Last Updated 20 Apr 2022

Symbolism in Film Mulan

Category Mulan
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Hayden Ikerd Mr. Wheeler AP Literature 12 April, 2013 Thomas Foster’s Themes Traced in Mulan In his book How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Thomas Foster explains many reoccurring themes in literature, and shows how to recognize them and in some instances shows certain works where they occur. By reading this guide to literature, one may gain a deeper understanding of the work itself and of the author’s intent in writing it. However, Foster’s methods can also be applied to films.

A film that contains many of the various themes, models, symbolism, and devices discussed in his book is Walt Disney’s Mulan. Mulan is a character type with which people are familiar. Foster discusses this process of association in the chapter “Now Where Have I Seen Her Before? ” In his book, he asserts that no work is wholly original. The whole idea of a female Chinese heroine was not originally conceived by Disney. The character of Mulan can be traced back to The Ballad of Hua Mulan, written sometime in the 11th century.

Still, most people may not be so familiar with this relatively dated ballad. Some people may associate the character of Mulan with that of Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. Both Mulan and Scout are tomboys by nature, acting in ways more suited to boys. Also, they both do things they do for the approval of their respective father figures. Mulan is notably the heroine of her story, saving the Chinese empire from the attacking Huns. The ‘heroine’ model can also be seen in characters such as Antigone and Hester Prynne. Food plays some role in every work- namely the act of consuming it.

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Mulan is no exception. Foster talks about this in the chapter “Nice To Eat With You. ” Towards the beginning of the movie, Mulan along with several other young maidens go to visit the match maker, who is in charge of determining each girl’s eligibility as a wife. This process by which she judges them is by partaking in a cup of tea with each one. Mulan’s ‘interview’ as it were went over horribly. This is to establish the fact that Mulan has a measure of difficulty coming into womanhood, and the whole idea of being ladylike does not come to her naturally.

The second meal that plays a big part in the film is the one that takes place in the barracks. Mulan just met her fellow soldiers, and the next thing to occur is a meal with them. Trying to establish herself as a man, she accidently picks a fight with one, leading to a riot, and rice being spilled all over the camp. After this, they all held her in contempt. Mulan’s first meal with her comrades shows that she has just as hard a time fitting in with these men as she did with the women. Mulan’s two meals show the difficulty she has trying to find her place.

The role of men and women play an important role in this movie. Foster touches this phenomenon in the chapter “It’s All Political. ” The underlying message of Mulan is that of gender equality. As a woman, Mulan is looked down upon, and is not allowed to fight in the war against the Huns in the first place. To fight is to disgrace her whole family. This offense was so dire, that when she was discovered to be a woman on the battlefield, she was sentenced to death. She is also portrayed as being weaker and less capable than the other soldiers.

However, she learns to keep up, and eventually excels in combat training and proves to be an invaluable asset to the Chinese army. In the end, Mulan portrays women as strong, and in the battle could not have been won without femininity. Towards the end, the Huns are ultimately overcome by the male soldiers dressing as women, who seduce them, then defeat them. In the end of the film, virtually all of China bows to Mulan in respect, showing that she is held in equal esteem as even the emperor, who is male (he also bows, of course).

Another important element in Mulan that Foster points out is that of rain, which he mentions in his chapter entitled, “It’s More Than Just Rain or Snow. ” Foster would have one to believe that often times when a character goes through rain, snow, or something of the sort, that he or she has undergone a figurative baptism. After Mulan has failed in her encounter with the matchmaker, she goes home and begins singing the marvelous, gripping song called “Reflection”. She asks, “When will my reflection show who I am inside? She realizes that her fair appearance does not reflect her feelings. Singing this song, she washes away her makeup, and gives up on becoming the perfect daughter and bride; it is a baptism. Maybe it would be key to mention that during this song, Mulan sings in a downpour of rain. Just like Foster describes in his book, Mulan is ‘baptized’ in the rain. Disney movies are not notorious for their violent nature. So, when something violent occurs in a Disney movie, or an individual (or animal in many cases) dies, it must carry some kind of importance.

In the chapter of his book “More Than It’s Gonna Hurt You”, Fosters says that there is usually more to violence than just violence. When Mulan is struck by the sword of Shan Yu, many more things happen to her than a fatal wound. She almost meets her demise, and for the first time, the reality of war sets in. Mulan realizes that she is not invincible and grasps the perils of war for the first time. When she receives medical attention for her wound, she is discovered to be a woman. All she has worked for up until this point is now for naught, as she is expelled from the army and her family name is disgraced.

Another instance where violence plays an important role is when Li Shang’s father is discovered to be dead. Li Shang’s father was the head general of the Chinese army; he was held in high esteem by everyone, especially his son. Li Shang aspired to be the general his father was. Shang’s father’s plan was to make an assault on the Hun army, and meet up with Shang after they had obtained victory, which they thought was inevitable. When Shang reaches the point at which he was to intersect with his father, he found him gone.

Shang’s father’s death signals the time for Shang to take up the burden of leading the Chinese army and the time to become a man. The only way for China to be victorious was for Shang to surpass his father and to do what he could not: defeat the Huns. Without this loss, Shang would have never grown and would have never become the general that he was. One can see that Foster’s themes are very prevalent in the story of Mulan and are echoed in movies and books alike. Mulan is a real masterpiece to include so many elements of good literature.

Symbolism in Film Mulan essay

Related Questions

on Symbolism in Film Mulan

What is the theme of Mulan?

Thus, we see that unconditional love is an important theme in the film. Early in the film, Mulan worries that she is not up to the task of facing the matchmaker or being a perfect Chinese bride. Her father comforts her by pointing out the nearby cherry blossom tree, saying, "What beautiful blossoms we have this year.

What is the strongest sign of symbolism in Mulan?

The strongest sign of symbolism is in the scene where Mulan is found singing Reflection. A lot of the symbolism in this scene has to do with unbloomed cherry blossoms and just the blossoms themselves. The cherry blossoms are supposed to represent Mulan as everyone thinks that she is feminine and happy with herself but she is clearly not.

What do the cherry blossoms symbolize in Mulan?

The cherry blossoms represent Mulan as her beautiful, girly self, and when her father says, “My, my, what beautiful blossoms we have this year, but look, this one’s late! I’ll bet when it blooms it will be the most beautiful of all.”

Why is Mulan so different from other Disney movies?

First off, this film is certainly a lot darker than the average animated Disney flick. It opens with the murder of a nameless soldier and the invasion of China. The entire film is about war. Mulan is the only Disney princess with a body count. And Disney doesn’t shy away from the violence too much, either.

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