The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Sympathizer can help.

The General Character Analysis

The narrator describes him as a “thin man of excellent posture.” He is a veteran campaigner who has earned many medals. With his wife, Madame, he has five children, one of whom is Lan. He has only nine fingers and eight toes due to bullets and shrapnel. He is an epicure who enjoys good French wine, and a Christian—“in that order.” He favors French and American democracies over Communism. He speaks “precise, formal English.” Before arriving in Guam and then in California as a refugee, the General once spent a few months in the United States in 1958 as a junior officer, training at Fort Benning, Georgia with the Green Berets. There, he was permanently “inoculated” against Communism. He and Madame, like the narrator, settle in Los Angeles. They are sponsored by the sister-in-law of an American colonel who was once the General’s adviser. They live in a bungalow in a nice part of Los Angeles near Hollywood. He spends his first year in Los Angeles unemployed, alcoholic, and angry with his fate. After a year, he and his wife open a liquor store on Hollywood Boulevard. Among the refugees, however, his reputation as a general stands and he continues to fight against the Communists, ordering the killings of anyone suspected of working with the Viet Cong, including the crapulent major and Sonny. He also uses the funds from his liquor store, Madame’s restaurant, and a front organization dedicated to South Vietnamese veterans, to fund his guerrilla army in Vietnam.

The General Quotes in The Sympathizer

The The Sympathizer quotes below are all either spoken by The General or refer to The General. 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 8 Quotes

I had failed and the Auteur would make The Hamlet as he intended with my countrymen serving merely as raw material for an epic about white men saving good yellow people from bad yellow people. I pitied the French for their naiveté in believing they had to visit a country in order to exploit it. Hollywood was much more efficient, imagining the countries it wanted to exploit. I was maddened by my helplessness before the Auteur's imagination and machinations. His arrogance marked something new in the world, for this was the first war where the losers would write history instead of the victors, courtesy of the most efficient propaganda machine ever created […] In this forthcoming Hollywood trompe l’oeil, all the Vietnamese of any side would come out poorly, herded into the roles of the poor, the innocent, the evil, or the corrupt. Our fate was not to be merely mute; we were to be struck dumb.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The General, Madame, The Auteur, Violet
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 15 Quotes

As a nonwhite person, the General, like myself, knew he must be patient with white people, who were easily scared by the nonwhite. Even with liberal white people, one could go only so far, and with average white people one could barely go anywhere. The General was deeply familiar with the nature, nuances, and internal differences of white people, as was every nonwhite person who had lived here a good number of years. We ate their food, we watched their movies, we observed their lives and psyche via television and in everyday contact, we learned their language, we absorbed their subtle cues, we laughed at their jokes, even when made at our expense, we humbly accepted their condescension, we eavesdropped on their conversations in supermarkets and the dentist's office, and we protected them by not speaking our own language in their presence, which unnerved them.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), The General, The Congressman, Dr. Richard Hedd
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Sympathizer LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Sympathizer PDF

