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The Sense of Place in Paradise of the Blind

In David Lodge’s chapter, the sense of place is presented as an entity separate from that of the description of place. The contrast between the two exists in the fact that the sense of place is connoted by the significance held by the setting in relation to the characters, plot, and novel as a whole. Lodge suggests that the danger of descriptions in novels is that they are not interactive enough, and “send the reader to sleep.” One might argue that although a great deal of artistry is used to string together successions of “well-formed, declarative” sentences, such a technique is not the most effective. Lodge also suggests that shifts in verbal mood furthers the reader’s interaction and involvement with the piece, thus increasing a sense of familiarity. Furthermore, Lodge defines a “good” description as a description that utilizes defamiliarization, or presenting a common subject or object in a strange way or order to enhance perception.  The sense of place is used extensively throughout Duong Thu Huong’s Paradise of the Blind. Huong utilizes various descriptive techniques to highlight Hang’s connection to her homeland and her residence in Russia, whilst accentuating the contrast between the two, by expending a broader focus on The Sense of Home versus the Sense of Exile.

Huong employs a contrast in description of aesthetics, as well as contrasts in symbolic meaning, to communicate the difference of depth between Hang’s connection with her hometown, and her connection with Russia.

1. Description of Vietnam:

Ex: “I saw the roof of the shack in Hanoi where my mother lived […] The acrid smell of tar was overpowering, nauseating[…] The place reeked of urine. This was my street; I had grown up here.” 

In the preceding quote from Paradise of the Blind, Huong communicates a sense of familarity. Huong’s use of unforgiving descriptors to depict the aesthetics of the shack contributes to the portrayal of the extent of Hang’s familiarity with her home. The familiarity here is not communicated through descriptions of Russia, as Duong strategically directs focus onto the ethereal aspects of the foreign land.

Ex: “The Noi Bai Airport[…] the swarms of people, the suffocating heat. Even worse was the anxiety, the fear that tormented these people as they went through customs formalities. Their numbed, panicky faces, their hair clammy with sweat…” 

Here, Huong accentuates the sense of place through the description of people, and not the description of setting. Huong’s attention to details such as that of the faces of others in Vietnam is symbolic of Hang’s connection with her homeland.

2. Description of Russia

Ex: “Outside, the sun shone, but here, I could feel the chill of exile under my skin, in my bones.” 

In this quote, Huong utilizes personification to communicate the sense of exile. Here, Huong expresses, through the character of Hang, the contrast between Hang’s external world and her internal world, highlighting the importance of the sense of self in defining the sense of home. The “chill,” or cold depicted here is symbolic of Hang’s sense of disconnect with Russia, further defining the sense of exile.

Ex: “It was five in the evening, and everything was radiant, bathed in the hazy gold sunset: the buildings, the tree-lined streets, the woods scattered through the suburbs. Even the dresses on the young girls seemed to float more seductively.”

In this quote, Hang takes on a tone of admiration, which offers insight into Hang’s surface level connection to Moscow, Russia. Huong’s use of dream-like imagery contrasts the stark realism displayed in the description of her home in Vietnam.

“In the sad, uncertain half-light of the evening, I could just make out an old house with a pointed roof and a chimney. The sight of the house stirred something in me: a vision of a former life, my own that of my parents, of my friends, of my country’ a past to which each of us is linked, inextricably, by the ties of blood and race.”

In this description, Huong employs description to display Hang’s sense of displacement. The extent of Hang’s feelings of exile are manifested in her desire to recreate the sense of home, while away from home.

Huong’s description of the structural details of Russia (buildings, an old house, etc.) contrasts her diligence in describing integral details of Vietnam (faces, aromas, etc.) to effectively symbolize the contrast between Hang’s connection to each of the places. 

In conclusion, we find that the sense of place throughout Paradise of the Blind exists in numerous mediums and is expressed through the use of various literary devices.

 


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