A Mutual Need: The Relationhip between Han and Spitface

Maureen Grundy, EL119, Class of 2000

Throughout her novel, The Bondmaid, Catherine Lim explores the many forms of power that exist in relationships. She creates many relationships where gender dictates a power disparity. The Reverend's sexual advances toward the bondmaids, the Old One's rape of Chu, the Sky God's rape and oppression of the goddess, and even Oldest Brother's role as pimp at the House of Flowers all exemplify the idea that men exhibit their power over women through acts of sexual dominance and oppression. Similarly, class also factors into this uneven distribution of power, as the wealthy purchase the poor to be servants and therefore possess the right to treat their property however they choose. Even within classes, as in the case of Choyin and Han, people attempt to attain power in their relationships. While Lim bombards her readers with the injustices of these power relationships, she creates one particular relationship that seems to contradict this typical, hierarchical norm. The relationship between Han and Spitface demonstrates a pure and innocent companionship, which defies the power structure established around gender and class.

One could argue that throughout the novel, Han does exert power over Spitface and takes advantage of him for her own benefit. Throughout her youth, she often yells at him, rejects his gifts, and plays childish tricks on him. Furthermore, she then behaves kindly toward Spitface in situations of self-interest where she asks him to run errands or perform a favor. However, one could also argue that these apparent displays of power result only from childish games and tricks and that as Han matures, her relationship with Spitface develops into one of mutual need and respect.

Throughout the novel, Han and Spitface's companionship slowly and subtly develops into a complex relationship. Lim juxtaposes Spitface's characterization as a na•ve, stupid, and pitiful charity case, who seems to receive only gratuitous niceties from the townspeople, against the sincere need that Han possesses for him in her life. This need becomes more and more apparent throughout the novel as Spitface strangely and suddenly appears in Han's most desperate and needy moments. For example, the group rape of Chu, Older Sister, and the goddess exhibits a disgusting display of male power over threatening females. "'so, you thought you could destroy me?' he snarled . . . he proceeded to rape the helpless, headless goddess, thrusting into her most mercilessly. The others took the cue; the Old One pushed Chu to the ground and drove into her, the Revered in to the Older Sister." (p.286) This group rape is then followed by Wu's attempt to rape Han. In this scene, where the feeling of hopelessness peaks, it is Spitface who unexpectedly appears to save Han. "'Help!' cried Han. She saw Spitface staring at them and yelled to him. "'Help! Help me, Spitface!' He came running up and pulled her off from underneath Wu. Sky God, still naked, still erect, pulled a spear out from behind his back and smote him dead." (p. 286-287) Although Spitface is ultimately defeated here by Sky God, he arrives precisely when Han cries out for help and succeeds at saving her from this rape.

While Spitface appears in scenes such as this one, where Han clearly has an explicit need for help, he also strangely appears in other scenes, forcing the readers to wonder what makes him such as integral part of Han's life. When Han is searching for the dead Chu, she finds her being raped by the Old One. Chu then ties a rope and Han watches as she hangs the Old One, yet Spitface suddenly appears. "The body had slowly turned around to face her; it was Spitface, not the Old One. Spitface's eyes were popping out grotesquely from his head; his tongue lolled out thick and discoloured . . . . Han ran up to his body, crying. 'Goddess, please help me,' sobbed Han. Please bring Spitface back. He's the only one who truly loves me. I was going to give him the gift of my bracelet, but now it's too late.'" (259) Why does Spitface play a role in this scene? Perhaps Chu kills him because it will hurt Han the most, and without Spitface, Han would be truly lost and alone.

Lastly, the readers observe the mutual need Han and Spitface have for each other when Han gives birth to her child. "'Thank you goddess,' said Han. She touched her newborn's hair, eyes, nose, cheeks and finally the small bud of a penis and laughed at the thought of the enemy looking upon an ignominious cleft. 'I want Spitface,' she said suddenly to Golden Fern . . . .The imbecile had never left but stayed, like a loyal devoted child, through all the screams of anguish." (p.330) Spitface is the first person Han thinks of after the birth of her child and she finds him close by, waiting through the birth.

The relationship between Han and Spitface remains a difficult companionship to decipher. While it is clear that they both possess love and respect for each other, we do not understand exactly what creates Han's need for him. However, the most important aspect of their relationship may lie in the fact that their friendship remains outside of any established power structure throughout the entire book. Spitface's character does not fit into any of the defined roles that thrive off the power granted to them through their class or gender. Their relationship remains an exception to the notion in this book that people will ultimately seek power in their relationships with others. Even at the end of the novel, Spitface seems to have had the most peaceful ending of anyone after Han's death, dying of natural causes in his woodshed. The fact that he eluded the "malignant power of the goddess" which hovered over the House of Wu may allude to the unique nature of their relationship. "Virgins and imbeciles possessed special powers." (p. 324) Could this then explain the special, even divine bond between them?


Postcolonial Web Singapore OV Singaporean Literature Catherine Lim