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  


  1. An's attitude concerning the Vietnamese peasants he encounters is typically one of pity, though he at times becomes annoyed by their panhandling when he allows himself to be emotionally distant from them. I get the sense that An has become conditioned by his time spent as an American to have an involuntary, visceral response to the dirt, poverty, and panhandling he encounters in Vietnam. An is in a strange situation of experiencing culture shock in his own homeland due to the age at which he moved to the United States.

    - Gregory

  2. An's attitude towards the Vietnamese seems to be an outward reflection of how he truly feels about himself. As Vietnam is a part of his past that he cannot run away from, An seems to feel the need to attack it because he does not truly understand it. By the end of the memoir, I believe we are supposed to recognize that in forgiving himself and finding innner-peace, he is able to reconcile his ill feelings towards the Vietnamese.


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  4. I definitely agree with the questions you posed in response to the your initial sense of superiority in the memoir. I especially found it interesting how you discovered another possibility for his want to help the Vietnamese people. Your conclusion that he is self-aware of how unfair lives can be in the hands of fate is extremely astute. It's a question An keeps asking himself throughout the memoir--why me?