Inside Out and Back Again


Thanhhà Lai

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Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
War, Childhood, and Maturity Theme Icon
Immigration, Culture Shock, and Belonging Theme Icon
Family and Grief Theme Icon
Culture, Food, and Tradition Theme Icon
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Inside Out and Back Again, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Theme Icon

isn’t quite the top student in her class in South Vietnam, but she’s close—she loves feeling smart and learning challenging things in school. But when Hà’s family moves from South Vietnam to Alabama during the Fall of Saigon, Hà has to face the difficult prospect of starting in a brand-new school in a country where she doesn’t yet speak English. For weeks, this is demoralizing and even frightening: Hà is the victim of overt racism, as when her classmates call her “pancake face” and ask if she ate dogs in Vietnam. Some boys even chase Hà and pull her hair. This causes Hà to hide to protect herself physically and emotionally, and it keeps her from ever feeling at home in Alabama. But she’s also the victim of subtler bullying and racism, even from adults. For example, her teacher, MiSSS SScott, incorrectly assumes that Hà can’t understand fractions or multiply multi-digit numbers simply because Hà doesn’t speak English. This causes Hà to remark that “this is / what dumb / feels like.” Hà, of course, isn’t any less intelligent than her classmates; she just doesn’t speak the language and so can’t tell anyone how much she knows. Through Hà’s experiences, the novel shows that bullying, racism, and false assumptions are extremely damaging, particularly for immigrants. This treatment can cause immigrants learning a new language, like Hà, to doubt their intelligence and self-worth for senseless reasons.

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Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt ThemeTracker

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Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt Quotes in Inside Out and Back Again

Below you will find the important quotes in Inside Out and Back Again related to the theme of Bullying, Racism, and Self-Doubt.
Part 2: At Sea Quotes

Then by chance Mother learns
sponsors prefer those
whose applications say “Christians.”

Just like that
Mother amends our faith,
saying all beliefs
are pretty much the same.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother, The Cowboy, The Cowboy’s Wife
Page Number: 108
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: Alabama Quotes

I tap my own chest:

She must have heard
as in funny ha-ha-ha.

She fakes a laugh.

I repeat, ,
and wish I knew
enough English
to tell her
to listen for
the diacritical mark,
this one directing
the tone

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), MiSSS SScott
Page Number: 140-41
Explanation and Analysis:

On one side
of the bright, noisy room,
light skin.
Other side,
dark skin.

Both laughing, chewing,
as if it never occurred
to them
someone medium
would show up.

I don’t know where to sit
any more than
I know how to eat
the pink sausage
snuggled inside bread
shaped like a corncob,
smeared with sauces
yellow and red.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker)
Page Number: 143-44
Explanation and Analysis:

I shout, I’m so mad.
I shouldn’t have to run away.

Tears come.

Brother Vū
has always been afraid
of my tears.
I’ll teach you defense.

How will that help me?

He smiles huge,
so certain of himself.
You’ll see.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Brother Vū/Vu Lee (speaker), Pink Boy
Page Number: 152-53
Explanation and Analysis:

I’m furious,
unable to explain
I already learned
and how to purify
river water.

So this is
what dumb
feels like.

I hate, hate, hate it.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), MiSSS SScott
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

No one would believe me
but at times
I would choose
wartime in Saigon
peacetime in Alabama.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), MiSSS SScott
Page Number: 194-95
Explanation and Analysis:

I thought I would love
seeing him in pain.

he looks
more defeated than weak,
more helpless than scared,
like a caged puppy.

He’s getting up.

If I were to kick him,
it must be

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Pink Boy, Brother Vū/Vu Lee
Page Number: 225-27
Explanation and Analysis: