Human agency can be used to good ends or ill, and the ways in which we try to accomplish our ends are often remarkably similar regardless of whether we are intending to do good or evil. In Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Akroyd andDai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, we are presented with portraits of human resourcefulness, of main characters (who also serve as narrators) who use what resources they have at hand to accomplish the goals that they set for themselves. The narrator of Christie’s famous mystery uses his own resourcefulness to commit murder and attempt to get away with it while in Sijie’s novella the narrator and his best friend Luo use their resourcefulness to try to survive terrible circumstances. But all three characters demonstrate the ways in which people can draw upon their inner resources to change what seem to be immutable circumstances.
The two teenaged boys who are the protagonists of Sijie’s story have been sent to Chinese countryside during the Cultural Revolution to be “re-educated” for the crime of having parents who were part of the bourgeoisie. They find themselves engaged in the Sisyphean task of carrying an endless series of buckets of dung up a hill.
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