The Refugees

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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The Ghostwriter’s Mother Character Analysis

The mother of the ghostwriter in “Black-Eyed Women.” Following the ghostwriter’s father’s death, the ghostwriter’s mother moved in with the ghostwriter. Like the ghostwriter, she has been heavily traumatized by her experience as a refugee. She loves gossip and ghost stories, but she refuses to speak about her own experience fleeing Vietnam, having lost her son (the ghostwriter’s brother) and having watched the ghostwriter get raped on the deck of their refugee boat. In the end, like the ghostwriter, she must confront these losses and help her daughter to move forward by creating a nightly ritual in which the ghostwriter’s mother tells her “ghost stories” about the refugees and the pieces of their lives that were lost as a result of the war.

The Ghostwriter’s Mother Quotes in The Refugees

The The Refugees quotes below are all either spoken by The Ghostwriter’s Mother or refer to The Ghostwriter’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.
Black-Eyed Women Quotes

My American adolescence was filled with tales of woe like this, all of them proof of what my mother said, that we did not belong here. In a country where possessions counted for everything, we had no belongings except our stories.

Page Number: 7
Explanation and Analysis:

Stories are just things we fabricate, nothing more. We search for them in a world besides our own, then leave them here to be found, garments shed by ghosts.

Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Ghostwriter’s Mother Character Timeline in The Refugees

The timeline below shows where the character The Ghostwriter’s Mother appears in The Refugees. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Black-Eyed Women
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
The ghostwriter’s mother says that the ghostwriter should be glad that her name isn’t on her work. She... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...the ghostwriter begins to work on Victor’s story, her own story haunts her. One day the ghostwriter’s mother wakes her before dawn and tells her not to be afraid: the ghostwriter’s dead brother... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter explains that ever since the ghostwriter’s father had died, she and the ghostwriter’s mother had lived together. While she liked to write, her mother liked to talk. She constantly... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter’s mother recounts this story the morning after she had seen the ghostwriter’s brother. She says that... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
When the ghostwriter, the ghostwriter’s mother , and the ghostwriter’s brother had used the bunker in earnest during the war, her... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter flashes back, describing how terrified she, the ghostwriter’s mother , and the ghostwriter’s father were those first few years in America. They peeked through... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...ghostwriter hears her mother returning and tells the ghostwriter’s brother to wait there so that the ghostwriter’s mother can also see him. When they return, they find only the clothes and the towel.... (full context)
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter thinks about how no one she knew believed in ghosts, except for the ghostwriter’s mother and Victor. Victor had had a difficult time moving on from the crash. Nothing had... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
One day, on the brink of finishing Victor’s memoir, the ghostwriter and the ghostwriter’s mother watch a Korean soap opera together. Her mother comments that if the Vietnamese War had... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
That night, the ghostwriter returns to the basement to write. Plagued by the ghostwriter’s mother ’s words, she wonders why she lived and the ghostwriter’s brother died. As she starts... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
...She says yes. The pirate had thrown her to the deck, ripping off her shirt. The ghostwriter’s mother and the ghostwriter’s father were screaming; she knew that she was screaming, even though she... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
...the years they didn’t have together, for all of the words the ghostwriter’s father and the ghostwriter’s mother didn’t say to each other, and for the girls who vanished that day and did... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
The ghostwriter’s mother tells the ghostwriter that the ghostwriter’s brother would not be coming back: he had said... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Instead, the ghostwriter asks for a story. The ghostwriter’s mother tells a story of a woman whose husband was a soldier. He was reported dead... (full context)