The General Character Timeline in The Sympathizer

The timeline below shows where the character The General 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
...a prison cell, at the time the narrator was living in a villa with the General and his wife, Madame. In March of 1975, the South Vietnamese Army’s northern front collapses,... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...weapons, planes, and tanks” that they had once given for free. Madame suggests that the General and the narrator ask their friend, Claude, for a plane to help them escape. Claude... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The General then asks Claude if his staff will be evacuated. Claude says that, officially, there will... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
Claude reminds the General that he’s lucky to get a plane. Other generals are only getting seats for immediate... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...gold. Claude calls the next morning to say that the plane he assigned to the General will be leaving in two days. That evening, the narrator finishes his list. A number... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...slicing their palms open and mingling their blood in ritual handshakes. The narrator asks the General for the favor of taking Bon and his family with them. The General agrees, particularly... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
On their last morning in Vietnam, the narrator drives the General to his office at the National Police compound. The narrator’s office is down the hall... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
...to get Bon. The military police wave him through the checkpoints when they see the General’s stars on the vehicle. The narrator is driving across the river, where the refugees’ shanties... (full context)
Chapter 2 
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
...the Commandant’s men. Incidentally, one of the things that initially drew the narrator to the General was the fact that the elder officer never brought up his “muddled heritage.” All he... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
Everyone selected for departure, including Bon and his family, meet outside of the General’s villa to board two blue buses. The General’s final duty is to say goodbye to... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
In a letter, the narrator tells Man about the General’s evacuation plan. Man responds by writing that the narrator’s next mission is to go to... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
When the convoy of refugees, led by the General, reaches the airport, they see “a squad of sullen military [cops] and their young lieutenant.”... (full context)
Chapter 3
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...wings attached. Everyone is prepared to say goodbye to Vietnam until an explosion occurs. The General tumbles into the narrator and, as a result of the impact, the narrator falls into... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
...soldiers, and military cops going toward the plane. The evacuees run toward the plane. The General runs ahead of the narrator, and Bon and his family run behind the narrator. (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The General sets foot on the ramp. The narrator pauses to let Linh and Duc pass. When... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator throws Linh over his shoulder. He then throws her at the General when he reaches the ramp, and the General catches her. Bon is running alongside the... (full context)
Chapter 4
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...of Duc and Linh. The refugees are taken to Camp Asan and, thanks to the General, the narrator and Bon are given barracks, while the other refugees stay in tents. Bon... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
After dinner, the narrator and the General go outside their barracks. When the General greets the civilians, they meet him with “sullen... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...him down. After he helps Bon out, they pour dirt onto the coffins, while the General, Madame, and the priest watch silently. (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
Along with thousands of others at the camp, the General washes in showers without stalls and lives with strangers. Sheets strung up on clotheslines divide... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The General and the narrator toast with tea to the lieutenant colonel’s memory. The General then says... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The General and Madame also end up in Los Angeles, sponsored by the sister-in-law of an American... (full context)
Chapter 5
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The General hires Bon as a clerk in his liquor store, though Bon continues to work part-time... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
By the time he comes out of this daydream, the narrator arrives at the General’s liquor store on the unfashionable eastern end of Hollywood Boulevard. Bon tells him that Claude... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...up. He recalls never having felt so ashamed or prouder to be an American. The General pours both Claude and the narrator another double scotch. The narrator makes a toast, congratulating... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
The General tells Claude that they have a problem—a spy in their ranks. The General and Claude... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
Claude insists that the crapulent major isn’t a spy just because he’s Chinese. The General insists that he’s not a racist but finds it very suspect that the major’s family... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
To assert his loyalty to the General, the narrator, along with Bon, will kill the crapulent major. When the narrator leaves the... (full context)
Chapter 6
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
At the grand opening of the liquor store, the General shakes hands with well-wishers, chatting and smiling non-stop. Thirty old colleagues, followers, soldiers, and friends... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...guilty for accusing such a harmless man. The narrator makes his way back to the General, who’s standing by Madame. He’s being interviewed by a man that the narrator doesn’t recognize... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...Sonny offers the narrator his business card. While offering Sonny a bottle of Chardonnay, the General recalls how journalists in Vietnam were given “the gift of free room and board, albeit... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...they kill the wrong man, it’s murder. Bon sips his beer and says that the General knows things they don’t. Also, it isn’t a killing; it’s a wartime assassination. Sometimes, innocent... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator asks Bon if he was happy when the General charged him with this task. Bon picks up the .38, which looks natural in his... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...moved by both love and the prospect of killing. The narrator wants to persuade the General that the crapulent major isn’t a spy, but he knows it’s too late. The only... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...takes off his shoes, also dotted with blood. He wipes them and then calls the General. He tells him that “it’s done.” The General says, “Good,” and the narrator hangs up.... (full context)
Chapter 7
