A character’s motivation is not always so clear cut, especially in any realist novel like Duong Thu Huong’s Paradise of the Blind. This is exactly what Lodge explains to us when he defines the sources of motivation of a character. Lodge states that “characters act as they do not simply because it suits the interests of the plot but because a combination of factors, some internal, some external, plausibly cause them to do so”. Lodge also states that “motivation in realist novels tends to be ‘overdetermined'” meaning “any given action is the product of several drives or conflicts derived from more than one level of the personality”. Lastly, from Lodge’s chapter on Motivation, he “imitated the way we infer motives from behaviour in real life, and the way we conceal our true motives even to ourselves”.
These three main points of motivation highlighted by Lodge are present in the main characters, Aunt Tam, Que and Uncle Chinh, as well as Que’s daughter Hang, of Duong Thu Huong’s Paradise of the Blind. The complexity of these four characters ultimately influence one another’s actions and motives throughout the novel while something greater than them all controls them collectively, French Colonialism.Aunt Tam has suffered from a hard life but because of her struggles she dedicated her life to proving people wrong by becoming one of the wealthiest in the novel, despite the ideologies of French Colonialism taking her home and wealth away from her. We also see some form of cultural and familial values that influence her motivations. We see this as she continuously provides for Hang, saying she is the last hope for the family. However, as Lodge explained, there is more to a character’s personality that influences their true motivations. As Hang states on page 192 about Aunt Tam, she is “probably plotting how she would create heaven on earth for me”. We must note the use of the word “plotting” here. We can then infer that her motives are not solely for Hang, but are also to boast, specifically in front of Que in order to highlight how little she is doing in providing for the well-being of her own daughter, as a result of her life choices and familial priorities.
Hang’s mother, Que, is very much tradition oriented, which therefore explains her actions towards the end of the novel. Que’s true motive wasn’t revealed until later in the novel. At the start, Hang and Que were inseparable, but as Uncle Chinh became more invested in their lives and in need of their help, the reader’s interpretation of Que’s family values began to change. Uncle Chinh is the epitome of French Colonialism that unapologetically interjected in the lives of Hang and Que. His actions and political opinions forced upon his sister Que unfortunately corrupted and separated her and her daughter. Que slowly parted from her old and simple lifestyle and began complying to all her brother Chinh’s wishes and even giving a great percentage of her already low income to Chinh, while leaving almost nothing for herself and Hang to live. Hang herself states on page 176 “This was her mission: to gather, coin by coin, the money necessary to serve the needs of her brother”. Why did she do this? It all goes back to the recurring factor of tradition. In Vietnam the younger siblings always worked to take care of the eldest, and in this case, it was Uncle Chinh. Que justifies herself on page 178 and says to Hang “There’s no one left in our family. I’m all he’s got, you understand”. The other part of her personality which translates to motive by action is her underlying longing to be proud. Being able to set yourself apart from the little people of the town was an opportunity no one ever gave up. On page 192 we see this first hand. As Hang narrates Neighbor Vi’s daughter introducing Que’s brother and his wife to the people who gathered when Que fell ill, she says she was “recounting my mother’s pride at being able to introduce her family to the little people of the neighborhood”. She also says “After all, everyone needs something to be proud of”. This motivation is ironic because these people she was so proud of are the ones who had torn her family apart.
This ironic image Huong set up also reflects the reality of Communism at this time. Communism was introduced to Vietnam in an effort to bring equality, peace and prosperity to the people; when in fact, it did quite the opposite. Communism brought major economic issues and took away the human rights of the people, destroying the country and leaving its citizens divided. Communism also destroyed the fabric of Vietnamese society: the family unit. This is clearly depicted in the novel through the relationships between all the characters, and this in turn greatly influenced their motivations. Uncle Chinh, being a strong advocate of the Communist party, alters the motivations and actions of Que, which in turn adds the boasting and “plotting” motivation to Aunt Tam, therefore dividing the family and adding to their failures, provoking Hang’s true motives at the end of the novel.
As we’ve seen with the Aunt Tam and Que, the events in Hang’s life are deeply influenced by the people around her and their individual motivations. As a child, Hang does not have much say in what goes on around her, she simply obeys. Also, being a child in the specific time and environment she lived in, she sees, hears and feels things she may not always understand. But as she grew older, she began to find herself and her voice. And this was Hang’s true motivation that was not always evident to even herself. The start of this realization comes to her on page 174 as she says, “But I no longer felt the stab of sadness, the despair that had weighed me down as a child. All I heard now in this song was a vague pity in the middle of the chaos of life, a call for tenderness, protection, the desire to reach out for comfort”. In finding herself, she vows to stay away from the hopelessness rooted in her life by her family and environment. She does not want to repeat history by continuing on living with the bare minimum and doing only enough to survive. We see this motivation finally put to action at the very end of the novel as she sells Aunt Tam’s house and gold and says goodbye to her hometown, leaving behind the failures of her family, setting out to discover her own destiny and finally make something of herself.