new family members and maidservants. As Ch’i-ch’iao continued to suffer from class prejudice and sexual dissatisfaction, she reserved her desires for many years as she waited stoically for her inheritance. She allows her heart to be tormented by the disability of her husband.

Ch’i-ch’iao’s love towards her lover who belonged to her class was so strong that her heart was a “deep lake, stirred up with waves”. This statement depicted how genuine love is unlikely to end even when people that love each other are miles apart. The mirror is another symbol that Chang has exploited in her work to indicate a reflection of individuals characters. Whatever Ch’i-ch’iao had gone through as a daughter-in-law is being reflected to her daughter, who is unsettled in her relationship. A blood lineage breeds same characters, and this is supported by the saying “A dragon breeds a dragon, a phoenix breeds a phoenix”. Although individuals are capable of changing their reputations, they hardly change their characters.

Ch’i-ch’iao’s talks were filled with grievances and teasing language that meant to heart others. When her younger brother-in-law teased about her husband, Ch’i-ch’iao reacted “as if she held scalding hot melted candlewax in her mouth”. This was an illustration of frustration, since she was reluctant to discuss her husband’s situation with anyone. In the context where Ch’i-ch’iao is offering counsel to her daughter on choosing a partner, she use the “slapping one’s own face” symbolically to mean the shameful feeling of opting for the worst choices when one has already squandered the chance for the right choice. When an individual is desperate for something, he/she does not mind about what had been overlooked before, as long the choice fits the current needs.

Chang’s use of metaphors is meant to express bitter feelings and experiences. Her prowess in the use of metaphors enabled her to articulate complicated events into easy and comical expressions. Metaphors are used in the story to offer an idea of what the author is trying to explain in his/her work. According to Larson (2013), metaphors are utilized in numerous stories to lay emphasis on essential positions in dramatic ways. Metaphors enable the readers to grasp the concepts of the author, in addition to making the author’s work more interesting. The golden cangue is itself a metaphor that expresses the oppression experienced by Ch’i-ch’iao. It depicts that Ch’i-ch’iao is trapped in repression, despite being conscious of her life. Ch’i-ch’iao’s marriage to a crippled man was like hanging a cangue on the neck for no apparent reason. She could have married her boyfriend, whom she had known for long, and who belonged to her social class.

When Ch’i-ch’iao was being tormented by her own sanity, she feared gazing outside where the moon dazzled brightly to an extent of making “one’s hair stand.” It is apparent that the moon cannot make the hair stand, but the author used the phrase to depict how life outside could be more fulfilling, though Ch’i-ch’iao could not dare to leave her husband. The presence of fear in Ch’i-ch’iao’s mind has made almost everything in her life to look different. She did not want to believe in what she was seeing. She feared her husband’s eventuality while her mother-in-law, as well as the maidservants, who were below her in the social class, but did not respect her.

When Chang mentioned that the elders used big hats to suppress people, she meant that the elders had to be easily recognizable to demand respect from other people in society. If they dressed just like ordinary villagers, maybe no one would have taken them with the seriousness they deserved. Chang also noted that the elders kept on browbeating people with their high-sounding words. This does not necessarily mean arm-twisting people, but rather using their well-articulated words to advice people on morals and consequences of improper behaviors.

The mirror is used as a metaphor to mean something that is not real. The mirror is capable of becoming an unending absentee, or emptiness, without a show of true face. Ch’i-ch’iao’s daughter-in-law is portrayed as having committed suicide yet this was not the cause of her death. The mirror is a reflection of what life has been for Ch’i-ch’iao, and such a lifestyle has been inherited by her daughter as well as daughters-in-law. Life is an intangible concept that is built on vague meanings and structure. Individuals can visualize themselves in the mirror, and by looking at the image in the mirror, they can conceptualize their own reflections. However, individuals can only utilize the cognitive meaning of life since they cannot define life holistically.


Gray, J. H. (2002). China: A history of the laws, manners and customs of the people. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

Larson, C. U. (2013). Persuasion: Reception and responsibility. Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.