The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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The Sympathizer: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Violet calls the narrator a week after their meeting, though he doesn’t wish to speak to her. She says that the Auteur has reconsidered his advice and respects the narrator for standing up to him. She says that they need a consultant who’ll get things right “when it comes to Vietnamese matters.” Though they’ve researched the history, weapons, customs, and costumes, the narrator will provide the human touch. She mentions that there are refugees from Vietnam in the Philippines who’ll be working as extras and that they’ll need someone to work with them.
The Auteur calls the narrator back because he’ll need someone to translate to his extras. This will become more apparent later in the novel. Violet is vague in explaining what she means about “the human touch,” given the Auteur’s previous aversion to the narrator’s attempts to depict the Vietnamese characters with humanity. Thus, this seems like a ruse to get the narrator to return.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The Auteur offers the narrator four months of paid work in the Philippines and six months of pay if the shoot goes over schedule or if the local rebels become “too overconfident.” The narrator tells the Parisian aunt about his decision to accept the Auteur’s offer, a job that will be a chance to “[undermine] the enemy’s propaganda.” He maintains an upbeat tone about Los Angeles in his letters, afraid of censors reading refugee mail and “looking for dejected, angry refugees who could not or would not dream the American Dream.”
The narrator is still overconfident about his ability to have a major impact on the movie. Otherwise, he may be intentionally exaggerating his role to the Parisian aunt to make his work sound more promising than it is. He may want his comrades to believe that he’s making a difference in the U.S. At the same time, he’s paranoid about being watched from within the country and possibly sent home.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
The narrator also tells the Parisian aunt about his agreement to help the General create a nonprofit charitable organization called the Benevolent Fraternity of Former Soldiers of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. In one reality, the organization exists to serve the needs of the thousands of South Vietnamese veterans without resources. In another reality, it’s a front that allows the General to receive funds for the movement to fight the Communists.
The General uses his respectable status among the refugee community to get funds from them. He justifies his duplicity with his belief that, if he gets enough money to raise a proper army, the veterans would no longer need to worry because they and the other refugees could go back home.
Themes
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator and the General visit the Congressman’s district office at a strip mall in Huntington Beach to talk about the new organization. The General hopes to get Congressional support, but the Congressman assures him that that won’t happen. The narrator suggests support in the form of “unofficial money” that goes to the organization. In return, the Congressman will get votes from their community. The General says that no one would argue against support for South Vietnamese veterans who fought alongside American soldiers during the war. The narrator thinks of how many organizations have been set up as fronts for the CIA. The Congressman unofficially pledges his support, hoping that the organization doesn’t engage in anything illegal “when it comes to its patriotic activities.”
The Congressman knows that the General won’t get financial backing for another operation in Vietnam due to America’s aversion to re-entering the country where they experienced a devastating loss. The U.S. entered a period of war weariness in the mid- to late-1970s and experienced a diminishing of its overwhelming confidence. The Congressman is convinced, however, to trade financial support for votes from the refugee community to ensure that he doesn’t lose his seat in Congress. He’s willing to support an organization that he knows is fraudulent to stay in office.
Themes
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
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Three months later, the narrator goes to the Philippines. For his flight, he has a copy of Fodor’s Southeast Asia. He’s not surprised to read that Vietnam is described as “the most devastated land.” He’s insulted to read the description of his neighbors, Cambodians, as “easy-going, sensuous, friendly, and emotional.” One could also say that about the Vietnamese, or people in most lands with “spa-like atmospheric conditions.”
The depiction of Vietnam in the travel book chooses to define the country according to what occurred during the war. The narrator finds the descriptions of the people to be generic and designed in a way to satisfy Western stereotypes about the East. The description enhances the fantasy of Eastern sensuality and innocence.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The narrator takes a day trip to a refugee camp at Bataan, where he recruits a hundred Vietnamese extras. They’re too hungry to turn away the wages that the narrator offers: a dollar per day. It brings the narrator’s spirits down when no one haggles for a better wage and when one of the extras, “a lawyer of aristocratic appearance,” tells him that before the Communists won, it was foreigners who victimized, terrorized, and humiliated them. Now, it’s their own people. She supposes that’s an improvement. The narrator trembles at hearing her words.
The lack of haggling, which is a traditional practice, suggests the desperation of the people in the aftermath of the war. The narrator trembles at hearing the lawyer’s words because it’s an indication that the Communist takeover didn’t result in the improvement of living standards or the liberation that the Communists promised.
Themes
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
For the past few days, the narrator has been feeling better about his past sins. He believes that he has put the crapulent major’s death behind him. Before he left Los Angeles, Sofia cooked him a farewell dinner, and he began to think that he loves her. However, he also has feelings for Lana. During dinner, Ms. Mori reminds him of their commitment to free love. After they have sex, she tells him that he can do something wonderful with The Hamlet. He can “help shape how Asians look in the movies.” The narrator, though, feels like nothing more than a collaborator, helping to exploit his fellow countrymen and refugees.
The narrator’s feelings of regret are mixed with his romantic feelings for two women. He believes that, with Sofia’s affection and faith in him, as well as the prospect of working on the film, he can redeem himself by doing something that would be beneficial to their entire Vietnamese community, regardless of their political allegiances. The film gives him a sense of moral purpose that he doesn’t otherwise have.
Themes
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator visits the cemetery that Harry built in Luzon as an additional film set and thinks of his mother’s grave. He remembers having seen her for the last time before departing for Occidental College. He then received a letter from his father in his junior year, telling him that she was dead at thirty-four from tuberculosis. The narrator asks to have the biggest tomb in the cemetery for his own use. He pastes a reproduction of his mother’s black-and-white picture, which he carries in his wallet, onto the tombstone. On the face of the tombstone, he paints her name and dates in red. The tombstone and the tomb are made from adobe, not marble, but no one will be able to tell on film. The narrator figures that, in cinema at least, his mother will have a resting place fit for an aristocrat—a “fitting grave for a woman who was never more than an extra to anyone but me.”
The narrator makes up for not being present during his mother’s burial by giving her a symbolic burial in the cemetery that is part of one of the film sets. Though his mother received a proper burial, including a tombstone which his father purchased, the narrator’s resentment of his father seems to make him wish that he had been the one to bury his mother instead. His inability to do this in real life, both due to lacking the funds and not being physically present, lead him to hold this mock memorial. By characterizing his mother as an “extra,” he means that, as a poor servant, she was the kind of person whom others didn’t notice, and was always in the background.
Themes
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon