Literature, Language, and Life

David Lodge’s Ideas of Mystery applied to the Paradise of the Blind

04/24/2018

According to David Lodge’s chapter on Mystery in The Art of Fiction, the questions that arise in the reader as a result of the effect of suspense and enigma/mystery are the “mainsprings of narrative interest,” which is one of the long-lasting techniques used in the art of storytelling (Lodge, 31). Mystery can take place in many forms and be found in a wide variety of genres including, but not limited to, traditional romance, classic detective stories, etc. The Paradise of the Blind uses an unsolved mystery throughout the novel in which clues regarding the present problem take up most of the plot, in order to keep readers interested.

Lodge mentions that there are two types of approaches for mystery in novels: a solved mystery and an unsolved mystery. Many classical novels and plays have mysteries that are resolved at the end and are therefore reassuring to readers. However, modern literary novelists avoid a ‘happily ever after’ ending, and instead tend to lean towards ambiguity and an unresolved mystery. Clues and hints are found throughout the novel, with arguments regarding the conflict usually taking up more space than the problem itself. Sometimes a mystery of an event may result in a tragedy (Lodge, 34).

In the Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong, the overarching problem (i.e. Hang’s response to Uncle Chinh) is not addressed, but rather, filled with a collection of spontaneous memories from Hang’s childhood (the narrator). Hang is on a trip to Russia after receiving a note from her Uncle Chinh stating that he was very ill and asked for her to come immediately (Huong, 11). On her ride, she has many flashbacks that refer more to her past than the present, and recalls all the memories of her childhood, including bad ones of her uncle. As a result, one wonders why Hang is responding to Uncle Chinh’s plea, even after he caused so much harm to Hang and her family.

In relation to the Lodge chapter, mystery is maintained throughout the novel through the use of “hints, clues, and puzzling data” (Lodge, 33). It occupies more textual space than the present given conflict. Lodge defines mystery as an element used in many forms of art, in order to keep the reader or viewer interested in the plot. Since Hang’s memories are not in chronological order, one may question events that occur and try to connect different times of her life together. An example of this kind of mystery is regarding Hang’s father. Hang does not know her father, except for what others say about him. The story of her father, Ton, is unfolded gradually and events are not consecutively recalled. The reader wonders how Hang came to this world, if Chinh forced her mother, Que, to divorce her father, as mentioned in chapter two.

It was not until chapter four, where one finds out about Ton’s life after leaving Que; he lived in the Muong’s village, adapted to the environment, and even married a lady. When Ton figured out Que’s location from a salesman, he travelled to Hanoi to look for her (Huong, 67). This chapter gap shows that all these little bits of clues are woven together at different parts of the novel like puzzle pieces, as mentioned by Lodge. When reading the book, one might wonder what happened to Ton after Hang was born. Later in the book, the reader is informed that people said that Ton died due to an illness. However, Aunt Tam does not believe in that, and instead thinks that Chinh assassinated her brother, Ton. Although there are some hints tapping into the history of Ton, there is still an atmosphere of uncertainty, therefore leading the reader to become more curious. To make clear, Hang, herself, feels lost because she doesn’t know her own father (Huong, 81).

The use of mystery and suspense throughout the book causes the reader to develop more interest in Hang’s past than her present. All the memories of her past come to life with its vibrant colors. Readers become more intrigued while fitting the puzzle pieces of Hang’s life together throughout the novel. The structure of Hang’s thoughts and the use of poetic language over the course of the novel serve as tools to create more suspense. The language makes the memories replaying in her head seem very realistic with every detail unleashing the reader’s imagination. The memories that are recalled are out of place, and resemble strongly to the mechanisms of our brain. As Lodge stated in his book, the greatest mystery of all is the human heart. As Hang recalls memories of Chinh and his brutal behavior, there is still a question lingering in the air as to why Hang is responding to his request. It is unknown to us, but perhaps, all these memories that she has will help her in making an ultimate decision. The Paradise of the Blind, therefore, has an unsolved mystery in which clues (i.e. Hang’s childhood memories) regarding the present problem are cleverly woven together to help ignite interest in the reader with the help of enigma and suspense.

~Janan Semseddin 

 

Works Cited:

Lodge, David. The Art of Fiction. Vintage, 2011.

Dương, Thu Hương. Paradise of the Blind. Perennial, 2002.

 

 

Narrative Structure In Paradise of the Blind

In David Lodge’s book The Art of Fiction, he details multiple aspects of fiction. I’m going to be discussing his views in his chapter on narrative structure, as well as how it connects to Dương Thu Hương’s novel Paradise of the Blind.


