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A Sense of the Past

In Lodge’s chapter on A Sense of the Past, he states, “Historical novels dealt with historical events, yet they also evoked the past in terms of morals, manners, and culture.” In addition, Lodge claims that most novels were set back in time from the point of composition, in the period of their authors’ childhood and youth in order to shed light on the social and cultural change, in which the effect is easily lost on modern readers.

According to Lodge’s point of view, he makes a point: The author Duong Thu Huong has written the novel “Paradise of the Blind” perhaps to emphasize on Vietnam’s culture and tradition. She often adds a lot of details, addressing the readers the significance of Vietnam so they get a better understanding of not where the Vietnamese were, but where and how they are now. Additionally, the reason why Duong includes details is because not everything known is actually experienced. For instance, people nowadays have a glimpse about historical events, such as wars, but they never experienced them. Nevertheless, they feel the loss, yet not fully.

In “Paradise of the Blind”, Duong Thu Huong gives the readers a sense of the past because she was involved in it. Therefore, she utilizes description, imagery, and symbolism to convey human emotion thereby allowing the reader to get a deep understanding of the past.

The character Hang as a narrator in the novel is often very powerful because the use of Hang’s poetic description infuses with human emotion. Hence, the use of description in the novel helps readers to form images in their minds about the things described; in the “Paradise of the Blind”, Hang mostly describes the village where she had grown up. Correspondingly, Hang’s description of the village often depicts the contrast between the condition before and after the Vietnam War. Hang mostly depicts how children had their own good times and played around in smutty water. “Children played in this filthy black water, sailing their little white paper boats.” (b.p 13) Furthermore, she mentions how in her village men used to drink on too much beer and came to relieve themselves. “This was my street; I had grown up here.” (b.p 14)

The usage of imagery in the “Paradise of the blind” helps us readers to have a sense of the village through sight, touch, and hearing. Hang’s diction in describing the village is detailed and poetic. Thus, it contributes to an emotionally rich atmosphere, such as nostalgia, and also lets readers to have a picture of the village in the past. “…village after village; church spires and rooftops piercing the air…drowned in fog, awash in eerie fluorescent light.” (b.p 13) Hang draws a picture for the readers, showing them the gutters gurgling under slabs of cement, flowed from one house to another. Hang’s use of poetic description ultimately creates a visual representation of ideas in the readers’ minds.

Symbolism is used in the novel to show how significant the culture and tradition are. In the first month of Tet, the Lunar New Year Festival, Hang describes how the drums would beat to call the people of the village to celebrate and how kids scurried down the roads, chasing each other. Hence, this symbolizes the importance of the Lunar New Year for the people. “On clear August nights, the rhythm of the pestles pounding young rice rose from every courtyard in every village.” (b.p 24) Hang portrays and describes how happy and joyful the people are during this particular time of the year. “The shrill jeer of women’s laughter was enough to shatter these millions of white flowers.” On the other hand, symbolism is also used to show that communism existed and that Que’s brother being a communist shows how it had an authentic effect on the reader, in which communism was a catastrophe. Furthermore, the existence of communism in the novel signifies how people were brainwashed. “The Special Section for the Rectification of Errors was incapable of picking up the pieces, but succeeded in dispelling the sinister atmosphere that had suffocated the village.” (b.p 33) Thus, communism is symbolized to show that everyone in the village could tell of the unhappiness and the injustice they had suffered. Lastly, Duong Thu Huong had copiously succeeded in giving her readers a glimpse of the past by the main character Hang’s use of words throughout the “Paradise of the Blind”.

Nadine Shihadeh


7 Comments

  1. ramanajib says:

    Absolutely well done Nadine. I really enjoyed the amount of detail that you put into this post. I didn’t realize how much Symbolism is used until I read your blog post, and its truly amazing.

  2. Jude says:

    I strongly agree with Nadine’s blogpost on “A Sense of the Past”. I believe that the author’s use of different ways to express the past (history in Vietnam, as well as the culture in Hang’s life) leaves a significant impact on the reader. I think this chapter by Lodge gives the reader more knowledge on how the “past” can affect a country socially and culturally. Specifically, the past she tells of Vietnam is explained through description, imagery, dialogue, and many other literary devices that really give the reader an insight into the historical and cultural past of the novel. This was a very impressive blogpost that really got me thinking more and more about what the author is telling us implicitly about Hang’s story in the novel.

  3. randaaaaaaa says:

    I completely agree with the arguments made throughout this blogpost. Huong’s strategic use of description, imagery and symbolism in a consistent, continuous way is what leaves a more lasting effect on the reader. Her use of details only recognizable by one who has experienced the occurrence is an ideal example of textual embedding. Mainly in psychology,textual embedding conveys that the subject is telling the truth. Particularly in the study of literary works however, the use of long and complex sentences including details when retrospectively revealing information to the reader, is one of many effective methods of engagement.
    This is also the reason behind realizing the effectiveness of the novel’s structure. As Hang reveals her past to the reader, she also reveals her limitations and immaturity as a child when attempting to interpret its components. This causes a sense of epiphany for the character, as well as the reader, who realizes the character’s true nature and attempt to abandon the past. This is realized not in the process of understanding one event, but rather comprehending the purpose of the novel as a whole. As Hang reveals her culture through the description of the past, she sees the oppression in her ancestor’s expectations as well as those of her society. This is what makes the formation of her final decision a pure one, caused by true internal reflection.

  4. Tala J says:

    I never noticed the importance of the literary devices on culture and tradition, especially the use of symbolism within the novel. I agree with Nadine because, I see how this particular effect of culture is easily lost on modern readers. Also, the author absolutely succeeded in giving a sense of the past by using the types of literary devices for us to get a better understanding of what the people had suffered from in the past.

  5. freena1 says:

    I agree with your point. Huong uses a sense of the past excellently. She makes the reader feel like they are with Hang wherever she travels. Whether she is in Vietnam or Russia, Huong uses description very well to give the reader a feel of the place. She also uses symbolism as well to deceit the hardships of communism, just like you stated

  6. WaNt SOmE MoRe says:

    Good job Nadine, I agree with what Nadine has said about how the another used imagery in her writing to kind of give the readers an idea of how the Vietnamese culture worked, I also feel like she used imagery to convey a message to readers and to me that message is to give a lot more depth and insight on minor and major things such as explaining the places she grew up in, the trips she’s been too and also recalled situations to get the reader interpret it in a couple different meaning depending on how he/she understood the text.
    Shahad.

  7. rashao says:

    I wholeheartedly agree with the points you have discussed. The very artfully used a number of literary devices to emphasize on culture. The author’s use of symbolism and descriptive writing didn’t just give a sense of the culture and tradition, but also gave a sense of the Vietnamese history, their past.

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