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“The Man with Compound Eyes” by Wu Ming-Yi

The Man with Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi is built around two key characters, Atile’i and Alice, who face similar cultural threats in their settings. Atile’i is a key character in the story that is expected to disappear in line with a tradition. He lives in an imaginary island called Wayo Wayo. Atile’i is determined to beat the existing destiny and be the first one to survive thanks to his strong swimming and sailing abilities. Another significant character is Alice. She has mysteriously lost both her son and husband and contemplates committing suicide. Nevertheless, a great trash vortex comes to the shore, bringing Atile’i with it. He finally helps Alice trace her husband in the mountains. The source of Atile’i and Alice’s different functioning in relation to the setting, point of view, literary motif, characters, and plot is their Ruggiero truths and epistemological systems of knowledge.

The Man with Compound Eyes

The setting plays an instrumental role in influencing the thinking of both Aitle’i and Alice. Accordingly, Atile’i’s setting is based on an imaginary and undiscovered island of Wayo Wayo where the second sons in families are mysteriously lost. This influences his way of thinking and makes him contemplate about saving his own life. He is able to think critically hence reflecting his apprehension of Ruggiero’s truths about the situation. Atile’i understands that he is a professional swimmer and sailor, and this is the only way that he can save himself from the mysterious disappearance. The surrounding flora and fauna give him more abilities to think about the best way to save himself from the imminent disappearance. For instance, Ming-Yi states that Atile’i has a capacity to imitate the birdcalls so skillfully that “he fools even the birds themselves” (Ming-Yi174). This is reflective of his critical thinking capacities that lead to the development of knowledge. On the other hand, Alice lives by the sea and, as a professor of literature, has prior knowledge of the mysteries that happen around the sea. Her setting influences the way she thinks about her own life. She tends to believe that the only way to overcome the loss of her husband and son is to commit suicide and get away from the face of the earth. For instance, Ming-Yi reiterates that she “got up early one morning and decided to kill herself” (Ming-Yi 16). This is reflective of the influence of the setting on her way of thinking about the value of life, especially after losing her family. Life can never be the same again with such losses. However, the diverse apprehension of the true challenges their memories as they try to trace Alice’s husband. Alice doubts everything she thought she knew as a professor of literature and a writer.

Atile’i is a psychologically determined character who believes in changing the existing destiny of the disappearance of a second child in the family when he or she reaches the age of 15 years. His critical way of reasoning gives him an idea of defying destiny and surviving the heavy waters of the sea. Atile’i’s psychological determination emanates from his aboriginal origin, which is stronger than that of the Chinese inhabitants of the island. They are “not allowed to look back” (Ming-Yi 11) when being permanently taken by the sea as a part of the sacrifice. Nevertheless, his strong psychological approach and mode of thinking make it easier for him to withstand the existing situation and bring about a change as a survivor. The giant trash vortex finally sweeps him to the east coast of Taiwan, where he meets Alice and establishes a strong relationship with her through his apprehension of Ruggiero’s truths that emanate from critical thinking capabilities. Alice has a similar determined character. Despite her grief at the loss of her husband and son, she clings to her life because of the feeling that her son must be alive. She is determined to bring about a change to the mystery in the story by finding her son and husband who have disappeared mysteriously in the course of happenings. Without a determination prompting her to think critically, it would have been difficult for Alice to move up the mountain in tracing her lost husband. Her own psychological strength also plays a crucial role, helping her relate closely with other characters such as Hafay and Dahu.