In Lodge’s chapter on narrative structure, he states an idea by Aristotle on narrative unity:  “a beginning is what requires nothing to precede it, an end is what requires nothing to follow it, and a middle needs something both before and after it.” Therefore, the effect of a novel’s structure is not apparent in any single part of the story, but during the duration of the novel. The story starts with an incident without any prior introduction to the characters or setting. The structure of the novel immediately breaks from the classical structure of narration as described by Aristotle. The reader is in a state of confusion about the time and order of events described by the narrator and main character, Hang, but as Hang continues to describe her experiences, the reader is able to piece together the timeline of her past. The reader also begins to realize that Hang’s information of the past is limited due to the experiences of her childhood.

Another idea brought up in Lodge’s chapter is the idea of direct and reported speech. Direct speech, which uses direct quotes from the character, portrays the character’s personality more than reported speech, which gives a report of what a character said in the past. An instance of how direct speech contributes to portraying a character’s personality is when Hang asks her family members about who they’re talking about. They reply saying “it’s your father you poor thing.” Even though the quote was short, the reader learns a lot about these characters and how they look down on Hang. This lets the reader sympathize with Hang because of her innocence. As the story shifts from past to present the reader realizes that Hang is recalling past memories while on a train to Moscow. Hang tries to justify her recollection of past memories throughout the duration of the story because she is tied to her family and race.

The effect of the novel’s narrative structure becomes truly apparent in the ending chapters of the book. Lodge talks about reversals, which is apparent in these ending chapters of the novel. Hang was trapped in between a fight of ideas in her family, not being able to break out of it. Her action of selling her Aunt’s house, which she inherited after her Aunt’s death, who wanted Hang to respect their ancestors and live in the house, Hang both literally and symbolically breaks away from the cage that she’s been trapped in because of her past. The chopped and skewed narrative structure where the novel starts in medias res, with the exposition being revealed through dialogue and flashbacks scattered throughout the novel. The narrative structure used in the novel helps to keep readers hooked and constantly wanting to learn more about the characters and their backstories.

-Mohammed Al-Saadi

 

Duong Thu Huong’s Paradise of the Blind- Epiphany

In Lodge’s chapter on epiphany, the main point he covered was that an epiphany is literally a showing. In modern fiction, an epiphany often has the function performed by a decisive action in traditional narrative, providing a climax or resolution to a story or episode.The passage quoted from the first of John Updike’s Rabbit novels describes an action in a contest, but it is the intensity of the moment, not its consequences, that are important. (We never discover whether the hero won that particular hole). In epiphanies, prose fiction comes closest to the verbal intensity of lyric poetry (most modern lyrics are, in fact, nothing but epiphanies). An epiphanic description is likely to be rich in figures of speech and sound.(Lodge, 146-148)

The first time we see epiphany in the novel Paradise of the Blind is in Chapter 1 page 15 when Hang enters the train station and brushes against a Russian woman. She describes the woman as beautiful with a tight figure in a red velvet blouse and in her mid-twenties(Hương, 15). Then Hang compares the woman to herself and how they are the same age but time treated them differently. She describes herself as pale, with a lost and worried expression, stooped shoulders, and a cheap maroon suit. This is an example of epiphany because Hang had to have passed at least 50 people before encountering the Russian woman, and she only describes her (Hương, 15-16).

This scene is, as Lodge’s definition of epiphany says, a showing. She is showing how two people the same age could look so different and lead such different lives if one has money and the other one doesn’t. The scene has lots of descriptive language. When describing what the Russian woman was wearing, Hang describes the color of the clothes, but also says that she was “tightly molded” into them, which shows how perfectly they fit her. The descriptive language really shows the difference between them which makes the epiphany clear.

The second epiphany is when Hang is about to board the train. Hang begins to question her trip to visit her uncle. She realizes that she hates her uncle and sees no purpose of even visiting him. However, reality hits her, and she remembers that the family comes before anyone’s self-feelings. This is a custom that all people follow.  And because the uncle is family, she pretty much has no choice but to visit him, whether she wants to or not. Hang tells herself that putting herself ahead of family duty is being “ridiculous” and would just “complicate life.” She then boards the train to her uncle’s quickly, trying not to think about it anymore. (Hương, 16)

Lodge said that epiphanies use descriptive language, and this was the case here. The descriptive language would be Hang using a figure of speech to describe the hatred she felt toward her uncle as something rising inside her. Like many epiphanies, this is an intense moment, because when she nestles herself into the corner she is pushing the outside world away from her just like she pushes thoughts of her hatred away in her head. This literally shows how she deals with her feelings because she does the same with her body. Epiphanies are often a decisive action, and Hang decides that her personal feelings are less important than her family and decides to push them away and not think of them.

The third epiphany is on pages 228 to 230 when Hang is sitting in the unkempt garden, and a group of Japanese students attract the attention of all the people in the park. At this point, Hang begins to wonder what the difference is between the Japanese and the Vietnamese. She begins to compare the facial features of the Japanese and the Vietnamese. Hang then comes to the realization that the only difference between the two groups is that the Japanese were lucky to have been born in a time of peace and in real houses, “Their intelligence, their perseverance-these are qualities we Asians have in no short supply. All this generation had was a bit of luck. Luck to have been born in peacetime, in a real house, in the right place, under a real roof . . .”(Hương, 228-230).

When Hang saw the Russian woman, she realized that what you had made a big difference, and here she’s realizing that what you are born into makes an equally big difference. Both the Japanese and the Russian woman both ignored her. Like what Lodge said, this is a realization. This realization shows Hang that no matter how much she tries, she does not have the luck that the Japanese have. And that life will not come easy as it does for the Japanese. The way it was written gives it an envious tone. She is envious of the Japanese because even though they are equal in smarts, the Japanese have the opportunity to benefit from it, while Hang can’t because she has to provide her mother with financial aid. The scene uses very descriptive language to show the differences between the Japanese and Vietnamese. The Japanese are described as having sparkling eyes, “smooth, healthy skin”(Hương, 229). and “the glow of well-nourished people”(Hương, 229)m while the Vietnamese are described as having “faces gnawed with worry, shattered faces, twisted, ravaged, sooty, frantic faces.”(Hương, 229). The language used here is very intense. There are many metaphors used in this scene to make it more intense, like “the eyes of a wild animal.”(Hương, 229). This helps to make the realization, and the epiphany, more clear.

Abdullah Kabli

Lodge, David. The art of fiction. Vintage, 2011

Hương, Dương Thu. Paradise of the Blind. Trans. Phan Huy Duong and Nina McPherson. New York: Perennial, 2002. Print.

Paradise of the blind and the lodge chapter

In the book paradise of the blind the author uses many different Vietnamese names,  each name has a meaning to it that helps in understanding certain acts the characters make and the plot of the story. The author uses the Vietnamese names for us to understand the nationality and characteristics of the character. A name is significant for the writer, a writer has to be clever in picking a name, to give a creation and an idea of a particular character, also to provide a specific feeling, and make assumptions about that character.

A name can give us an idea of the person ’s personality or their nationality for an example that was mentioned in the chapter, “ let her be called Violet, no, Veronica, no Violet, improbable name as that is for Catholic girls or Irish extractions, customarily named after saints and figures”(Lodge 6).  Names like Violet is for a Catholic girl, she may look pretty, pale, and dark hair. Using that example, we were able to make assumptions about her origin and her looks from her name “Violet.” Names usually are very inherent to their character it is tough to change a name after it has been chosen.

Writers usually don’t care about giving the reader an explanation of why they choose a name the reader himself has to be able to find out.  In the novel Paradise of the blind, we can tell that all the names have been studied very well before writing the plot, each name represents its character in the novel. For instance, Aunt tam means soul or spirit “Heart,” the mother Que means sparrow or a bird, Uncle Chinh means correctness, or rightness, Khoa means science, Hang means a lady. All the names have a connection to the plot of the story and how it affects the culture of the story.

The Vietnamese names in the paradise of the blind helped us in understanding the character because the meanings are connected to the characters personality. For example, aunt tam’s personality, she is a lovely lady that had helped her niece Hang and provided her with a living, Aunt tam is a very hard working lady that has spent all her life to build her future and make a fortune. Aunt Tam’s name means a heart or a soul; this shows that she has feelings for others. Another example is mother Que; she is Hang’s mother, she works in the sales, primarily a street vendor, she suddenly loses her legs in an accident however she still manages to work and provide her daughter and poor brother a living. Mother Que name means a sparrow or a bird, and in my opinion, a bird is frail, just like mother Que, “Of what? This is the home of our ancestors,” she replied, irritation showing in her voice.”20. This quote shows how feeble she is.  

In the lodge chapter, it also mentioned that helps us in an understanding name is the surnames are usually perceived as arbitrary because it is passed on to all the family members. The surname in the novel Paradise of The Blind is Ton which means priceless, this relates to Hangs fathers struggles in living with uncle Chinh, how he wanted for his wife and daughter to live in peace, this shows that Ton’s actions are priceless.

In conclusion, a name is very significant to the plot, if we imagine a story without names it will not make any sense it has to have names or words that indicate to a specific thing for the reader to understand. “In the second story, Ghosts, all the characters have the names of colors” 39. Names are never meaningless the always have signified to something.

 

Symbolism in Paradise of the Blind (DA)

According to David Lodge, in the book The Art of Fiction, symbolism means “anything that stands for something else.” (Lodge, 139) For example, the color blue might represent peace and serenity. Lodge divided symbolism into two types; 1) Synecdoche and 2) Metonymy. Synecdoche is when a part represents a whole and metonymy is substituting a name of an object with something similar. Synecdoche can be found in Paradise of the Blind.

One example of synecdoche is Uncle Chinh. In the novel, Uncle Chinh represents the communist society. He is a local communist cadre and strongly adheres to the strict ideologies of communism. Uncle Chinh is well respected since he teaches the communist ideologies. “They were all muted when they learned that my uncle Chinh was a cadre responsible for ideological education in the northern province of Quang Ninh….In their eyes, teachers of “ideology “practiced a noble profession, far superior to all others”  (Page 48, Paradise of the Blind) Another example of synecdoche is Ton, Hang’s father. Ton represents the upper class and landowner’s class. Since Uncle Chinh strictly abided with the communist ideologies, he forced his sister Que to divorce her husband Ton. Uncle Chin believed that Ton was an “exploiter.” “Que, from now on you must not speak to, or have any further contact with, that Ton, he’s an Exploiter” (Page 22, Paradise of the Blind)

In my opinion, Que represents the women inferior to men in Vietnam. Que has to respect and comply with everything her brother orders her to do. The main example is when she was forced to divorce her husband. Despite the fact that Chinh is very cruel to her, which I believe goes back to the fact that he is part of the communist society, she still treated him nicely and with respect. When he fell ill, she rushed to visit him and take care of him. She stepped out of her comfort zone to make sure that he is doing well. With that being said, Uncle Chinh was the reason for many of the hardships Que had to go through. He made cry multiple times though out the novel. “My mother began to sob” (Page 23, Paradise of the Blind) Que had to work after she got divorced and was forced to take care of her daughter all alone. One the jobs she has done was to make rice paddies using the Japanese Duckweed.

The Japanese Duckweed has a symbol itself. Duckweed is very common in the Vietnamese culture. They are generally surrounded by contaminated or dirty bodies of water, thus duckweeds might represent Que and Hang. The people around them are atrocious and mean.  Uncle Chinh is one of the people that act rudely towards Hang and Que, so he is the contaminated water in this case.

Symbolism helps create meaning and add value to the story being told. Symbols are open to many different interpretations, which makes the meaning of the symbol differ from one person to another. I guess this is why Lodge states “Literary symbolism is less easily decoded than these examples,” (139, Lodge)

Citations:

Example Plan – Duckweed Flowers, mrhoyesibwebsite.com/Written%20Assignment/Example%20Plans/Example%20Plan%20-%20Paradise%20-%20Duckweed%20Flowers.htm.

DÆ°Æ¡ng, Thu HÆ°Æ¡ng. Paradise of the Blind. Perennial, 2002.

Areeba C. (coincidence)

In Duong Thu Hong’s book, Paradise of the Blind, there is coincidence and the lack of coincidence which has a major impact on the novel. In David Lodge’s The Art of Fiction, there is a chapter dedicated to coincidence. In that chapter, coincidence is “all too obviously a structural device in fiction, and an excessive reliance on it can jeopardize the verisimilitude of a narrative.” (Lodge 150) According to Lodge, the author defines coincidence is a device in fiction. The author believes that using coincidence too much can take away from the meaning of the story rather than adding to it.

This story has coincidence and the lack of it. There are numerous incidents of coincidence in the first five chapters. The major coincidence that occurred was Hang’s parents meeting for the first time. Hang’s mom and dad, whose name is Ton, were both lonely after the death of their parents. This is why when they found each other, they were immediately attracted to each other. In Chapter 2, a neighbor tells Hang, “She wasn’t frightened. She was bored. That’s why she couldn’t wait till the end of the mourning period to marry handsome Ton.” (Hong, 17) When the neighbor said this statement, Hang was confused because her mother had never told her anything about her father. They end up getting married but a few years later, he fled the village because of the humiliation he received from his in-laws. He bounced around for a while and he finally settled down with a family. The family was forced to hide him because of the revolution that was going on which targeted exploiters such as Hang’s dad. About six years later, the family was forced to kick Ton out of the house. The family told Ton, “Master, leave quickly, we beg you. We know this is ungracious. But take pity on us,” (Hang 61) The family felt bad, but they had no choice.

