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Lodge’s Ideas applied to Duong Thu Huong’s Paradise of the Blind (Final)

According to David Lodge’s chapter on Epiphany in his book about literary ideas, he states that and epiphany in simple definition is a literal showing. He compares it to the radiance of a dead soul. He then follows this by saying that “it is a process in which an event or thought is transformed into a thing of timeless beauty by the exercise of the writer’s craft” (Lodge, 146). Lodge makes sure to emphasize that an epiphany does not necessarily have to be a discovery which enables a literary character to transcend reality, rather it is merely a realization and different outlook towards what has already existed but in a way which could never be reversed. An epiphany is normally followed by a resolution to the climax of the story or a moment of truth. It is rather the intensity of the moment more than its consequences. Lodge concludes that “epiphanic description is likely to be rick in figures of speech and sound (Lodge 148), thus, by setting the scene with vivid imagery through metaphoric speech the epiphany is more vivid and powerful. In Duong Thu Huong’s novel: Paradise of the Blind the main character Hang takes the reader along a journey of recollections ultimately leading to her epiphany and moment of realization, being that all she was taught to devote her life towards has become something she was not willing to continue doing. Thus, by having the hindsight to Hang’s epiphanic moment, the reader begins to understand Vietnamese cultures and values and the struggles which resulted from the impact post-war communism. The reader also adjusts their scale of interpretation with the understanding that this novel was written for the intended audience to be the inhabitants of Vietnam.

 

As the novel progresses there are many moments that occur which ultimately lead up to Hang’s great epiphany. As Hang continues to grow up she is exposed to the realities of life, yet it is up to her how she decides to interpret her realities. As she vividly explains scenes such as food hampers prepared by her mother to send to the man who practically made Hang an orphan and made her life a living hell, she realizes the pedestal that an older brother and leader of the family is placed on. This realization does not only apply for Que, but also Aunt Tam who practically lives her entire life in a state of constant work simply to maintain the legacy left by Ton, and to provide support to the half blood left to her by her only brother. On page 143 Hang’s first time realizing that Aunt Tam is one of the only relatives left for her, was as though she believed that she has finally solved the mystery of her aunt. “…through her too, I was linked to the chains of my past, and the pain of my existence…” the word choice in this statement signifies how Hang feels despair and feels bound by her tormenting past. This realization was the outcome of Hang beginning to distance herself from her mother and the formation of an identity, she now both likes and dislikes people. Que is now taking the role of being “the Tam” of her brother’s family, she is committing self sacrifice to his family which induces inferiority and humiliation (Huong, 126-127).

 

As Hang experiences situations that give her insight on the world she is apart of, she realizes that this glorious community she once viewed as her home and place of comfort, is beginning to show as a place where “young women bend like slaves at their husbands’ feet” (Huong, 130). She is speaking of a man’s paradise; this signifies a realization of her rising hate towards her oppressing country. Hang begins to look at the most breathtaking scenery of nature, such as the duck weed flowers, and starts noticing that they have become surrounded by swamps of filth and odor, this symbolizes the community which she lives in, a community that has inner beauty but is overtaken by the flaws of communism and those who fail to nurture their country. She describes this scene as an “atrocious ornament of life snuffed out” (Huong,131).

Hang states in page 85: “I understood something, perhaps for the first time: In every life, there must come a moment when what is most sacred, most noble, in us evaporates into thin air…no one is spared.” Hang is possessing a new outlook on life as she gradually delves deeper into learning about the past. She remembers her stages of transformation of thought and hatred of life and beauty. There lies a significance in the choice of memories she decides to touch on, they play a role in the understanding of her environment as well as her process of coming of age. The things she was exposed to at such a young age began to make more and more sense as she grew older. She transcended from simply thinking her father died of a sickness to understanding that it was her own Uncle’s fault. On page 59 at the end of chapter 4 in which Hang awakens from a dream filled of suffering, and is told the story of her father, it is then that she says she learned about the father she never knew, and that she saw him clearly. However, the question is: Did she really see him clearly if she did not understand the meaning behind his sacrifices and humiliation as well as the dynamics of Vietnam’s corruption and family values? This eventually all leads to Hang expressing her resilient hate towards her Uncle’s family and her strong desire to abstain from visiting his home again. She did not say this one time, for she repeated it every time her mother asked her to come along. By letting herself express strong negative emotion towards those who were supposed to be highest in rank in Hang’s life, she was able to slowly carve her own future.

After Hang described in detail the pain it was to live in such an oppressing and man-controlled atmosphere, which she did not belong in, she grasped that she was not obligated to carry in the footsteps that were planned out for a monotonous future. Hang desired to leave everything which made her past life miserable, and move onto a fully new one. She says: “forgive me, my aunt: I’m going to sell this house and leave all of this behind. We can honor wishes of the dead with a few flowers on a grave somewhere. I can squander my life tending faded flowers, these shadows, the legacy of past crimes” (Duong 258). By saying this, Hang is committing an act of rebellion rather than self-sacrifice. The author is depicting the alternate reaction of those who have had enough with simply following what tradition expects of you. This novel could potentially be considered to be anti-communist, it could also be an accurate representation of the way the author herself felt toward the impositions of her Vietnamese society and the role of family. The true underlying epiphany in within Hang’s epiphany is that it wasn’t about the communism and corruption of the country, rather it was the lack of stepping forward to realty and merely indulging in the same life cycles, when in the end people end up damaging themselves through self- sacrifice as she shows on page 258 when she states that “comets extinguish themselves, but memory refuses to die (Duong 258).

It is apparent that Hang’s epiphany is intensifying when Lodge’s literary idea of “vivid imagery being used to relay a resolution to a climax is significantly evident” is used (Lodge, 148), she says: “a full moon shone through the dark crows of the trees. A few stars shimmered. I stood there motionless, staring at them. Never in my life had I felt, with such sharpness, the passing of time. Like watching the tail of a comet plummet and disappear into nothingness. Like the span of my life.” (Duong, 258). Hang sees relief in the passing of time, she understands that all she has put herself through simply to please her family has paid her back with no good, she sees that it is time to start her new life free of any tainting remains of the past.

The fact that Hang is undergoing the coming of age process in the duration of this story does not constitute as a sudden understanding, rather it is her noticing something that pre-existed by gaining insight on truths of her father’s death and Que and Aunt Tam’s highest priorities in life. Thus, this epiphany would not classify as a literal showing, rather it is an unveiling that cannot be reversed once it is accepted and acted upon…

-Safa Hawash

 


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