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


  1. I find it ironic that in the Vietnamese culture, along with other cultures, beating of a child is a way to not only discipline but also to show that you love them. However, i can see how the beating would be a way to guide them to the right path (to better their future). I enjoy how you connect the bamboo to the repression and fear. I wonder if Andrew was angry towards his brothers to show their love or because he simply had an angrier side to himself.


  2. I never would have connected fear and repression to bamboo, but after reading this, I can see it in the context of the novel. Bamboo is strong yet flexible, and we can see it in An's father. He is very rigid about his beliefs and beats them into his children, and he shows flexibility towards the end when he begins to question if beating his children was really the way to raise them, especially in regards to Chi.


  3. An's father seems to be a victim of culture shock, as when he comes to America he finds that his traditional way of punishment is looked down upon. Even in Vietnam, the discipline An's father doled out to his children was seen as extreme by the locals. The violence An experienced eventually filtered down to his younger brother. There was certainly a domino effect of domestic violence in the Pham family, and violence was passed down from generation to generation. An's father might not have ever questioned his behavior if he hadn't moved to America and gained a new perspective.

    - Gregory