Blind Paradise: Struggling with Disappointment in 1980s Vietnam

Topics: Vietnamese

Paradise of The Blind candidly portrays the struggles of disillusionment in Vietnamese culture in the 1980s. Duong Thu Huong’s novel presents the everyday lives of the Vietnamese people and the sacrifices they must make for the Communist Party. After the extension of the North Vietnamese communist regime to South Vietnam in 1975, strict limitations were imposed upon the lives of citizens. In the novel, Hang is a young woman whose family’s past predetermines the course of her life. On a train ride to visit her ill uncle, Chinh, she recounts the land reform in North Vietnam in the 1950s and the reason for the division of her family.

Like the many families deeply affected and overwhelmed by the reign of the communist regime, Hang’s family becomes “twisted” by “the habit of misery”, and “what has been diligence turned to desperation” (35). The characters’ internal struggles epitomize the endurance of victims in modern Vietnam and their determination to persevere with dignity.

Through the irony of the novel’s title, Duong Thu Huong explores the parallels between Vietnamese society in the 1980s and the characters’ cultural values in Paradise of the Blind.

Huong reveals the nature of Hang’s conflicted character through her search for deliverance from her family’s broken past. Throughout the novel, Hang is stuck between honoring her traditional obligation to her family and her moral duty to herself. Unlike her mother, Hang is far less susceptible to the cultural pressures of her time. She differentiates her character from her mother’s, recognizing that “despite everything [Que] stood for, everything [Hang] was trying to escape, [Que] was still [her] mother” (Huong 172).

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Nevertheless, Hang cannot disregard this stubborn loyalty toward cultural customs that causes her family misery; hence, she “blinds” herself to these external circumstances that bring suffering to her family. Hang’s longing for freedom is a reflection of the mass exodus of Vietnamese political refugees who fled from persecution, political oppression, and economic collapse caused by the new Communist regime in the 1980s. Like these refugees, Hang is driven by a yearning to reclaim her integrity, that “[beckons her] to a kind of love–to revolt, the most essential force in human existence” (39). Huong’s diction captures Hang’s self-determination; she can no longer “squander [her] life tending these faded flowers, these shadows, the legacy of past crimes” (258). This powerful diction communicates Hang’s commitment to finding peace with her family’s troubled past.

Unlike Hang, Que is unable to free herself from her conscientious faithfulness to her cultural traditions. She spends her entire life honoring her traditional duty to her family; however, ironically, she religiously devotes herself to her brother, Chinh, and his agnostic family rather than to her own. Her weakness to her brother’s dominance draws her to distance herself from her family, particularly her daughter, Hang. However, Que’s weakness may also be considered her strength seeing that she lives “according to proverbs and duties” which admonish “selflessness”. Huong’s expressive use of imagery illustrates this by characterizing “the sad glow radiating from the inky depths of [Que’s] eyes” (14). Amid the “pain and infinite perseverance” that Que endures throughout her life, she becomes a target of the village’s retribution due to Chinh’s hostility (14). Still, she lacks the assertiveness to stand up for herself, thus surrendering her disposition to Chinh. Hang perceives that “the wildness of [Que’s] appearance mirrored the chaos of her mind” (26). Like the people of Vietnam living under the Communist regime, Que lives in confusion and desperation. This vivid use of imagery brings light to Que’s lack of self-reliance which is a reflection of her submission to Chinh.

Uncle Chinh’s belligerent abuse of his power over Que pertains to his deliberate conformity to the Communist Party. Chinh shows himself to be a narrow-minded and selfish man who cannot see beyond the ideology he adopts. Nonetheless, despite his ambition to rise to power in the Communist hierarchy, he never becomes much more than a party hack. He asserts his dominance over Que by demanding that she is not “so selfish” and that she “must think of the interests of [the Communist] class” (32). Huong’s use of irony emphasizes the hypocrisy of the Communist regime in Vietnam; Chinh, who is essentially the most selfish character in the novel, moralizes altruism. Yet, while Que is submissive to her brother, Chinh is, in turn, submissive to the Communist Party. He is “conscientious and loving” (24) in his aggressive and passionate “worship” of Communism. Huong deduces that “devotion like this is impossible to explain. No matter, for it was [his] love that assured the survival of an entire way of life” (24). Chinh’s exhibition of this toxic “devotion” to the extremist regime reflects his ignorance of its adverse nature. The purposeful use of irony exposes Chinh’s “blind” adherence to the Communist Party and the hypocrisy of the flawed system.

While Chinh gives into the corruption of the Communist regime, Aunt Tam struggles to survive within this radical system. Aunt Tam, the representation of capitalism and democracy, is an educated, strong, and resolute woman; she works hard for years to fortify her wealth and endures many hardships throughout this time. As a traditionalist, Tam is observant of the Vietnamese cultural customs. Hang recognizes that “only [her] aunt Tam persevered, her nerves hard as stone” (29). This simile captures the definition of Tam’s character, which is continually tested by the ferocity of the Communist regime. Much like the fate of those who opposed the Communist Party in Vietnam in the 1980s, “[Tam’s] fate hung from a thread; and just as an overripe fruit hangs from a branch, [she] could fall at any moment” (25). This metaphorical allusion communicates Tam’s inability to make peace and survive within the Communist system.

Huong bares the heart of Vietnamese culture, embodied by Tam’s character, and the moral struggle faced by its people. Throughout the novel, she interweaves flashbacks with the present time of the novel through her use of vivid imagery. This language paints the past in graphic color, thus leaving the present to appear bleak and bland in contrast. Her use of this pattern illustrates the lives of the Vietnamese people, which once hopeful, now fades due to present-day realities. Huong’s writing divulges that the Vietnamese people are “a ripped sail tossed amid the waves, buffeted by the sharp, anguished cries of migratory birds as they prepared for flight” (13). She conclusively uses juxtaposition to emphasize the disillusionment in Vietnamese culture: ”so this was life, this strange muddle, this flower plucked from a swamp” (39). The imagery employed in the novel elucidates the reality of the tribulations endured by the Vietnamese people.

In her novel, Paradise of the Blind, Duong Thu Huong purposefully communicates the hypocrisy of Communism, and its adverse consequences on Vietnamese culture and its people. Through her use of diction, imagery, metaphor, and irony, she calls attention to the regime as an ill-fated “paradise” that is “blindly” conformed to by the nation’s people. In the novel, the lives of Hang, Que, Aunt Tam, and Uncle Chinh epitomize the intensity of this social dynamic throughout the 1980s; the hardships they face are a testament to the harsh reality of life under a repressive regime.

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Blind Paradise: Struggling with Disappointment in 1980s Vietnam. (2022, May 13). Retrieved from

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