Wednesday, June 12, 2013


The theme of hope is apparent in Catfish and Mandala--this hope that Andrew Pham will find his identity and be able to somehow reconcile with the loss of his sister; the hope that going through this bicycle journey, Pham will be able to move on and be ready to face the future. In childhood and his young adulthood, Pham had faced hard trials that would make anyone grow weary and could make one want to quit. Pham shows both resistance and resilience through to all challenges that he encounters. The memory of his sister and the hope that he carries inside of him to make things right, for himself and for Chi, is what keeps him going on his journey. Although Pham explains that he was "[p]ractically broke and emotionally exhausted," and that he "consider[ed] abandoning [his] bike trip altogether"(199), he never does despite the exhaustion and despair that overwhelms him at time. Yet he pedals ahead to finish what he started, no matter what the physical cost.

By Andres

The Wheel of Internal and External Struggle

Andrew's extensive internal and external journey proves to be as circular and connected as the sacred mandala. The spokes of the faded bike wheel intersect and overlap in order to demonstrate the relationship to the entire existence of the wheel. Each separate wire serves a distinct purpose; one cannot support the bike alone but they each equally distribute the weight. This is similar to the importance of each aspect of Andrew Pham's identity. Each piece is as important as the previous piece, and this is something that he is able to recognize at the end of the memoir. He is able to reconcile different aspects of himself and he sees that the answer to his question is within his own internal self, rather than the external journey that seemingly dominates the entire memoir. His journey imitates the journey of life: circular, unified, and purposeful. The external, physical journey parallels the internal quest he is experiencing. His answer is his own self-acceptance. It is intangible, yet he is able to reach it by the wheels of his spiritual journey.

By Anna

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Alley of Memory

The alley behind An's childhood house provides an integral medium in which the reader can explore the process of memory. Through An's memory, the reader is able to create mental sounds, smells, and tastes which become visceral components in the visualization of a pre-war Vietnam. The alley both serves as a link, or channel, where the memories of the old world become once again alive, and animated through An's own psyche. They alley also serves as a focal point that portrays the progress social reform in Vietnamese culture, which has been stagnant, before and after the war. There is a portrayal of the congested nature of Vietnam's city life that manifests a certain sickness and moral degradation in An's identity while in Vietnam. The alley way serves both the yearning of An ti rekindle his past but also the means by which inhibit him from attaining a self actualization that his cohesive with his native heritage. The vicarious and symbiotic nature of the alley reminds the reader how fine of a line it is between nostalgia and disgust.

By Justin 

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Mockery, Awareness or Empathy?

When Andrew encounters his Vietnamese roots through seeing the peasants and his visiting his old home, he has an interesting outlook on the people in the village on page 178.  In Phan Thiet, the fishing town, he sees the people tending to their daily chores, which fascinates him.  The people in the town work collectively as a group as they prepare the fish they have just harvested.  However, when Andrew sees this, his first instinct is to "save them" from their environment, showing An feels superior to them.  His actions and thoughts show how Americanized he is because he speaks as if he wants to "civilize" the peasants.  It also seems as if An subconsciously displays his "American arrogance" proudly, which begs the question: "Why does he want to go back to Vietnam?"

However, there are other ways to interpret An's actions and attitudes towards the people.  Could he possibly feel empathetic towards them?  Could he possibly have the desire to help them because he knows he is in a better position than them?  Is he showing awareness because he empathizes with them, watching their hard work?

In another section of his memoir, An is haunted by the memory of Vietnam, which shows when he visits his old house on page 181.  The memories that flood his mind relate to Chi and the things they used to do as children.  Andrew says that he "felt guilty" and that he is happy that his family had enough money to escape Vietnam.  After that, An sees the backyard of his house, has a flood of memories, and immediately decides to go. 

It is easy to make An out to be a proud, Vietnamese-American man who has a superiority complex, however, it takes a different perspective to see him as a self-aware, empathetic Vietnamese-American man.

