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The Hero’s Journey

Lodge’s chapter on The Hero’s Journey identifies a universal narrative present within various types of literature. This narrative, known as The Hero’s Journey or the Hero Myth, is a story, that varies in every language and culture, and has been retold continuously for centuries. The popularity of the hero myth is due to the origin of this narrative: the human story. Each and every person has questioned their purpose in this world. In the Hero’s Journey, the character known as The Hero must go on an epic adventure in favor of their people.

In Duong Thu Huong’s book, Paradise of the Blind, the Hero’s Journey is evident but very hard to identify. typical follows the Hero’s Journey, but it’s very tricky to understand how it may be so. It is obvious that Hang takes the role of the Hero, but her journey is not a simple train ride to Moscow. Her journey is told through her memories that go all the way back to before her own birth.

Below is the order in which a hero myth must go; there are twelve stages. Each stage is identified then elaborated by the specific segment from Paradise of the Blind:

The Ordinary World:

The ordinary world is the first stage of the Hero’s Journey. Here, the Hero is in a state of ignorance or innocence, or has is uncomfortable with the world around them. In most stories following the Hero’s Journey, The ordinary world is presented in is portrayed clearly at the beginning of the first chapter, but in Paradise of the Blind, the Hero Hang begins her journey in the ordinary world with recollections of the past. She speaks of her life as a little girl back in Vietnam. She was a fatherless child, and did not show much interest in knowing where he was. It was not until she was being taunted by her mother’s friend that her interest in her father sparked. She became curious and wanted to learn more about him. It was at the age of ten that Hang learned of her father, but learning it led to changes she could not control.

The Call to Adventure and Refusal of the Call:

These are the second and third stages of the Hero’s Journey. At this stage, The Hero faces a challenge which changes up their ordinary world and, initially, cannot accept it. Hang’s call to adventure is one like a downward spiral. It begins when she is first introduced to her maternal uncle, Uncle Chinh. He is a member of the communist party and before Hang’s birth, was in charge of the redistribution of land in his village. He showed no mercy to landlords,he forced them to give up their land, and humiliated them in front of the village people. Hang’s father, Ton, and his family owned a large plot of land and were landlords as well. This made them victims of false accusations and were forced to give up their land. Ton ran away, leaving his mother and sister to face the public humiliation and the accusations spat by Uncle Chinh.

Years after the land reform, when Hang was just a little girl, Uncle Chinh came to visit. Her and her mother were living a fairly poor life and had enough money for just themselves. Uncle Chinh’s visit is the first time Hang meets her uncle. He showed no affection to neither her or her mother and only came to visit to ask for money. Hang could not accept him as her uncle but had to, and he remains as the antagonist in her life.

Meeting the Mentor:

The mentor is the archetype that The Hero for their journey. It is Aunt Tam who acts as this mentor. Although Hang does not care much for her aunt, she must listen to her advice and follow her rules out of respect. Her aunt raised her from a distance. She provided her with money, clothing, and food, she made sure Hang did well in her studies, and gives her advice every chance she gets. Hang is not sure if she could meet her aunt’s high expectations. Since Hang is the only blood left of her father, Aunt Tam wants her to inherit the family house, and expects her to bring honor to her father’s name, but Hang is not too sure if she wants to do that.

Crossing the Threshold:

This is the part of the story in which The Hero leaves the Ordinary World embarks their journey into unfamiliar territories. Hang crosses this threshold when she is becomes a teenager. There was news that Uncle Chinh was deadly sick, which caused Hang’s mother to panic and rush to go see him. The news apparently was over exaggerated and Chinh was fortunately not about to die. While visiting his house, they were introduced to his wife and two sons. Hang’s mother immediately adored the two boys and began showering them with gifts. Although Hang and her mother were living a more comfortable life thanks to Aunt Tam’s gifts, the money began to be directed to Hang’s cousins. As a result, Hang’s relationship with her mother began to change. She became more focused on pleasing her nephew’s instead of her own daughter.

Tests, Allies and Enemies:

In this part of the Hero’s Journey, The Hero has to jump through many hoops, making friends and enemies and enemies along the way. Hang’s relationship with her mother is now hanging by a thread. Her mother was still showering her nephews with gifts, neglecting Hang’s needs and putting her brother’s much higher than hers. Hang became more appreciative of her aunt’s attention, which makes Hang’s mother jealous.  As they become more distant, there life becomes harder.  Uncle Chinh becomes diabetic, and her mother of course wants to make sure he is okay. This meant more money was being given to him to get better. She becomes a lot less affectionate and a lot colder. They now have little to no money and can barely support themselves. Hang tries to help by offering food and money Aunt Tam brings her, but each time her mother rejects her.

