According to Lodge, “ Somebody once said, however, the novelist should make his spade a spade before he makes it a symbol.. If the spade is introduced all too obviously just for the sake of its symbolic meaning, it will tend to undermine the credibility of the narrative(Lodge 139)”. This point is pertinent to Paradise Of The Blind because the novel as a whole does not openly and obviously give out symbols. Thus, making the reader investigate and understand the characters in order to analyze the roles and meaning behind the symbols implemented through the novel.
“Anything that stands for something is a symbol. In most literary works a symbol tries to be original and tends towards a rich ambiguous meaning”(Lodge 139).
Within Paradise of the Blind readers are constantly and repetitively exposed to the evident theme of food. Food in the novel symbolizes human expression and personal value. Food is like a significant measurement that amounts to ones love, respect, and hatred for the people and environment around them. For example, the blood pudding, usually made by father and son, symbolizes the thematic issue of the blood ties established in the patriarchal society(Blodgett). A popular Vietnamese saying stated “A morsel of food is like a morsel of shame”. This mirrors the principle that food symbolizes ones status in the social ladder, which is why it can be inferred that food symbolizes the changing wealth of Hang, her mother, aunt, and other characters
On the other hand, the “glistening purple duckweed flowers(Huong, 131)” symbolize sweetness, especially within the female characters. The flowers also symbolize hope in a hopeless and corrupt society, they also represent beauty and resilience. Duckweed symbolizes the characters in the novel surrounded by the filth of the failed communist ideology and its outcomes.
Finally, Duong states “Residence K had aged, and the main driveway was now scarred with bumps and potholes(Duong 174). Ironically, Residence K was a communist privilege, but in reality it was like a prison that failed and died. This could symbolize how the communist ideology failed in Vietnam.
“Symbolism is generated in different ways. The Nature/Culture symbolism is modeled on rhetorical figures of speech known as metonymy and synecdoche (Lodge 141).”
Metonymy tends to substitute cause for effect and vice versa. In Paradise of the Blind this symbolic rhetorical figure is shown with relation to the weather. The weather within the novel is used to symbolize the character’s emotions. For example, the bitter cold weather can express the character’s coldness of heart and the feelings of isolation, inner reality, and misery, especially when making decisions that could affect their future and lead to their epiphany. On the other hand the character’s misery can be seen as a cause for the bad weather. This shows the significance of symbolism in the novel because it demonstrates the mixing up of cause and effect in order to create an atmosphere.
Symbolism is also generated through synecdoche’s, a figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa. In Paradise of The Blind Hang symbolizes the whole Vietnamese generation affected by Communism and the suffering and consequences that come along with it. In contrast, Uncle Chinh can be seen as the character representing the attempt and effort that came with establishing communism within Vietnam. Uncle Chinh represented those who worked to achieve it, and finally the consequences that came with it.
Lastly, Lodge states that “The poetic style known as Symbolism, ….exerted considerable influence on English writing and suggested meanings without a denotative core(139)” This point is most evident in the title of the novel. The ironic title Paradise of the Blind helps symbolize the setback of a country influenced by communist control. The communist leaders assume they are creating a paradise of Vietnam but are actually blind to the true reality of the society. They do not realize that the way they are implementing communism will never benefit the Vietnamese people.
Overall, symbolism within Paradise of the Blind helps suggest underlying meanings and helps enhance the overall themes of the novel. It also helps better appreciate the author’s choice to symbolize specific aspects of the novel to emphasize their importance.
Blodgett, Harriet. “The Feminist Artistry of Vietnam’s Duong Thu Huong.” World Literature
Today, vol. 75, no. 3/4, 2001, pp. 31–39., www.jstor.org/stable/40156746.
Dương, Thu Hương. Paradise of the blind. New York: Perennial, 2002. Print.