The initial attitude in her novels, Rice Bowl (1984) and Fistful of Colours (1993), is ambivalence about the politics of the State: A recognition of the achievements of the political system is mediated by the awareness of its inherent contradictions and limitations. But subsequently, a growing consciousness of the symbiotic relationship between political power and the self emerges, so that the compulsion to engage in criticism of Singapore's regulated and pragmatic democracy is slowly subdued in the light of its sustenance of the nation's survival. Her first novel, Rice Bowl(1984) is set in the late 1960s when Singapore, recently ousted from Malaysia (1965) and compelled to establish its independence. She describes a country in the process of rapidly industrializing to secure its survival that must educate its people to serve the required workforce. The authorial voice which emerges here is a socially conscious one which sets out for itself the role of criticising the authoritarian politics involved in the creation of a highly-trained and highly disciplined community to achieve the economic progress desired.
In Rice Bowl, Lim makes three criticisms of Singapore's pragmatic, highly-regulated democracy: (1) it produces docile citizens who are unwilling and unable to think for themselves; (2) it perpetuates a crisis mentality in order to depoliticize Singapoerans; and (3) it so emphasizes pragmatic approaches that it has produced a materialistic society.
[This essay has been adapted, with kind permission of the author, from Politics and Self: A Study of Gopal Baratham and Suchen Christine Lim, her 1996 National University of Singapore Master's thesis. GPL]