Wednesday, May 29, 2013

The Padded Soles of Memory

For Andrew, guilt as a survivor exists on a cultural level as Viet Kieu and on a personal level, as the brother of Chi. He cannot resolve one issue without confronting the other. He finds, as his empathy for the Vietnamese people grows, so does his willingness to explore his memories of Chi.

Following his confrontation and deliverance from the mob at the Ham Tan inn, Andrew’s outlook undergoes a transformation. The market bound peasants appear, to his eyes, as almost romantically wholesome. He feels compelled to share rather than denigrate. Even as he compares the swarming children to an “infestation of locust” he thinks of their hunger and wonders if food can be found (179). The manner in which he describes the cycling scrap-metal collector who has “fathered a child” and sacrificed to “support his family” reveals in Andrew a growing realization of the persistent dignity behind the poverty (179).  The mechanic who occupies his childhood home shows him plainly the drastic effect of circumstance, something which he had previously taken for granted. Faced with this truth, he consciously acknowledges both his guilt and his luck (181).

Ironically, Andrew’s description of life on Locke Drive comes across (at least for the brothers) as idealized and somehow adventurous. He uses positive descriptors like “colossal” and “treasure land.” “It wasn’t,” he says “as bad as it looked.” He and his brothers, “reveled in the family’s poverty” (190). Likewise, the neighborhood mercantilism which Andrew finds so distasteful in Saigon, he remembers as “serious business” and “industrious” on Locke Drive (191).

At first it seems that time and perspective have tempered Andrew’s recollections, that perhaps life was not, as he says, that bad. But, when he uses only three words; “he caned her,” to describe his father’s last beating of Chi, it becomes apparent that although he has started a process of self-examination, he still hedges and holds back; he qualifies with “somehow” and “as if” (215). In Andrew’s eyes, Chi still remains the object and the source of shame.

By Brian

1 comment:

  1. Andrew, at the beginning of his journey, is incredibly guilty over his feelings of failed responsibility to Chi. As he discovers more about himself, he is able to delve deeper into Chi's life and the emotional shortcomings of his family. He begins to accept his mistakes and relieve himself of guilt as his self-actualization manifests.