The Refugees

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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Phuong Character Analysis

the main character of “Fatherland.” Phuong’s father, Mr. Ly, had one set of three children prior to the Vietnam War with the first Mrs. Ly, and then had had a second set of three children after the war with Phuong’s mother, naming his second set after his first. Phuong’s older sister, whose name is also Phuong but who goes by Vivien, haunts her throughout her life. Vivien and her family live in America, and to Phuong it appears that they are infinitely more blessed than she is. Mr. Ly constantly praises them, even though they have spent the vast majority of their lives away from him. Thus, when Vivien visits, Phuong is both jealous of her but also wants to be just like her. She yearns to move to America and to make something more of herself, especially because she is tired of being part of a society that prioritizes tourists over its own citizens. In the end, Phuong asks Vivien if she can come to America with her, but when Vivien says that she cannot sponsor Phuong, Phuong resolves to come to America anyway.

Phuong Quotes in The Refugees

The The Refugees quotes below are all either spoken by Phuong or refer to Phuong. 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 and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grove Press edition of The Refugees published in 2017.
Fatherland Quotes

He often compared Phuong with her absent sister, which had cultivated in Phuong a sense of yearning for Vivien but also some undeniable jealousy.

Related Characters: Phuong, Vivien, Mr. Ly
Page Number: 187
Explanation and Analysis:

We’re all the same to them, Phuong understood with a mix of anger and shame—small, charming, and forgettable.

Related Characters: Phuong, Vivien, Mr. Ly
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:

In the Ice Lantern’s glow, her sister’s face looked more like her father’s than her own, the symmetry rendering clear what Phuong could now say. Their father loved Vivien more than her.

The photograph ignited easily when Phuong lit it with a match.

Related Characters: Phuong, Vivien, Mr. Ly
Related Symbols: Photos
Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Refugees PDF

Phuong Character Timeline in The Refugees

The timeline below shows where the character Phuong appears in The Refugees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Fatherland
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Phuong’s father (Mr. Ly) had named his second set of children after his first, and Phuong,... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
...children had never written them letters, however, until Mr. Ly receives a letter from Vivien. Phuong thinks that she must have taken her name from Vivien Leigh, star of Gone with... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
When Vivien arrives, she is wearing enormous sunglasses, glossy lipstick, and has crimson luggage. Phuong is thrilled to see that she bears no resemblance to the Vietnamese people around her.... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
...to dinner at Nam Kha, however, she is clearly more in control of her domain. Phuong had worked as a hostess at the restaurant for two years, but had never eaten... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Phuong observes the other guests in the restaurant, all white except for one Indian couple, who... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
...years and his mistress had come demanding money. When he returned, he married his mistress (Phuong’s mother) and had three more children. (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Mr. Ly often compared Phuong with Vivien as she was growing up, which gave her a sense of yearning for... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Mr. Ly comments that they are a lucky generation. When Phuong tries to protest, he says that she has never appreciated what she has. He talks... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...want to come back to see the daughter he named after her. Vivien glances at Phuong before toasting once more with her father. (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Mr. Ly had never asked Phuong to take one of his tours. Though she had never wanted to go, she thinks... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
...would hide and attack Americans; a shooting range where tourists can use a machine gun. Phuong is confused why tourists would want to visit, but Mr. Ly explains that the war... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
...he scowls and raises his fist, crying “We reunite our country through courage and sacrifice!” Phuong assures Vivien that this is an act, but she also knows that the tourists cannot... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
...drink four flasks of milky rice wine at a Chinese restaurant. While Mr. Ly and Phuong’s mother go on a walk, Vivien and Phuong go upstairs to the room Phuong shares... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
Phuong puts her pajamas back on and she and Vivien lie in bed together. Vivien says... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...They drive the bumper cars before moving on to the Ferris wheel. As Vivien and Phuong survey the park in their own cabin, Vivien reveals that she once worked at an... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Phuong, who is still wearing the lingerie from the previous evening, tells Vivien that she hasn’t... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
...to take a vacation to Vietnam. She used her severance package to fund her trip. Phuong is shocked, but she still presses her case, saying that Vivien doesn’t have to be... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
...sister. The Ferris wheel has made a full rotation, and Vivien steps out, followed by Phuong. Mr. Ly snaps a photograph, but when it is developed, Phuong realizes that Vivien is... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
...letter recounts her memories and how much she wants to come back. Mr. Ly instructs Phuong to have the photographs laminated so that they’ll have something to remember her by until... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
The next morning, Phuong is alone in the house and she decides to look at the photos. The first... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Phuong lights the photo on fire with a match, dropping it into a bucket. She feeds... (full context)