Inside Out and Back Again

by

Thanhhà Lai

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MiSSSisss WaSShington Character Analysis

MiSSSisss WaSShington is ’s family’s neighbor in Alabama, and since she’s a retired teacher, she volunteers to tutor Hà and her brothers after school. She’s kind, open, and encouraging to Hà as she helps Hà learn a new word a day and praises her with fresh fruit. Soon, the two form a close and trusting relationship. MiSSSisss WaSShington is the first adult Hà tells about the bullying she experiences at school and that she eats lunch in the school bathroom to avoid her classmates. Following this, MiSSSisss WaSShington speaks to the school administration, and Hà is then allowed to eat in the classroom with two friendly students, Pem and SSsì-Ti-Van. MiSSSisss WaSShington encourages Hà to not be afraid to speak English and make mistakes—doing so, she insists, is the only way Hà will learn. She also says Hà’s classmates should be ashamed of making fun of her for not speaking English well yet, and she points out that none of them would be able to say anything in Vietnamese. Hà is shocked to learn that MiSSSisss WaSShington’s son, Tom, died in Vietnam when he was fighting there, but that MiSSSisss WaSShington doesn’t hate Vietnam because of this. Indeed, MiSSSisss WaSShington lets Hà take home a photo album filled with pictures Tom took in Vietnam, most of them of happy things like schoolgirls and papaya trees. When MiSSSisss WaSShington learns that papaya is Hà’s favorite fruit, she gets Hà dried, sugared papaya for Christmas thinking it’ll be a great treat. Hà initially rejects the gift (though not in front of MiSSSisss WaSShington), but she decides the papaya is alright after Mother rehydrates it in warm water.

MiSSSisss WaSShington Quotes in Inside Out and Back Again

The Inside Out and Back Again quotes below are all either spoken by MiSSSisss WaSShington or refer to MiSSSisss WaSShington. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Harper edition of Inside Out and Back Again published in 2011.
Part 3: Alabama Quotes

She makes me learn rules
I’ve never noticed,
like a, an, and the,
which act as little megaphones
to tell the world
whose English
is still secondhand.

[…]

A, an, and the
do not exist in Vietnamese
and we understand
each other just fine.

I pout,
but MiSSS WaSShington says
every language has annoyances and illogical rules,
as well as sensible beauty.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), MiSSSisss WaSShington
Page Number: 166-67
Explanation and Analysis:

Things will get better,
just you wait.

I don’t believe her
but it feels good
that someone knows.

Related Characters: MiSSSisss WaSShington (speaker), Kim Hà (speaker), MiSSS SScott
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

Yet
on the dining table
on a plate
sit strips of papaya
gooey and damp,
having been soaked in hot water.

The sugar has melted off
leaving
plump
moist
chewy
bites.

Hummm…

Not the same,
but not bad
at all.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother, MiSSSisss WaSShington
Related Symbols: Papaya
Page Number: 234
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Inside Out and Back Again LitChart as a printable PDF.
Inside Out and Back Again PDF

MiSSSisss WaSShington Character Timeline in Inside Out and Back Again

The timeline below shows where the character MiSSSisss WaSShington appears in Inside Out and Back Again. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 3: Alabama
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...the house to their left, the older woman there hugs everyone. She introduces herself as MiSSSisss WaSShington and then hugs and kisses the cowboy. It turns out that MiSSSisss WaSShington is a... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
New Word a Day. MiSSSisss WaSShington has rules of her own. Every day, she makes Hà memorize a word and practice... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
Someone Knows. Today, Hà learns the word delicious. MiSSSisss WaSShington asks if Hà’s lunch was delicious. She waits patiently while Hà translates in her head... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...about all her classmates happily eating in the big, noisy room. Before Hà can speak, MiSSSisss WaSShington says she’ll pack Hà a lunch so she can eat in class, even though it’s... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
MiSSSisss WaSShington ’s Response. Hà is quiet during her tutoring session with MiSSSisss WaSShington. She looks around... (full context)
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...heavy with ripe papayas. Excited, she shouts, “Du du!” and says, “best food.” She teaches MiSSSisss WaSShington du du, and MiSSSisss WaSShington teaches Hà doo-doo, and they laugh uproariously. MiSSSisss WaSShington lets... (full context)
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
Cowboy’s Response. Just before school, the cowboy arrives at Hà’s house— MiSSSisss WaSShington told him about the pancake incident. Now, the cowboy, MiSSSisss WaSShington, Mother, and Brother Quang... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
...hole by the willow tree and screams “I hate everyone!!!!” into it, again and again. MiSSSisss WaSShington appears, speaks comfortingly to Hà, and then drags Hà up and across the yard. The... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Early Christmas. Mother invites the cowboy and MiSSSisss WaSShington for egg rolls a few days before Christmas. The guests don’t want to embarrass their... (full context)
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Not the Same. The package MiSSSisss WaSShington gave Hà contains dried papaya. This papaya is chewy, waxy, and sticky—it’s not like papaya... (full context)
Part 4: From Now On
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
Start Over. Hà is trying to explain Father’s ceremony to MiSSSisss WaSShington , but it’s hard to get all the nouns, verbs, and tenses right. MiSSSisss WaSShington... (full context)