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Defamiliarization: Lodge’s Ideas Applied to Paradise of the Blind

Defamiliarisation refers to a writer’s ability to take a known object and through the art of writing changing that easily identified object into a strangely unfamiliar item. According to David Lodge, defamiliarization is simply another word for originality. It is not necessary for an author to create something new to be original; they merely need to present to the reader an already familiar concept in a new and unfamiliar way. The use of defamiliarization in literary works is significant as it allows the readers perspective to be shifted and makes it possible for the writer to present an event or an object that is known among the social order to the reader in a way that is so foreign, the reader can experience the event for what seems to be the first time.

Duong Thu Huong used defamiliarization several times in her book, Paradise of the Blind, to allow the reader to connect with the characters in the novel and to personalize the events in the book so that the reader may experience them as accurately and intimately as possible. There are three particular sections in the novel in which defamiliarization is a crucial component in making the reader truly understand Hangs experiences.

In chapter two pages twenty-two and twenty-three, Huong defamiliarizes the land reform in a way that allows the reader to live through the confusion Hang and her mother experienced due to Uncle Chinh icy return. Throughout the conversation held by uncle Chinh and Hang’s mother, we begin to understand what is currently taking place in Vietnam. As Hang’s mother defends her husband Ton, the reader is shown that the wealthy who were punished during the land reforms were not horrible people. We are also shown how many people did not understand why the wealthy “had suddenly become an enemy of the people” and simply went along with the reforms to maintain the peace. By defamiliarizing the land reforms, the reader is able to connect with Hang and her family and understand the perplexity of the situation they were forced to endure. An event that once seemed detached had now become personalized and clarified.

In chapter six page one hundred and five, we see a new type of defamiliarization. While the type we identified earlier was meant to personalize an event, this instance of defamiliarization was intended to show innocence in a time of corruption and darkness. Hang and her mother arrive at the communist compound where Uncle Chinh lives and through Hangs point of view, the reader is able to detect her confusion as to why her Uncle, a high and mighty leader, must live in a simplistic, bare district. Her lack of understanding of the communist ways of life allows the reader to observe communism in a unique naive way. Hang’s innocent perception of her cousin’s scrawny appearances and their cautious actions show the reader a bleak image of how communism affected children. Those who the reader had once seen as heartless wicked members of a failed economic system are now seen as victims of a misguided attempt for a better life.

The last kind of defamiliarization seen in the book is located on the last page of the novel. It is employed with the means of leaving the reader with a sense of contemplation and hopefulness. A present day Hang sits alone after the death of her aunt and she “dreamed of different worlds, of the cool shade of a university auditorium, of a distant port where a plane could land and take off…” Instead of simply stating that Hang dreams of moving to America, Huong employs the use of defamiliarization to illustrate how deeply Hang longs for a life far from where she is. The imagery provided permits the reader to easily imagine Hang sitting in a university auditorium enjoying the shade that shields her from the hot sun as she watches planes fly overhead.  Through the use of defamiliarization, the reader is left hoping that Hang will finally obtain the life she desires.

Without the use of defamiliarization in Paradise of the Blind, the reader would put down the book without having their assumptions and perceptions on the topic challenged. Furthermore, the writer would not have been able to emotionally connect readers to his novel.  Defamiliarization is an effective tool in merging the readers sentiment with that of the characters and ensuring that the reader stays engrossed in the book.


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