The Refugees

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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The Boy Character Analysis

The narrator of “War Years.” The boy, the boy’s mother, and the boy’s father live in a Vietnamese community in San Jose, California. They had fled Vietnam when the boy was very small, and he has no memories of the war. Growing up in America, the boy finds himself caught between two cultures: the Vietnamese culture of his family, and the American culture of his classmates. As he grows up, he finds that he is more attracted to American culture. He likes school because he can speak English there, he wants the Vietnamese market his parents own to sell TV dinners and bologna, and he loves Star Wars, Captain America, and President Reagan. Meanwhile, his parents are trying to maintain some of the values of their own culture by not giving their son an allowance, by selling only Vietnamese products in their grocery store, and by taking him to church every Sunday. By the end of the story, however, the boy’s mother realizes that she must compromise with him, knowing that he feels connected both to a Vietnamese and to an American cultural identity.

The Boy Quotes in The Refugees

The The Refugees quotes below are all either spoken by The Boy or refer to The Boy. 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.
War Years Quotes

“And what about bologna?”

“What?” My mother’s brow furrowed. “If I can’t pronounce it, my customers won’t buy it.”

Related Characters: The Boy (speaker), The Boy’s Mother (speaker), The boy’s father
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:

More than all those people starved by famine, it was the thought of my mother not remembering what she looked like as a little girl that saddened me.

Related Characters: The Boy (speaker), The Boy’s Mother
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

It was a trivial secret, but one I would remember as vividly as my feeling that while some people are haunted by the dead, others are haunted by the living.

Related Characters: The Boy (speaker), The Boy’s Mother, Mrs. Hoa
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

“Go buy,” she said in English, motioning me inside. Whenever she spoke in English, her voice took on a higher pitch, as if instead of coming from inside her, the language was outside, squeezing her by the throat.

Related Characters: The Boy (speaker), The Boy’s Mother (speaker), Mrs. Hoa, The boy’s father
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Refugees LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Refugees PDF

The Boy Character Timeline in The Refugees

The timeline below shows where the character The Boy appears in The Refugees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
War Years
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
The narrator of this chapter is an unnamed thirteen-year-old boy who begins by describing the boy’s mother’s normal routine. She is already dressed by the... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
The boy then elaborates on his own routine. At this time, he is in summer school. He... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Customers crowd the market as they haggle over different goods with the boy’s mother. The boy asks his mother why they can’t sell TV dinners, or bologna. She... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
As the boy works, a woman named Mrs. Hoa walks in and introduces herself. She is in her... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The boy’s mother says she’d like to help, but that times are hard and she has no... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
On their way home that night, the boy asks the boy’s mother why she doesn’t want to help soldiers fight the Communists—who, to... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
That night, the boy’s father tells the boy’s mother that it might be prudent to pay a little hush... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Over the days following Mrs. Hoa’s visit, the boy’s mother is clearly unsettled. As the boy and his mother calculate the market’s earnings for... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
When the boy says that his mother and father always say that the Communists are bad people, the... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The boy wonders about his home in Vietnam, and whether there might be a Communist child sleeping... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
The boy’s mother says that she hates the Communists as much as Mrs. Hoa, but that she... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
The boy’s mother’s fears of robbery are confirmed one night when someone knocks on the door. The... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
The boy’s parents shake with fear, and the boy’s father gets down on his knees, as does... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
That Sunday, the boy’s mother combs the boy’s hair before church. He doesn’t protest, thinking about what had happened... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
The police don’t catch the man, and the boy only thinks about him on Sundays, when he is on his knees. One such Sunday,... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Mrs. Hoa remarks on the boy, calling him handsome,  and inquiring about their daughter’s college and what her major was. The... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
The boy’s mother decides to follow Mrs. Hoa home and takes the boy with her. In the... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The boy explains that he sometimes tries to imagine what the boy’s mother looked like as a... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
The following Wednesday, Mrs. Hoa returns to the New Saigon Market. The boy is in a wooden loft at the back of the store, surrounded by stacks of... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
The boy’s mother is nervous about the customers, who would likely tell their friends about the incident... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
When Mrs. Hoa asks what she wants, the boy’s mother notices army uniforms in her closet, prompting the boy’s mother to ask if Mrs.... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The boy’s mother takes out an envelope and hands Mrs. Hoa two hundred dollars. The boy is... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
As the boy and the boy’s mother turn to leave, Mrs. Hoa explains that the Communists don’t respect... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
As the boy and the boy’s mother drive home, she tells him that he deserves a treat. He... (full context)