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

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

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

The characters of any piece of literature pose as the vital element needed to drive the events of the story from beginning to end. This is done through the actions characters choose to take and, in turn, they launch the story into motion. Without characters, the story simply would not exist because most pieces, including Paradise of the Blind, revolve around a character and their experiences, therefore telling their story.

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. Essentially, 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 desires, 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 a man sitting with her in the train compartment who offers her a bite of his sandwich. The latter 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 has never met her father, so all she knows of him is based on what she has 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).

Lodge states that there are characters who are “rendered from inside their minds […] and characters viewed from outside by others.” The only character that is “rendered from inside their minds” is Hang because her perspective is the only one presented throughout the novel. All the other characters are “viewed from outside” by Hang herself and so the readers meet each character solely through Hang’s eyes.

“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. When the village Vice President is introduced, Hang describes 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 lives 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 seem 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, Que, 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 […] 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 in 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 new character is being introduced through her personal encounter with them. Furthermore, Hang describes a character’s clothing primarily when the character is insignificant and does not require further description. One of such characters is a Russian woman who Hang accidentally bumps 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 is 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 this woman’s lavish attire. In comparison, Hang describes the outfit of a young man who stops by to see Uncle Chinh while she and her mother are 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.

After reading Paradise of the Blind through the lense of  Lodge’s theory on introducing a character, the reader gains a deeper understanding of the significance of the first-person perspective used throughout the novel. The reader also becomes aware that not all of Hang’s descriptions are reliable, considering that all details are portrayed soley through her judgement. Despite this, Hang helps the reader differenciate between the many types of characters suggested by Lodge.

– Sally Kishi

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