Additionally, Atile’i’s the apprehension of Ruggiero’s truths emanating from a combination of imagination and critical thinking determine the plot structure of the story as a surrealistic experience. The plot structure is brought out in a surrealistic sense from the beginning of the story. For instance, Ming-Yi describes the island of Wayo Wayo in its natural sense as a place where “They did not ask how old people were, but simply grew tall like trees and stuck out their organs of increase like flowers” (Ming-Yi 13). This is reflective of the surrealistic nature of the whole story. It is quite unimaginable for people in the real world to grow to the height of trees and have natural powers that are beyond the comprehension of human beings. The subsequent survival story points to the earthiness and perceptual powers of Atile’i. For instance, he is washed down the sea by the vortex and utilizes his knowledge to build an improvised shelter that safely sweeps him to the eastern coast of Taiwan where he meets Alice. Similarly, Alice’s epistemologies also influence the development of the plot as a surrealistic experience. She has almost lost her memories and, leading a life without a husband and son, she loses touch with the realistic nature of the world. While referring to Alice in describing the earthquake, Ming-Yi states that it is “strong enough to reawaken people’s childhood memories” (Ming-Yi 26). This is a surrealistic explanation of the earthquake and events that follow Alice’s efforts to recover her lost son. The whole story is represented as a dream with surrealistic images of different elements. For instance, when Alice is searching for her lost kitten, a cloud of butterflies rises, and she hears the sound of a muntjac. Dahu’s question to Alice about whether different colored eyes see the world in different ways sums up the element of the surrealistic portrayal of the plot.

The point of view embraced with respect to Atile’i and Alice is the first person point of view. Accordingly, the author narrates the story and expresses the thoughts and feelings of both characters in the clearest manner possible. Atile’i’s insights are driven by his critical approach to the establishment of the truth and the belief that he could overcome the existing beliefs about the sacrifice of second-born sons. His gender makes him a more daring individual in terms of taking risks, as when he swam across the sea without being swallowed. In a similar sense, his aboriginal origin offers him more strength over the original Chinese occupants of the island, and he is determined to assert his own position as a strong person able to overcome the existing cultural beliefs. Atile’i’s tone throughout the story is optimistic and focuses on the attainment of his goals. The first goal is to survive, and he expresses this with much confidence. Another goal is to help Alice trace her husband, and he tries to reach it with so much zeal. On the other hand, the third point of view is also utilized in the expression of Alice’s feelings. Her insights are anchored on grieving the loss of her husband and mysterious occurrences that happen in the course of her life. As a female character, Alice feels fear and is on the verge of giving up her life because of the loss she suffers in her life. Alice’s tone is mostly bitter as she tries to recount the misfortunes she has suffered. For instance, at one point she thinks “the sea had been like a random memory” (Ming-Yi 130), which illustrates her bitterness and desire to forget the difficult times she had gone through. Her bitterness and knowledge of the ways of getting back her son are vital in the recovery process, which was not easy in the mountainous region. Therefore, a similar point of view utilized for both characters separates them in the way of thinking about the present and future life.

A common literary theme in the story is culture and its direct effects on both islanders and mainlanders. Atile’i live on an imaginary island that is yet to be discovered by many people. The islanders are brought out as unique individuals who grow tall to the height of trees. However, they also have to live with the culture of the sacrifices for their second-born sons once they are 15 years old. The island experience is unique compared to the mainland experience. It is described as a landscape occupied by an enigmatic “man with compound eyes” (Ming-Yi 13), which means that it is an island of unique people with supernatural strengths. Atile’i exhibit this strength through his brave expeditions when he runs away from the island. This is a different case for Alice who lives on the mainland. The mainland is represented as a place with softer individuals who might not be as daring as the islanders. Alice does not have the same courage as Atile’i because of her mainland lifestyle. For instance, she expresses shock when the sea gets closer and asks the question “when had the sea gotten so close?” (Ming-Yi 22). This is illustrative of her misunderstanding of the island lifestyle, which is driven by her epistemological ways of thinking.

In conclusion, Atile’i and Alice are the key characters represented in The Man with Compound Eyes by Wu Ming-Yi. Atile’i’s character representation is mainly anchored on the apprehension of Ruggiero’s truth while the character of Alice is based on epistemological truths about different events. The setting based on cultural beliefs about the disappearance of the second-born child influences their thinking capabilities. Atile’i is able to think widely and come up with the decision to evade the tradition. On the other hand, Alice’s thinking seems to be restricted by her grief. Both characters are able to establish closer ties with other characters despite their differing approaches to the truth and thinking. The surrealism in the plot structure is also determined by the manner in which both characters reason and imagine things existing in their space. The entire story gives the reader an impression of the island vs. mainland living hand in hand and the adventures that individuals from both sides have to undergo to survive.