The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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The officer in charge of the North Vietnamese camp where the narrator and Bon are prisoners. He has “the high cheekbones and delicate features of an opera singer” and a morose character that the narrator attributes to homesickness. Otherwise, the narrator describes him as “eminently reasonable,” though the Commandant is a rather fanatical Communist who is eager to execute dissenters. He fought a war for ten years from a cave in Laos. While the narrator makes his confession, the Commandant strikes out what he doesn’t like using a blue pencil because, as he tells the narrator, Stalin also used a blue pencil. The Commandant fears the ideas to which the narrator was exposed in the West. To “correct” him, he forces the narrator to undergo a process of re-education, which involves various forms of torture.

The Commandant Quotes in The Sympathizer

The The Sympathizer quotes below are all either spoken by The Commandant or refer to The Commandant. 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:
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grove Press edition of The Sympathizer published in 2016.
Chapter 1 Quotes

I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Commandant
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

The month in question was April, the cruelest month. It was the month in which a war that had run on for a very long time would lose its limbs, as is the way of wars. It was a month that meant everything to all the people in our small part of the world and nothing to most people in the rest of the world. It was a month that was both an end of a war and the beginning of…well, “peace” is not the right word is it, my dear Commandant?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Commandant
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 19 Quotes

Your destiny is being a bastard, while your talent, as you say, is seeing from two sides. You would be better off if you only saw things from one side. The only cure for being a bastard is to take a side.

Related Characters: The Commandant (speaker), The Narrator
Related Symbols: The Pickled Baby
Page Number: 314
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 23 Quotes

How could I forget that every truth meant at least two things, that slogans were empty suits draped on the corpse of an idea? The suits depended on how one wore them, and this suit was now worn out. I was mad but not insane, although I was not going to disabuse the commandant. He saw only one meaning in nothing—the negative, the absence, as in there's nothing there. The positive meaning eluded him, the paradoxical fact that nothing is, indeed, something. Our commandant was a man who didn't get the joke, and people who do not get the joke are dangerous people indeed. They are the ones who say nothing with great piousness, who ask everyone else to die for nothing, who revere nothing. Such a man could not tolerate someone who laughed at nothing.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The Commandant
Page Number: 371
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Commandant Character Timeline in The Sympathizer

The timeline below shows where the character The Commandant appears in The Sympathizer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator, addressing the Commandant , describes himself as “a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces.”... (full context)
Chapter 2 
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
...the narrator often calls him “bastard.” The name hurts the narrator, who expected better from the Commandant ’s men. Incidentally, one of the things that initially drew the narrator to the General... (full context)
Chapter 6
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...to Man at the basilica. The point of writing this part of the confession to the Commandant is to prove Claude’s point that the crapulent major, too, was sinful. The Vietnamese regard... (full context)
Chapter 7
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator confesses to the Commandant that the crapulent major’s death troubles him. Worse, no longer in Saigon, he can’t engage... (full context)
Chapter 19
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The Commandant is hurt by the narrator’s implication in his confession that life in the camp is... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
The Commandant talks about the narrator’s origins and describes the relations between the narrator’s mother and father... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...but can’t bring himself to write them. His resistance to the appropriate confessional style irritates the Commandant , who accuses the narrator of being a bourgeois intellectual. The narrator counters that Karl... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
Throwing the fiber cover back over the jar containing the pickled baby, the Commandant congratulates the narrator for finishing the written phase of his education. He then invites him... (full context)
Chapter 20
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...this to his worst enemy. Man says that he’s ensuring that worse things won’t happen. The Commandant thinks that he’s “being too gentle with his pedagogical methods.” He would prefer to remove... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...who continue to fight a guerrilla war. Bon has already asked to be shot, and the Commandant would have done it if not for Man. (full context)
Chapter 22
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The Commandant accuses the narrator of being unwilling to sacrifice himself to save the Communist agent, though... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
Man says that they’re in an impossible situation. The Commandant will only let the narrator leave after he redeems himself. That leaves the matter of... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...wishing for death. If he dies, then the narrator and Bon will surely die too. The Commandant can’t wait to drag Bon out to a firing squad. Still, Man won’t release the... (full context)
Chapter 23
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...was all a joke. He began to laugh so hard that the baby-faced guard and the Commandant came to investigate the noise. When the Commandant asks what’s so funny, the narrator says,... (full context)