By Michelle  

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Old and The New

An is torn between two worlds,  between America and Vietnam. Vietnam his birth place and hometown and  America, his  home where he belongs. Andrew feels out of place in Vietnam, since by returning to Vietnam Andrew was hoping to see his hometown as it was before where the people and the country was at its best. By returning to Vietnam, An hoped to experience  and feel the  same  warmth and kindness that he so much cherished and remembered after all these years. However, An soon learned that everything he remembered from the past had  faded away, and nothing remained from the old days. The country had  changed, during his stay in Vietnam An  was bombarded with needy people asking him for help because many of Vietnam’s citizens were living below poverty line. People didn’t have jobs and  couldn’t live since they had no income to make a living.

While he was in Vietnam, An was disappointed from his trip because everyone and everything around him was not what it used to be. He felt alienated and lost which made him see that everything that he cherished was gone. People were very selfish and only cared about themselves and their happiness. People only cared about money and wealth, nothing else mattered to them. An was surprised  to see the prevalence of prostitution and robbery. People were blinded by money  that they lost their sense of order and morality to a point where they  cheated and robbed not only their friends but family members as well. 

An was disappointed and felt sad that everything that he remembered from his childhood had faded away, nothing was left for him to hold onto. During his stay in Vietnam An detached himself from his people  and ancestral  homeland. The more he stayed there the more he became convinced that he didn’t belong there that he was destined to live in America. That his future was in America, the place he calls home.
By Elina

Friday, May 31, 2013

The Caning

Bamboo in Catfish and Mandala is a symbol that evokes repression and fear. Thong Pham uses the bamboo canes to discipline his children as well as show them his love. In turn An uses the canes to torment and discipline his younger brothers, until Hien comes at him with a knife in defense (238). It is not until this instance that An realized how violent he acts towards his brothers; he is glad Hien did this because it allowed An to learn to control his anger. An is fearful of his own strength and the abilities of his brothers to fight back. However, their father, a traditional Vietnamese father, may go overboard in his disciplining; for him discipline often becomes uncontrolled rage. For Chi, the bamboo is a symbol of repression. Her father tries to beat femininity into her because he does not know any other way to deal with abnormality of his child. However, his approach seems to backfire because she only becomes more and more masculine as the story and the beating progresses. In the end, Chi, now Minh, a transgendered male, uses these violent experiences to build a wall of security and form a defense mechanism towards the harshness of the world. However, this wall is only so strong. Minh breaks down after years of desperately trying to find acceptance and understanding from the ones he loves. After the rejection from his wife, Minh is unable to rebuild. Minh feels emasculated because he has never felt more comfortable in his body, yet at the same time his inability to reproduce tears he and his wife apart and shatters his world. 

By Devan

Tree of Saigon

This illustration is inspired by An's return to his home town of Phan Tiet, which begins on page 178 of the novel, continuing to page 183. I drew a tree to pull from the ghost tree that An describes, but also to show An's view of the city. This hope and nostalgia he holds is symbolized by a dying, withering tree, showing how An had a dream of a happy city like his memories, but these have been stunted and killed by reality.

The tree is then covered in memories, both old from An's childhood and some that are new from his return experiences. These things adorn the tree but do not necessarily grow on it, to show that An is caught between the forming of new memories and the dying of the old memories. The only exception to this is the coconuts on the floor, showing his memories of "the coconut groves" (178) have not remained as he once held them.

In the tree are things related to experiences and memories An recalls; from left to right: the tamarind pods that used to fall from the ghost tree, the monkey that is now chained to the dying star fruit tree, the red paper flowers An was once bullied amongst, a hammock like those that used to dot his city, the squatty huts and shacks that filled Phan Tiet, the star fruits that used to grow, a bicycle for the man who must bike scrap metal to feed his family, large buildings for the seemingly "urban" lifestyle that has spread into An's city, and a noose in part for the ghost tree and in part for Chi's suicide. Finally, while the coconuts rest on the ground in the grass, the roots of the tree remain suspended, symbolizing how An feels out of touch with his roots in Vietnam.

By Alex