The Refugees

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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Themes and Colors
War and the Refugee Experience Theme Icon
Cultural Identity and Family Theme Icon
Memory and Ghosts Theme Icon
Intimacy and Isolation Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Refugees, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

War and the Refugee Experience

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Refugees is a collection of eight short stories, each of which centers on, or sometimes simply touches on, the lives of Vietnamese refugees who have immigrated to America following the Vietnam War. While it is easy to conjure a stereotypical image of someone fleeing a war-torn nation, the variety of characters in the stories allows for multiple perspectives on what it means to be a refugee. Nguyen illuminates how the concept…

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Cultural Identity and Family

Inherent in the concept of being a refugee is the idea that one has been ripped from one’s own culture and transported into another. As many of Nguyen’s characters grapple with their status as refugees, they are also forced to reevaluate their cultural identity in a new country. One’s cultural identity, Nguyen shows, is mutable, and for three young characters at the center of three different short stories, culture becomes also inextricably linked to their…

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Memory and Ghosts

Since many of the characters in The Refugees deal with past traumas and former lives, an obsession with memories and a connection to ghosts play a large role in Nguyen’s stories. In each episode, characters are haunted—sometimes literally, sometimes metaphorically. However, in Nguyen’s stories, memory and ghosts are not simply representative of the past: they also represent the characters’ future possibilities and lives that were taken from them.

“Black-Eyed Women,” Nguyen’s first story in the…

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Intimacy and Isolation

While some of Nguyen’s stories focus specifically on what it means to be a refugee, many of them focus on what it means to have human connection. Several of the characters deal with severe bouts of isolation, as they cut themselves off from the people around them, before rekindling or beginning relationships with friends, family, or life partners. Nguyen demonstrates how essential physical and emotional intimacy with others is to feeling alive. Yet as crucial…

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