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Motivation Demonstrated Through the Characters in Paradise of the Blind (final draft)

Motivation gives us a need and reason for fulfilling any task no matter how small. It is viewed as the burning desire inside us aiming to achieve a specific and well-defined goal. This inner desire triggers us into action, despite the obstacles and odds that deny us from easily achieving our goals. Motivation is this eagerness and passion that drives us to make decisions, and is not only displayed in our day to day lives but also in the very novels that we read. In literature, motivation is defined as a reason behind a character’s specific action or behavior. This type of behavior is characterized by the character’s own consent and willingness to do something. This is what Lodge explains to us when he defines the sources of motivation of a character. According to Lodge, novels can offer us more or less convincing models of how and why people act as they do (Lodge 183). He aims to convince us to that the characters act as they do not simply because it suits the interests of the plot but because a combination of the factors, some internal, some external, plausibly cause them to do so.

The characters in the novel, Paradise of the Blind: Ton, Aunt Tam, Que, and Uncle Chin all share the common characteristic of being driven by their motivation. Although motivation is a common trait between the characters, its effects differ from character to character. The complexity of these four characters ultimately influences one another’s actions and motives. The decisions they make motivate Hang to create her own decisions in life and to not be weighed down by her past and the rules of culture.

The main plot of the story arises when Chinh, a dedicated Communist, returns from war back to his village. After the war, Chinh becomes an official in the Communist Party and returns to his village to supervise land reform. Being so narrow-minded and dedicated to his communist beliefs, motivates him to denounce his own sister, Que’s family as “landlords, the mortal enemies of the peasantry, (Houng 22).  Such denunciations are carried out in front of all the villagers. All the landowners are denounced, and their land is confiscated, which includes Que’s sister-in-law Tam and her grandmother Nhieu. At this point, Chinh creates a civil war within the family. Ton, Chin’s brother in law cannot bear the shame of being denounced in front of the entire village, let alone by his “family”, motivating him to flee his entire family and village.

Ton flees the village and finds shelter and eventually, he arrives in a region called Muong, where he settles down and marries again. After years, Ton visits his first wife Que and that is when Hang is conceived. Having a wife who is carrying his child, motivates him to get permission from his Muong wife to come to town and help Que with the child. However, she refuses, insults him, and accuses him of ingratitude. Now, to those who are reading this, put yourself in the shoes of Ton. A man accused of being a landlord by his own family and brought to shame in front of his entire village. A man who then flees to start a new life and returns to find that he has given life to a child.  A man who is then denied the right to care for this child and is brought to shame once again.  The decision to commit suicide for some is based on a reasoned decision, often motivated by the presence of a painful feeling from which little to no hope of reprieve exists. Feeling shamed, Ton drowns himself in a river leaving his daughter Hang an orphan. This inner drive known as motivation has led both Chin and Ton to do things that have shaped the main character, Hang’s life.

The Vietnamese culture has been a motivation to many characters’ actions in this novel such as Aunt Tam and Que. In their culture, women must always defer to men. Family ties is what their lives revolve around. Que seems so devoted to her brother Uncle Chinh, even after he practically torn her family apart. She puts him in front of everything she has including her own daughter. Instead of caring for Hang, her only daughter, she spends so much of her money on her nephews since they are her brother’s sons. On the other hand, Aunt Tam cares only for Hang. Although she doesn’t have any other relatives (who were taken away by Chinh), Aunt Tam still shows how family ties must take precedence over everything else. Aunt Tam is obsessed with redeeming her family name. She is motivated by family loyalty more than anything else. She has built up considerable economic resources through the strength of her character. She works long hours inventing new ways to produce noodles, staying faithful to the land whose gifts enables her wealth. However, rather than achieving their own happiness, the profit they both seek is from adapting themselves through their willingness to sacrifice to make others happy. In the end, neither succeed in producing much happiness. However, on the other hand, Hang chooses the path that will lead to happiness and doesn’t want to be bound to her familial duty, since she has seen it break her mother and aunt.

As we’ve seen with the Uncle Chinh, Aunt Tam Ton, and Que, the events in Hang’s life are deeply influenced by the people around her and their individual motivations. In the beginning, Hang is nothing but a child living her family’s past. She does not have much to say about what goes on around her and simply obeys. However, as she grows older and begins to understand and realize things more, where she finds herself and her motivation. Hang finally reaches a point where she does not wish to carry the same burdens as her family. She decides to do what makes her happy. In the end, Hang leaves us with a  powerful message: “Forgive me, my aunt: I’m going to sell this house and leave all this behind. We can honor the wishes of the dead with a few flowers on a grave somewhere. I can’t squander my life tending these faded flowers, these shadows, the legacy of the past crimes,” (Huong 258).  By living in Aunt Tam’s house, will mean Hang will be tied down by her culture, traditions, and family relations. However, this is where Hang identifies who she really is and walks her own path, one that is not tied down by her past or culture. Unlike all the female characters portrayed throughout Paradise of the Blind,  Hang finally wishes to live a life of her own. Throughout the whole novel, both Aunt Tam and Que’s search for identity is never completed. Instead, they are tied down by their family and the rules of their culture. Hang demonstrates the power motivation has to create an identity. Hang is motivated to find her strength and courage to go against everything and be herself. Hang’s motivation is ultimately the outcome of her own blood’s precedents whom tainted her recollections simultaneously recreating her new beginning.

-Ameena Ayubi


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