In Lodge’s chapter “Symbolism,” he defines a symbol as anything that stands for, or represents, something else. He also claims that symbols are objects or actions that suggest a subtle hidden meaning. Lodge states that symbols are usually generated through metonymy and synecdoche. All the main points of Lodge’s chapter can relate to, and are found in, “Paradise of the Blind.”
“Anything that stands for something else is a symbol…In most literary works a symbol tries to be original” (Lodge 139). Some symbols in “Paradise of the Blind” are original and aren’t found anywhere else. An example from the novel is the scene in which she visits her friend in Kiev. Hang’s friend symbolizes a true communist woman; who is not under the control of a patriarchal figure. This can be compared to Hang and her relationship with her uncle. Hang follows a patriarchal figure due to her customs. Hang also looks up to her friend; “My friend, who was older, more mature, and more self-possessed than I.” (Huong, 35.) Huong is comparing how a true communist woman should act, with the way a Vietnamese communist woman would act. In doing so, she shows how the Vietnamese version of communism is not true communism.
“It is worth noting that symbolism is generated in two different ways in this passage. The Nature/Culture symbolism is modelled on the rhetorical figures of speech known as metonymy and synecdoche” (Lodge, 141). Synecdoche is a figure of speech that substitutes the whole for a part. An example would be using the word bread instead of all food or money. This figure of speech is used throughout the novel. Both Hang and Chinh are examples of synecdoche. Chinh symbolizes the struggle between communism and Confucian ethics. Chinh is very pro-communist and attempts to instill communism in Vietnam, but he also believes that he is able to control his sister and niece because of the patriarchal nature of Vietnamese family.
Hang is a symbol that represents Vietnamese culture and their communist regime. She is used to compare Vietnamese communism to Russian communism in the story. An example is found in the first chapter of the book, where Hang brushes with a Russian lady, The Russian lady glares at Hang while she apologizes. (Huong, 15) In this case, the Russian lady represents the Russian communist regime, while Hang represents Vietnamese communism. Hang acts passively while the Russian lady acts in a strong demeanor. This shows how the author thought Vietnamese communism is inferior to Russian communism.
Metonymy is basically a figure of speech that consists of using a word as a substitute for another word which it is associated with. Weather is used to symbolize the feelings a certain character was feeling at the time. The emotion the character is feeling is associated with the weather. For example, if the character is feeling sad; the weather would be rainy. An example of this in the book is when Hang is betrayed by Thu. After Thu’s mother insults Hang’s fatherless fate, the weather is described as windy. “I stood in the courtyard still swirling with dead leaves. The north wind was whistling in gusts through the sky” (Huong, 46). This weather symbolizes the loneliness that Hang is feeling at the moment. This also relates to one of Lodge’s other points, in which he says “The rich brew of symbolic suggestion would, however, be much less effective if Lawrence did not at the same time allow us to picture the scene in vivid, sensual detail” (Lodge, 140). The imagery used in this scene empowers the symbolic elements of the weather. The scene’s symbolic meaning would not have been as clear, or as strong, without the imagery providing the details very vividly.
“The whole scene is prophetic of the passionate but mutually destructive sexual relationship that will develop late on in the story” (Lodge, 140). Some of the symbols that appear in the story foreshadow events that will happen later on in the story. One instance would be the weather before Thu convinces Hang to play with her. The weather is very cold; “a cold spell that could have frozen over the earth” (Huong, 42). The cold represents a heartbreak and the feeling of a cold heart. This foreshadows the moment in which Hang faces the reality of her fatherless status, which breaks her heart. The foreshadowing leads to an important epiphany that changes Hang.
The symbolism in “Paradise of the Blind” enhances the emotion felt while reading the novel. It also helps suggest the underlying meaning and theme of the novel, that aims to insult Vietnamese communism. The author emphasizes some aspects of the book through the use of Symbolism, in order to show their importance. This helps appreciate the choices made by the author.
Hương, Dương Thu. Paradise of the Blind. Trans. Phan Huy Duong and Nina McPherson. New York: Perennial, 2002. Print.
Lodge, David. The art of fiction. Vintage 2011.