Inside Out and Back Again


Thanhhà Lai

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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.
Family and Grief Theme Icon

Ten-year-old is the youngest child in a close-knit family. She has three older brothers, Brother Khôi, Brother Vū, and Brother Quang, and they all adore Mother. Father, however, has been missing in action for the last nine years, and nobody knows if he’s deceased, captured, or living at his ancestral home in North Vietnam (Hà and the rest of her family live in South Vietnam, which has a closed border with North Vietnam). Inside Out and Back Again presents Hà’s family as unified and emotionally supportive to one another as they flee South Vietnam on a ship to escape the approaching Communist army from North Vietnam. For instance, Brother Vū protects his family members and keeps everyone together as panicked people rush around the port. Later, Hà and Brother Quan support Brother Khôi when his beloved chick dies on the ship. And once the family settles in Alabama, Brother Vū frightens away the bully Pink Boy when Pink Boy tries to hurt Hà. Hà’s family members are the only people she’s certain she can rely on for help, as they’re all going through similar struggles.

However, Father’s absence casts a huge shadow over Hà’s family. Mother is often sad or worried, in part because she doesn’t know if she should be grieving for her lost husband or hoping for his return. Mother’s sadness, and living in a constant state of not knowing what happened to Father, cause Hà and her siblings to tiptoe around Mother and stay extremely attuned to her emotional state. So, when Mother loses the amethyst ring that Father gave her, it’s both traumatic and somewhat comforting—she interprets this as a sign that Father is gone, and that she and her children can grieve for him and move on. Following a ceremony in which the family prays for Father’s easy passage to the afterlife, Hà and her siblings are able to look forward to their futures in the U.S. with more optimism than they ever had before—suggesting that their grief was holding them back. Letting Father go allows Mother in particular to focus her attention more fully on her children and her family as it is in the present. The novel thus suggests that living family members should take precedence in people’s minds and actions, and that letting go is an important part of the grieving and healing process.

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Family and Grief ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Family and Grief appears in each chapter of Inside Out and Back Again. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Family and Grief 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 Family and Grief.
Part 1: Saigon Quotes

Mother says
if the price of eggs
were not the price of rice,
and the price of rice
were not the price of gasoline,
and the price of gasoline
were not the price of gold,
then of course
Brother Khôi
could continue hatching eggs.

She’s sorry.

Related Characters: Mother (speaker), Brother Khôi, Kim Hà
Page Number: 16-17
Explanation and Analysis:

Sometimes I whisper
tuyet sút to myself
to pretend
I know him.

I would never say tuyet sút
in front of Mother.
None of us would want
to make her sadder
than she already is.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother, Father
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

I am proud
of my ability
to save
until I see
in Mother’s
deep eyes.

You deserve to grow up
where you don’t worry about
saving half a bite
of sweet potato.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother (speaker)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2: At Sea Quotes

The first hot bite
of freshly cooked rice,
plump and nutty,
makes me imagine
the taste of ripe papaya
although one has nothing
to do with the other.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker)
Related Symbols: Papaya
Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:

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:

I have never seen her
without this purple rock.
I can’t fall asleep
unless I twist the ring
and count circles.

Brother Quang says,
What’s the point of
new shirts and sandals
if you lose the last
tangible remnant of love?

I don’t understand
what he said
but I agree.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Brother Quang (speaker), Mother, Father
Related Symbols: The Amethyst Ring
Page Number: 103-04
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 3: Alabama Quotes

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 try
but can’t fall asleep,
needing amethyst-ring twirls
and her lavender scent.

I’m not as good as Mother
at making do.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother
Related Symbols: The Amethyst Ring
Page Number: 174
Explanation and Analysis:

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


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:
Part 4: From Now On Quotes


The chant is long,
the voice
low and sure.

she appears,
looks at each of us.

Your father is
truly gone.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother (speaker), Father
Related Symbols: The Amethyst Ring
Page Number: 250
Explanation and Analysis:

This Tet
there’s no I Ching Teller of Fate,
so Mother predicts our year.

Our lives
will twist and twist,
intermingling the old and new
until it doesn’t matter
which is which.

Related Characters: Kim Hà (speaker), Mother
Page Number: 257
Explanation and Analysis: