The Refugees

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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Photos Symbol Analysis

Photos Symbol Icon

In “Fatherland,” photos become symbols of Mr. Ly’s love for Vivien, as well as Phuong’s tie to her sister. Before Vivien arrives in Vietnam, the only connection that Phuong has to her sister is through photos that Vivien’s mother sends to the family. Phuong views Vivien as a better version of herself and is haunted by the fact that Vivien is living the life that she might have had in America. When Vivien comes to visit the family in Vietnam, they also take many pictures of her trip, which Mr. Ly asks Phuong to have laminated so they can preserve their memories of her. When it becomes clear to Phuong in the photos that Mr. Ly loves her sister much more than he loves her, she burns the photos. This gesture represents Phuong’s refusal to allow her sister to haunt her after she leaves. She burns the photos so that she can make a new life, undefined by the life of her sister.

Photos Quotes in The Refugees

The The Refugees quotes below all refer to the symbol of Photos. 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

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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Photos Symbol Timeline in The Refugees

The timeline below shows where the symbol Photos 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
...older siblings were much more blessed. The first Mrs. Ly had sent many letters and photos over the years from America, and the first Phuong (who goes by Vivien) seems much... (full context)
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
At the amusement park the next morning, Mr. Ly takes photos of his children with the disposable camera that Vivien had brought them. They drive the... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
...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 visible, but Phuong cannot be... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
...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 she returns. Phuong contemplates... (full context)
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
...next morning, Phuong is alone in the house and she decides to look at the photos. The first picture is from their last stop at the amusement park that day—the Ice... (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 the fire with... (full context)