In Duong Thu Huong’s Paradise of the Blind the reader enters the mind of Hang, the main character, whom we become very close with. Throughout the novel, we share her most intimate of feelings, thoughts, experiences, perceptions, and memories. By using interior monologue, Huong tells a realistic story to describe the struggles of the Vietnamese people. By dissecting David Lodge’s literary theory regarding interior monologue and its key features, the reader is able to analyze Hang’s ongoing monologue.
Much of Paradise of the Blind is only known to the reader through Hang’s eyes, no other character is allowed to truly describe how the feel; Hang dictates how they are using only her perspective. “I sensed, rising within her, a love repressed…” (Huong, pg. 86), “Her eyes were like an interrogator’s razor sharp, icy as if flooded with black bile.” (Huong, pg. 184) “For a moment, her eyes seemed to swirl wildly…” (Huong, pg. 189); Hang makes it clear, sometimes using imagery and certain key words, that her experiences are quite personal. One’s perception of the other characters is influenced by what Hang “chooses” to remember, these memories often had affected her in a particular way.
Through interior monologue one is able to understand and analyze Hang’s characteristics, when she bumps into a beautiful Russian woman who glares at her, as Hang begins to overthink the situation she catches a glimpse of herself in a window and she describes her negative perception of herself. Her interactions with other characters are often brief, Hang usually does not say much; one portray her to be quiet, shy, and submissive. Although, the reader is able to recognize that her mind is whirling with many thoughts.
Lodge describes what one might imagine when reading interior monologue, “It’s rather like wearing earphones plugged into someone’s brain, and monitoring an endless tape-recording of the subject’s impressions, reflections, questions, memories and fantasies, as they are triggered either by physical sensations or the association of ideas.” (Lodge, pg. 47) Hang’s memories and thoughts are usually triggered by sensations felt by her five senses; these memories pause or block any other movement around her. The first memory recalled in the book is described after Hang’s roommate plays a Vietnamese song, Hang begins to recall her childhood in Hanoi. Hang is always enveloped by her thoughts until she is interrupted abruptly, which ends her interior monologue; although these interruptions trigger more memories. Such as, when the train leaves the station, she sees an eerie old house on the lake, which reminds her of the first-time Hang meets Aunt Tam in the village.
Throughout the book Hang reflects on the memories of the past and how they made her feel. Lodge defines two streams of consciousness; Hang’s consciousness is metonymic meaning “one thing suggests another because they are connected by cause and effect.” (Lodge, pg. 50-51) An example of this is after Aunt Tam’s humiliating visit to Hanoi, the relationship between Hang and her mother deteriorates; Hang is thrown out of the house, and despite living well in the dormitory, she constantly misses her simple life and her mother, and recalls the feelings of loneliness and humiliation. At the end of the book, the reader is left with Hang’s last reflection “I sat down, cupping my chin in my hands, and dreamed different worlds, of the cool shade of a university auditorium, of a distant port where a plane could land and take of…” (Huong pg. 258); here one can understand, despite all the problems faced, Hang will continue to live on and dream of a future.
– Mona Al-Bizri
Dương, Thu Hương. Paradise of the blind. New York: Perennial, 2002. Print.
Lodge, D. (1986). 20th Century literary criticism (1st ed., pp. 46-51). London: Longman Group.