The coincidence was the meeting of Hang’s parents, but their meeting again was the turning point. As a result, Ton was forced to go somewhere else. Ton ends up marrying the daughter of the prime minister which earns him a higher ranking in the village. There he encounters a salesman who he befriends. The salesman tells Ton about the horrific things his village faced. Ton started feeling guilty, so he went back to his first wife. He goes back to his village and reunites with his wife. Nine months later, Hang is born.

The lack of coincidence is also addressed. Lodge writes, “The frequency of coincidence in fictional plots varies with genre as well as period and is related to how much the writer feels he can “get away with” in this respect.” (Lodge 151) Here, Lodge is writing about how coincidence should be limited. Too much of it can be detrimental and take away the meaning of the writing.

This is significant because without this coincidence, the other coincidences would not have happened. This book is formatted as a cause and effect. If the cause is not there, then the effect would not make sense and vice versa. Hang’s parents met and the effect of that was Hang’s birth.

Hang makes decisions that can be argued as the effect of these coincidences. If these coincidences would have not happened, this story would have probably not been written and we would have not been reading this now.

 

Coincidence in the novel Paradise of the blind: Connected to the Lodge Chapter. Ibraheem

According to the lodge chapter “coincidence “by David Lodge, coincidence is a major plot device. The use of coincidence in any novel helps with the structure of the plan, as well as the pattern the author decides to create. Coincidence generates fun, and enjoyment in novels.  The changes that the author decides to make by coincidence will make the reader connect the dots and solve the puzzle. Coincidence provides epiphany for the reader, that helps him make these connections in the novel.  The amount of coincidences in a novel are chosen by the author, however, too many coincidences can ruin the novel. with an increased amount of coincidence comes a decrease in the realism of the novel. The author should think of the coincidence he chooses to put in a novel, also think of the outcome of this coincidence, and how it affects the plot. In the novel “Paradise of the blind” by Doung Thu Houng, there are two main coincidences that happened in chapter two, and four. Both coincidences seemed like good things, however, the outcome of them negatively affected Hang’s character.

 

In chapter two, the first coincidence happens with Hang’s father. Hang’s father decides to leave because his mother suffered from paralysis.  During that time, Ton met Que, and they decided to marry each other. This coincidence sounds lovely and sweet. However, the outcome of that marriage was that Hang’s mother was looked down upon. She married ton during her years of mourning,” it was during this solitary year that she met my father” (Houng, 20) which made it a big deal towards the community.  This coincidence seemed to be great; Hang’s father was a gentleman ” my father had his charm”…”Their courtship began quickly”  (Houng, 20)  but it had a negative impact on hangs feelings toward her mother. Hang’s mother broke the rules, for the matter of love. This might seem good, but her and her family were affected by this decision.

 

Another main coincidence was in chapter four. This coincidence does exactly what Lodge’s chapter says. It helped with the novels plot structure and generated suspense. The author did get away with it by choosing the right time to execute it, and this coincidence is the last main coincidence in the novel. In chapter four hang’s father came across by coincidence a wonderer that knows Que “he knew my aunt Tam. He also knew my mother.” (Houng, 67) This wonderer helped Ton to get to Que. This coincidence seems to the reader that it is great, and beautiful because it’s talking about love, “he felt his heart race” (Houng, 67). But this coincidence impacted Hang negatively when we see her reaction. Later on, because of this coincidence, hang purposely tries to find out the secrets that are never been told to her by her parents.  This coincidence affected hangs character throughout the play, it told her the story behind her significance. This falls under the category of character development.

 

Houng did a great job listing her coincidences. Her amount was just right. The coincidence helps with the understanding of the theme, and also the time of it happening affected the plot. Putting the coincidences, in the beginning, helped the reader understand the way of the author. The novel did not have as many coincidences as other novels, however, Houng got away with the two she put in the book. The little amount of coincidence in this novel helped to portray the novel as more realistic and, serious. All of this was explained in the lodge chapter. It’s like Houng read the Chapter before she wrote this novel, which is amazing!

Ibraheem Bashatah

 

Bibliography:

 

Lodge, David. The art of fiction. Vintage, 2011.

Hương, Dương Thu. Paradise of the Blind. Trans. Phan Huy Duong and Nina McPherson. New York: Perennial, 2002. Print.