The duration of Paradise of the Blind is highly influential to the overall understanding of the work. David Lodge states in chapter 41 of his book that duration is, “ measured by comparing the time events would have taken up in reality with the time taken to read about them.” He also says that, “ this factor affects narrative tempo, the sense we have that a novel is fast-moving or slow-moving.” It is clear upon reading merely the first three pages of the novel that this book will be filled with flashbacks and time shifts. In order to truly comprehend the purpose of Paradise of the Blind one must analyze the duration of the events that take place in the novel.
The book begins with Hang trying to decided if she should go on a long and exhausting journey to visited her sick Uncle Chinh. The duration of the beginning of the novel is accurate. It takes about five pages for Hang to make a decision and get on the train to Moscow. Once the journey begins she starts to narrate a different time in her life and her parents lives. She shares with the reader events that took place 10 years before her birth in 15 pages. The durations of her flashbacks throughout the entire novel are inaccurate. David Lodge says that, “ The stream of consciousness novel lingers over every moment, however banal.” This is evident in almost all of Hang’s flashbacks. She tends to mention trivial details of the past giving the reader the sense that this is a slow-paced novel. It is clear when comparing the time it takes to read about a memory, and the time it takes to read about the present, that Hang is confused about her life. She has reached a point where her life is stalled, and as she sits on the train waiting reach Moscow she is trying to make sense of her past in order to understand her future. Hang is not only on a journey to visit her uncle, but she is also on a psychological journey in order to understand herself. The reader accompanies her on both trips. Chapter three is composed entirely of memories of her childhood. It takes 19 pages for Hang to recall these memories. In reality it would have taken her about five minutes. The inaccurate duration of past events emphasizes their importance. For example, throughout many of her flashbacks the readers get insight on the negative effects of communism in Vietnamese society. When the duration is extended in the novel it highlights the past events that are affecting Hang’s current situation. This can be seen many times throughout the book especially when moments in her current life remind her of the past.
While extended duration is used increasingly in the beginning and middle of the novel, condensing long periods of time in only a couple of lines is seen towards the ending of the book. On page 101 Hang says, “ Spring came and went. Summer passed.” Six months passed in two sentences. This shows that life is fast paced and is always changing. This use of duration also tells the reader that the events that took place in those months were not important to the overall purpose of the novel. The important emotional moments are pages long, while small non-influential events take up mere lines. Another example can be seen on page 125 when Hang says, “ A year passed.” Clearly, the events that took place in that year do not compare to the day that Uncle Chinh visited Hang and her mother in chapter six to try to convince her to work in the offices of the Red River Food Factory. That single day took up six pages while that whole year was written in one sentence. In chapters seven and eight there are only one and a half pages of present events compared to about 15 pages of Hang’s memories. This means that at this point in her life Hang places more value on the past than the present.
However, there is a shift in duration in chapters 11 and 12. The duration of present events increases while the duration of her memories decreases. In chapter 11 there are 23 pages detailing Hang’s arrival in Moscow, and there are only three pages of flashbacks. This shift in duration shows that Hang has reached a certain point in her psychological journey where the past has started to make sense and her future is more important. She is no longer focusing on her childhood, and instead she is dealing with Uncle Chinh and his issues. After Hang reaches Uncle Chinh the book becomes fast paced and it takes place mostly in the present. It took 194 pages for Hang to reach Moscow, but only six pages for her to return home. This emphasizes the importance of the journey to Moscow. In that trip she was able to reflect on her past and make sense of it. Her returning journey was not emotional or eye opening. It was simply a train ride back home.
As Aunt Tam’s life begins to quickly come to an end the book does as well. Towards the end of chapter 11 Hang begins to race against time. The book no longer has a stream of consciousness. Only important details are mentioned, and the duration of the book becomes more accurate. Events begin to take place more rapidly, and finally in the twelfth chapter Hang is no longer looking back into her past, but she becomes focused on her own future.