Whenever the word past is mentioned, one thing that immediately comes to mind is a history rich in noteworthy events. A history that not only defines a character, but a novel as a whole. However, as Lodge’s writings demonstrate, the past is much more than the historical events that take place within a novel. In relation to Paradise of the Blind, Lodge’s ideas demonstrate that a sense of the past is gained through much more than the constant flashbacks that Hang tells. Lodge lists a total of four points, two in which serve as a guide in understanding the sense of the past within the novel Paradise of the Blind. Through the interpretation of Lodge’s ideas on a sense of the past the reader can gain a better understanding on both the culture that the plot of the novel revolves around, and the viewpoints on communism discussed.
The first point that he makes is that the past represents the ways of life of ordinary individuals. These ways of life are revolved around three concepts: morals, manners, and culture (Lodge, 131). For the Vietnamese, culture served as a means of shaping their day to day lives and influencing their identity as a whole. This is evident in the family structure that Hang discusses. When discussing Mother Que’s past Hang continuously mentions her mother’s day to day activities, which consisted of chores such as cleaning. This is evident on page 19 where she states: “it was difficult enough to clean it and scrub the floors. On top of that, there was the garden to maintain and defend from an invasion of weeds. As soon as she weeded one corner, weeds would swallow up another” (Huong,19). Her referral to the constant growth of weeds indicates what women’s lives consisted of an endless amount of tasks. When one chore was done, there was always another task to be fulfilled. Meanwhile, in the Vietnamese culture men had total authority over the decisions that were made. This authority is demonstrated by the actions of Uncle Chinh. Not only does he threaten to kick Mother Que out of the house if she remains married to Ton, but he also kicked out Ton, and made Hang’s grandmother and aunt obey his every command, as Hang states: “My grandmother and my aunt were forced to prostrate themselves, head bowed, arms crossed behind their backs”(Huong, 24).Whenever Chinh made any decision, the commands he made were obliged by the entire family, no matter how cruel the rules he enforced were.
Another significant point that Lodge makes is that the past underlines “the phenomenon of social and cultural change”(Lodge, 131). This point is underlined when the author writes about events that took place in a time period prior to when the author wrote his or her novel. In turn, the effects of the novel are lost on modern readers. However, what is particularly notable about this novel is the fact that Duong wrote about a historical event that she lived through. Duong published Paradise of the Blind in 1988. A year later, she was expelled from the Communist Party for her outspoken criticisms (Blodgett, 33). Her direct experience with communism gives a justifiable perspective on the negative portrayal of communism within her novel. However, as Lodge states this leads to a lost effect on modern day readers- which in fact makes it difficult for them to truly empathize with Hang or appreciate the novel, since they are in a completely different time period. Not only have the effects of the novel been lost on modern day readers, but also the Vietnamese themselves. She wrote this novel in hopes of creating a change within a movement that she disagreed with. Thus, Duong wrote the novel in hopes of demonstrating to her people the negative effects of communism and the true damages that came with it, for it did not create a utopian society.
However, one thing that modern readers can appreciate from the novel is the lesson that Hang teaches us- in never letting the past define us. This is seen when Hang realizes that by staying in Tam’s house she lets the past define her. Hang finally realizes that she cannot let the cultural expectations and rules weigh her down, and that culture robbed her of the ability to be who she truly wanted to be. Therefore, she sells the house and moves on to discovering who she really is, through proceeding with her education.