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Home » Uncategorized » Introducing a Character: Lodge’s Ideas Applied to Duong Thu Huong’s Paradise of the Blind (Draft)

Introducing a Character: Lodge’s Ideas Applied to Duong Thu Huong’s Paradise of the Blind (Draft)

 

“Character is arguably the most important single component of the novel.” (Lodge, 67)

The characters pose as the vital element needed to drive the events of a story from beginning to end by setting off chain reactions based on their actions. Without the characters, the story would not exist mainly due to the fact that most novels, including Paradise of the Blind, revolve around the story of a character or a particular group. In order to tell a story, there is also a need for supporting characters to not only support the main character, but also challenge them. The main character of Paradise of the Blind, Hang, is surrounded by those who support her, such as her roommates, and those who pose as a challenge, such as her Uncle Chinh. As a result, the story only comes into existence once the author chooses the characters designed to drive the established plot.

“Nothing can equal the great tradition of the European novel in the richness, variety and psychological depth of its portrayal of human nature.” (Lodge, 67)

Because Paradise of the Blind is solely written in Hang’s point of view, it allows the reader to identify the many ways Hang portrays characteristics of human nature such as judgment, decision-making, and making mistakes. For example, at the start of the novel, Hang contemplates whether she should make the journey to visit her uncle, and all throughout, the reader follows Hang through her thought process that leads to the final decision. The reader is also given the chance to truly understand the conflict Hang faces within herself, which is whether she should cut the strong ties with her family in order to pursue the future she wants, without being held back by what is expected of her.

“There are so many different types of character and so many different ways of representing them: major characters and minor characters, flat characters and round characters, characters rendered from inside their minds […] and characters viewed from outside by others.” (Lodge, 67)

When a new character is introduced to the story, it seems to be done in two primary ways: directly through Hang’s encounter with the characters, whether it be from memory or in the present, or through the stories she has been told. The former method is portrayed in chapter 2 when Hang meets the man sitting with her in the train compartment who offers her a bite of his sandwich. The ladder is the method used to tell one of the major stories in the book, and that is the story of Hang’s mother and father. Of course, Hang never met her father, so all she knows of him is based on what she heard from her mother and Aunt Tam. Never the less, the story of Hang’s father is told as though Hang herself was present.

Many times, new characters are introduced when a certain event triggers Hang’s memory and causes her to remember certain people she has met. One instance is when Hang is observing the foggy weather outside the train, and is reminded of an English painter she once met on the banks of Crimea “who seemed to carry the fog of his country with him everywhere,” (Huong, 29). Earlier in the novel, the reader is introduced to one of Hang’s Russian roommates, who happened to misplace her sewing machine, simply because the scene outside the train window reminded Hang of the first time she saw snow (Huong, 83).

 “The simplest way to introduce a character […] is to give a physical description and biographical summary.” (Lodge, 67)

This seems to be a consistent way to introduce a new character throughput the novel, especially when Hang is meeting the character for the first time as well. When the village Vice President is introduced, Hang described him as a “short, pudgy man, with a barrel like waist. A strange ruddy face, neither round nor square, but lobster-colored,” and so on (Huong, 151). Another character who is introduced in such a way is the fortune-telling blind man who lived in Hang’s Hanoi neighborhood. Hang immediately begins to give a biographical summary of this man, but only based on what she has heard. “They said his wife had built it [the house] for him seventeen years earlier, before she ran off with another man […] People who had heard of the blind man’s reputation traveled from all over to come here and sat in the courtyard, waiting their turn,” (Huong, 44).

Story telling and gossip seemed to be practiced regularly due to the fact that Hang knew many details concerning Bich and Nan, two officials assigned by Uncle Chinh during the land reform. “They say he [Bich] was a soldier, expelled from the French colonial Army for drunkenness. He was tall and handsome, but very lazy. He could be trusted to perform only small household tasks like washing dishes,” (Huong, 25). Hang says that her mother once told her about Nan, and that “when her husband was still alive, he beat her for three days out of five for steeling food […] Nan was nowhere to be found […] Finally, in an alley filled with sweet vendors, he {her husband] found her kneeling in front of a luscious display of cakes […] speechless with rage, he gasped and dropped dead on the spot,” (Huong, 27-28).

“In any case, all description in fiction is highly selective; its basic rhetorical technique is synecdoche, the part standing for the whole.” (Lodge, 68)

Paradise of the Blind is set in post-American-war Vietnam, a time when communism fought to take hold and many faced the backlashes of the communists’ effort. Due to the fact that the novel is fiction and told through first person, the ideas and conflicts that the author wishes to portray must be embodied by some aspect of the novel. For example, Uncle Chinh represents the communist officials who believed they were freeing the nation and its people through their ideals, but in reality, they were blind to the corruption they leaked into Vietnamese society.

“Clothes are always a useful index of character, class, life-style.” (Lodge, 68)

Hang only does this if the character is being introduced through her personal encounter with them and mostly when the character is insignificant and does not require further description. One of such characters is a Russian woman who Hang accidentally bumped into at the train station and is described to have “tightly molded into a red velvet blouse and black skirt. She swayed and gave off a flowery perfume as she walked straight ahead,” (Huong, 15). Based on this description, it can be understood that the Russian woman was substantial enough to have afforded strong perfume and a velvet shirt. Later in the novel, Hang meets another Russian woman, who, “when she boarded the train, had worn a simple gray-necked blouse; now, she wore a red satin dress with a lace collar that fanned out around her neck,” (Huong, 226). Wealth and substantial comfort is again evident through the woman’s lavish attire. In comparison, Hang describes the outfit of a young man who dropped by Uncle Chinh while she and her mother were visiting, saying that “over his jeans, he wore a blue shirt flecked with black,” (Huong, 121-122). Although this young man is not as wealthy as the aforementioned Russian women, not everyone could afford a pair of jeans.

-Sally Kishi


2 Comments

  1. shafiatalat says:

    I really like the way you addressed this topic! My favorite point is the second one becasue it also relates with mine. Introducing a character by presenting the psychological depth of his/her human nature allows the reader to grasp onto the type of character introduced. This also demonstrates the emotions of the character which allows the readers to relate and empathize.
    I really like how you mentioned that since the novel is written in Hang’s point of view, we are able to experience her journey with her, see how she makes judgements and makes decisions. If I were to critique this from a feminist point of view, it can be said that this is solely the reason why the author has written the novel from a female point of view. Before the 1960’s books with male protagonists were the only ones taught in schools, which forced the readers to think from a male point of view, some of which were even misogynist.
    Additionally, the fact that Hang lies in a dilemma of whether she should visit her uncle or not proves the argument of essentialist feminists.The fact that she’s in a dilemma gives us insight on her psychological feelings towards him. However, the fact that she decided to visit him proves that while men think in terms of rights, when confronted with ethical issues, women in think in terms of their responsibilities towards others.
    Overall, I really liked your topic, and i think you did a great job!!

  2. habebayoussef says:

    Really Good Job! I actually learned a lot from this. This blog-post gave me insight on how significant the introduction of characters really is. It was interesting to realize the trend in literature where when characters are introduced, they are given a physical description and a biological summary. This allows the audience to better understand, or relate with the characters that are being introduced. Another interesting thing I learned from your post is the concept of “synecdoche”. I didn’t realize at first how evident it was the one person in the novel could stand for something much larger; like Uncle Chinch and how was a representation of the communist officials. Overall, this was very insightful, thank you!

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