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Defamiliarization in Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong

Defamiliarization is defined by Lodge to be “defining a common known term or idea in a way that seems unknown and new”. The essential purpose of this method is to overcome the deadening effect of habit and to freshen the concept. When the reader is too familiar to a concept, he/she skims past it, missing it’s importance. Furthermore, Lodge states that defamiliarization allows the reader to see the traits and characteristics of the characters. In Paradise of the Blind, Hang’s character is enhanced when the author uses defamiliarization. Defamiliarization is also explained by Lodge as not only possibly explaining one concept, but creating a transition into another concept.

Huong provided the reader with many examples of defamiliarization for the reader to make connections to the protagonist, Hang, and to understand the protagonist’s similarities to Huong. Huong does so in two main parts of the book, and without these examples of defamiliarization a large portion of the meaning would be lost. In the first example, Huong defamiliarizes the concept of land reform and allows the reader to understand the problems that had come with land reform. Furthermore, Huong defamiliarizes the misunderstandings that occurred when people were considered peasants. This occurs in the conversation between  Hang’s uncle and her mother. Through this conversation we understand not only the socio-economical class that Hang’s family is put into by society. We also further understand the political perspective of people who were similar to Hang’s family at that time. Under this umbrella of confusion, Hang’s mother states that the rich had never shown any evil and sinister characteristics. (Huong, Duong 22-23)

The second major example of defamiliarization is in the end of the book when Hang begins self analyzing what had occurred and what is to come in the future. She begins picturing herself in a heaven with “comets extinguishing themselves” (Huong, Duong 258). Huong, the author, further defamiliarizes the concept of reaching a brighter more progressive future. Hang, the protagonist, begins to have this personal conflict and begins to show traits found in Huong. Hang is questioning the past and begins recalling her memories. She states, “I can’t squander my life tendinding these faded flowers….The legacy of past crimes”. Hang wishes that she could just cover up the evils of the past with “flowers”. Huong creates a connection between the grave of a dead loved one covered with flowers to shadowing the crimes that had been committed. This connection enhanced the defamiliarization, allowing us to understand Hang as a character.

The use of defamiliarization by Huong enhances not only the understanding in regards to the plot of the book, but the characteristics of Hang as a character. Huong provides the reader with two strong examples that allow the reader to see how influential defamiliarization is when political concepts are being discussed.

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