Inside Out and Back Again

by

Thanhhà Lai

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Dolls Symbol Icon

Dolls represent ’s childhood. When Hà and her family packs to flee the war in South Vietnam, Mother allows everyone one “choice” item to include with their necessities (clothes, food, and toiletries). Hà chooses her beloved doll and dresses it in a matching dress and booties that Mother knitted, a mark of her childhood innocence. However, when Hà and her family have been at sea for about two weeks, people discover that Brother Khôi brought his newly hatched chick onto the ship with them—and that it’s been dead for a while and smells terrible. Hà decides to help Brother Khôi move on from this loss by holding her own burial ceremony for the chick: she puts the chick in her doll’s arms, wraps the chick and the doll in a handkerchief, and tosses them both into the sea. This gesture seems to help Brother Khôi, and Hà is happy to be able to help her brother move on—but she also immediately regrets losing her doll. This signifies that Hà isn’t ready to grow up, but that her  circumstances are forcing her to do so.

Then, several months after the family has immigrated to Alabama, Hà’s new friend Pem gives her a new doll for Christmas. Receiving another doll suggests that Hà has become much safer and more secure than she was when fleeing the war, and so she’s able to feel more like a child again. She can enjoy childish comforts again, and she’s no longer in a situation where she has to make mature sacrifices, as she did during her family’s journey from Vietnam.

Dolls Quotes in Inside Out and Back Again

The Inside Out and Back Again quotes below all refer to the symbol of Dolls. 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
).
Part 2: At Sea Quotes

Brother Khôi nods
and I smile,
but I regret
not having my doll
as soon as the white bundle
sinks into the sea.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Brother Khôi
Related Symbols: Dolls
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4: From Now On Quotes

I tell her
a much worse embarrassment
is not having
a gift for Pem.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother, Pem/Pam, TiTi
Related Symbols: Dolls
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:
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Inside Out and Back Again PDF

Dolls Symbol Timeline in Inside Out and Back Again

The timeline below shows where the symbol Dolls appears in Inside Out and Back Again. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Saigon
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...For their last item, it’s their choice what they want to bring. Hà chooses her doll. She once let a neighbor borrow the doll, and the neighbor left it outside. The... (full context)
Part 2: At Sea
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
...the ship. There, she opens a white handkerchief to reveal Brother Khôi’s chick in her doll’s arms. Hà ties the bundle and tosses it into the sea. It makes Brother Khôi... (full context)
Part 4: From Now On
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Gift-Exchange Day. On December 25th, “gift-exchange day,” Pem comes over with a doll—Hà told her about the mouse-bitten one that she lost. Hà almost screams, as the doll... (full context)