The Refugees

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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The mother of the boy who narrates “War Years.” She had fled Vietnam with the boy’s father and the boy after the Communists had seized her husband’s auto parts store. She now owns a grocery store, the New Saigon Market, with her husband in San Jose, California. In the story, the boy’s mother is at the center of two conflicts. The first is with her son, as she is trying to maintain the boy’s sense of his Vietnamese culture and she herself is reluctant to assimilate. The second is with a neighbor, Mrs. Hoa, who asks for money to support a South Vietnamese guerilla army training in Thailand. The boy’s mother at first refuses because she believes trying to win back the country is a lost cause. But gradually she relents when she hears that Mrs. Hoa’s husband and son went missing after the war, and she sees how Mrs. Hoa is haunted by the possibility of getting them back. But after she gives Mrs. Hoa the money, she sees the harm in being stuck in the past, and she realizes that moving forward with her son means assimilating into American culture to some degree.

The Boy’s Mother Quotes in The Refugees

The The Refugees quotes below are all either spoken by The Boy’s Mother or refer to The Boy’s Mother. 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’s Mother Character Timeline in The Refugees

The timeline below shows where the character The Boy’s Mother 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 time she taps on his door... (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
...and introduces herself. She is in her late forties and dressed in monochrome. She tells the boy’s mother that she is collecting funds for a guerilla army that’s gearing up to fight against... (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 money... (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 him, are also the... (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 money. The boy tries to... (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 the... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
...boy says that his mother and father always say that the Communists are bad people, the boy’s mother agrees. She says, “They don’t believe in God and they don’t believe in money.” The... (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 refuses... (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
...fear, and the boy’s father gets down on his knees, as does the boy. But the boy’s mother does not get down. The man asks the boy what her problem is, assuming that... (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 after... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
...boy, calling him handsome,  and inquiring about their daughter’s college and what her major was. The boy’s mother cannot pronounce Bryn Mawr, and looks down in shame when she says that her daughter... (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 car,... (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 girl, but he cannot. Without a photo, he thinks, his mother... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
...surrounded by stacks of rice and reading about Reconstruction. When Mrs. Hoa reiterates her request, the boy’s mother says she refuses to donate money, calling Mrs. Hoa a thief and an extortionist. Mrs.... (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 until... (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. Hoa’s... (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 shocked,... (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 anyone, not even the... (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 doesn’t know how to... (full context)