“The electric chair of polished brass, placed squarely within the chamber like a throne. This was the invention of modern science. It could take a man’s life. And the helmet-shaped brass skull cap. Could it really ease all his thoughts?”
The prisoner then has his last words, where he declares his innocence, but as he is doing so, he can feel the others around him rejecting his claim. Earlier, he speaks about the years spent on death row and the thousands of days and how suddenly, when left with only seventy hours, how quickly it moves, in retrospect, as opposed to when he was actually living through it. This tale not only tackles ideas behind crime and punishment, life and death, but also our perceptions of time.
Another memorable tale, “The General” involves a cranky Russian general that leaves readers with a powerful ending involving the lack of communication. This theme is again touched upon in a tale called “When the Snow Melted,” where a quarreling couple is used to express aspects that often go overlooked. This tale also has a memorable end, which ties into the beginning quite well.
All the tales in this collection are strong, save for the title story, “Autumn in Spring,” which is still a good work, only it runs a bit too long. Most of Ba Jin’s tales are told crisply and he does not waste a lot of words. In fact, his work reminds me a little of Nagai Kafu’s American Stories — not in terms of themes or ideas, but in structure and narrative. Both writers tackle different approaches and their tales usually contain strong endings. The only definitively bad tale in Ba Jin’s collection is the last one, titled “My Life and Literature.” It’s not really a tale but a personal essay where the writer is distilling his thoughts on what he believes art and writing should be. Thankfully, it is short. My criticism is not that I am in disagreement (even though I happen to be), but that his beliefs are just silly. It’s an example where sometimes it’s not always a good thing to read what some writer believes his or her intention to be, since ultimately intent is meaningless. Only the words matter.