Approach

With their newfound allies, The Hero prepares to face the biggest challenge the new world has to offer. Hang’s mother continued to distance herself from her daughter. It had reached a point where Hang her on this, which resulted to her getting kicked out of the house. She begins to dorm at her school and soon, her life becoming fairly stable. She was still under the protection and provisions of Aunt Tam and was enjoying her time at university. She made friends and was an outstanding student, the only thing wrong is the loss of her mother’s presence and love. She gets updates every now and then from family friends, and is always sending some money to make sure she is safe, yet she is still wanting to mend the relationship they once had. One day, Hang’s mother gets hit by a bus and had to get her leg amputated. Once she heard the news, Hang immediately rushed to go see her. She stays with her for a week, making sure she is okay. Her mother, though crippled and hospitalized, asks Hang to visit Chinh. Not wanting to see her uncle, she puts off the trip, finally going at the end of the week. She tells him of his sister’s accident, but his wife will not give them any money for support. She returns back to her mother, only to lie about the visit, saying he was not home. Her mother begins to ramble about how busy he must be, travelling around representing the communist party. Hang, feeling rejected and uncared for agrees curtly. Time passes and she drops out of school, going to Russia to work as an exported worker.

The Ordeal

This is the part of the Hero’s Journey in which The Hero finally faces their fear. Hang, now in Russia, lives a dull and miserable life. A couple years have past and Hang’s life has seen no joy. She gave up her education, her comfort, and her love for no good reason. Her time in Russia was spent working, and being sad. There is the occasion which comes when she gets a telegram from her uncle. It is that kind of telegram that began the whole book. She gets a telegram telling her go to Moscow because her uncle is sick. Dreading to meet her uncle she refuses the call, but soon is gets on the next train to Moscow. Once she arrive she finds out he is evidently not sick at all. He needed help with his black market trade. He reached out to Hang because, unlike him, she knew how to speak Russian and had enough money for bribing. Angered and slightly hurt, Hang refuses to help and returns back to the textile factory.

The Reward

After fighting their fears and facing death, The Hero has gotten the treasure. In Hang’s case, her reward was more so given to her, like a prisoner in jail and finally becoming free. She arrives back to her dormitory only to be greeted with yet another telegram. The message was sent anonymously, but states bluntly that Aunt Tam is dying and she must return to Vietnam immediately. Although the news of the telegram was saddening, Hang was relieved to be going back home.

The Road Back

It is near the ending of the story, and The Hero is completing their adventure, going back to the ordinary world with their treasure. Hang arrives in Vietnam, ready to see her mother and dying aunt. She first sees her mother. She spends the day helping her with her shack, and at night is greeted by neighbors who heard of her return. She is at peace with herself. She has her mother, and is back home. After they all leave, Hang and her mother begin to mend their relationship, only for Hang the next morning, leaving just a note.

The Resurrection

Before The Hero can completely finish their journey, they must make one last sacrifice. It is the sacrifice of a loved one in Paradise of the Blind. Hang left her mother early in the morning without saying goodbye. She goes to visit Aunt Tam, who is sick and on bed rest. She first sees her aunt lying in bed, still as clean and proper as she was in her health. She sees Hang and scrawny frame, and begins blaming herself for the years they have been apart. A day goes by and Aunt Tam is beginning to die. She gives Hang chain with different keys, each one for a specific chest. With her dying breath she tells Hang her last wishes, one of them being that she stays and protects the house. A few hours later, Aunt Tam dies. Hang realises that there is no one left to love her, and no one left to be loved. She realises the pains of grief and the strength of its permanence.

Return with the Elixir:

This is the end of the Hero’s Journey. The Hero possesses some part of his treasure that can change the world. After Aunt Tam’s funeral, people begin purchasing items from her house. Hang being the one to inherit the house and it’s contents, is overwhelmed. Aunt Tam’s trunks are filled with money or items to be sold for money. At the bottom of one case is the map to Hang’s inheritance. Aunt Tam made sure to leave special instructions of when to dig it up. On a trip to Aunt Tam’s grave Hang feels the need to leave, she realises life now in Vietnam is nothing of how it was back in her childhood. She goes against her aunt and comes to the conclusion of selling the house, for there is no reason to remember her ancestors in such a way. She  begins to accept the temporary joys in life and wishes to leave to a new place, some far away from what she has.


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