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...because he had met with the man several times in Saigon when he was the General’s aide. The narrator’s social status, however, is indicated by how far away he sits from... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The narrator looks toward the General and Madame’s table. Madame, who usually enjoys doing the twist, remains seated with her husband.... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The next weekend, the narrator chauffeurs the General and Madame from Hollywood to Huntington Beach, where the Congressman lives. He has invited them... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
...in the story, which is about the CIA’s Phoenix Program. The Congressman recalls that the General is an expert on the program, though the General says that he left before it... (full context)
Chapter 8
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
After the narrator leaves the Auteur’s home in the hills, he goes to the General’s house, thirty blocks away and down the hills. He tells the General and Madame about... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Back at the General’s house, Madame asks the narrator why the Auteur was so rude. The narrator figures that... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The General pulls a newspaper from a stack on the kitchen countertop and asks the narrator if... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
...job, though he may be a bit “naïve” in how he’s going about it. The General thinks that Sonny is interpreting things instead of reporting facts. When the narrator mentions that... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
The General insists that the war isn’t dead, and that Claude and the Congressman are among many... (full context)
Chapter 9
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose 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... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
The narrator and the General visit the Congressman’s district office at a strip mall in Huntington Beach to talk about... (full context)
Chapter 10
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
...Polaroids of the refugee camp and its inhabitants, as well as newspaper clippings that the General gave him before he left for the Philippines. They are stories about refugees fleeing Vietnam... (full context)
Chapter 12
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
Though it may be a hole-in-the-wall, the General notes that Madame’s restaurant will be the first Vietnamese restaurant in the city. He says... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...cup of tea. He asks if Bon is a part of this invasion team. The General says that he is. Bon is a good worker, but he’s also the best for... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The General says that it’s the right time for a beer and offers one to the narrator,... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...is in an envelope in his pocket at the time that he’s chatting with the General and Madame. He drives to Monterey Park later that afternoon. There, he has an appointment... (full context)
Chapter 13
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator reports in his next letter to the Parisian aunt that the General is carrying out training and maneuvers for his nascent army in the hills east of... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
Rumors have already spread about the General’s new army. During the narrator’s visit to Sofia’s place, Sonny mentions reports about the secret... (full context)
Chapter 14
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...desirable, effect.” The narrator photographs the article with a mini-camera. He’s also been photographing the General’s files, to which he has access as his aide-de-camp. Further, he’s photographed statements of bank... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...can save Bon’s life. The narrator is sipping from a bottle of Scotch that the General gave him when the General enters the store room at the liquor store. Instead of... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The General isn’t sure if Sonny is a journalist or a Communist sent by the North Vietnamese... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
...her father says. The narrator says that he agrees with some of the things the General says but doesn’t disagree with anything. (full context)
Chapter 15
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
...at the liquor store, he asks the narrator what he’s going to do when the General finds out. The narrator doesn’t think that anyone will tell him, and he and Lana... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The General arrives at the store at his usual time and, when he does, he and the... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
The narrator drives the General to a country club in Anaheim where the Congressman has invited them. On first sight,... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
The General intervenes and says that “happiness is not guaranteed,” but “freedom is.” The Congressman raises his... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Over a baked Alaska, the Congressman states his reason for calling the assembly. The General has come to talk about the plight of the Vietnamese soldier. During the General’s speech,... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
...Georgia. She tells the narrator that he speaks “real good English for an Oriental.” The General has a red-headed companion. The men lift glasses of champagne, and Dr. Hedd asks if... (full context)
Chapter 16
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
Just past midnight, the narrator and the General arrive at the General’s house. The General says that, though he appreciates the narrator’s courage... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...playing pool at a billiards hall the following night, the narrator tells Bon about the General’s offer. Bon calls him an idiot for wanting to go back. He also speaks of... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...P22 with a silencer. Bon bought the gun with a packet of cash from the General. (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...The narrator notices, “on the wall above the table,” the same clock as in the General and Madame’s restaurant, also set to Saigon time. (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...border clash with the Khmer Rouge will be a stroke of good luck for the General. Everyone will be too distracted by it to pay attention to the Laotian border, where... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator insists that he’s trying to help Sonny, who believes that the General has sent the narrator. Sonny also thinks that the narrator is still jealous over Sofia.... (full context)
Chapter 17
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
...falling asleep, the narrator thinks back to his and Bon’s departure from Los Angeles. The General and Madame saw everyone off at the airport. The General presented his four volunteers, including... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...the Republic of Vietnam. They bear little resemblance to the clean-shaven, disciplined men in the General’s posters. They look like peasants fighting in the bush. Their eyes are as “dull as... (full context)
Chapter 18
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
...and watched by Sonny and the crapulent major. The narrator wishes that he told the General that he had already had sex with Lana, just to prove that nothing was forbidden... (full context)