The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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The Narrator Character Analysis

The unnamed protagonist of the novel, also known as the Captain. He is twenty-five at the time in which the novel is set, and was likely born in 1945. He is a double agent, working for both the former South Vietnamese Army as an aide-de-camp, intelligence officer, and cultural attaché, and for the North Vietnamese as a spy. He speaks perfect English with an American accent and is knowledgeable about Anglophone culture. He is acting as a refugee in Los Angeles and continues to work for the General and his family, usually as a chauffeur. When the narrator worked for the General in Saigon, he lived with him and his family at their villa. The narrator is highly literate, has a dark sense of humor, and often believes that he’s more intelligent than those around him. He is the biracial product of a union between a Vietnamese servant and the French priest for whom she worked. He was born in Ban Me Thuot in North Vietnam and lived there for nine years. He attended lycée, or the French equivalent of high school, with Bon and Man and later enrolled at Occidental College with the help of his mentor, Claude, and Professor Avery Hammer. He graduated from the college, where he wrote his senior thesis on Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American, entitled “Myth and Symbol in the Literature of Graham Greene,” in 1963. He then went on to obtain a master’s degree before returning to Vietnam, where he worked for the North and the South. He also spent some time working as a secret policeman and as an interrogator at the National Interrogation Center in Saigon. He belongs to a three-man Communist cell along with Man and Ngo. The narrator’s mission, assigned to him by Man, is to learn the ways of Americans. The narrator escapes from Vietnam, along with the General, Madame, and their family, on a C-130 Hercules, and goes first to Guam, then to Camp Pendleton in San Diego, California. He returns to Occidental College, with the help of Professor Hammer, to work as a clerk in the Department of Oriental Studies, where he meets Sofia Mori. He leaves Los Angeles, where he shares an apartment with Bon, to work on the film The Hamlet for several months in the Philippines. The narrator has a mole on his face, which Man partly uses as his justification for making the narrator a “mole,” or spy. The other reason is that the narrator is not an agitator and usually avoids conflict.

The Narrator Quotes in The Sympathizer

The The Sympathizer quotes below are all either spoken by The Narrator or refer to The Narrator. 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 3 Quotes

By this degree, the three call girls were troupers, which could not be said of 70 or 80 percent of the prostitutes in the capital and outlying cities […] Most were poor, illiterate country girls with no means of making a living except to live as ticks on the fur of the nineteen-year-old American GI […] Now am I daring to accuse American strategic planners of deliberately eradicating peasant villages in order to smoke out the girls who would have little choice but to sexually service the same boys who bombed, shelled, strafed, torched, pillaged, or merely forcibly evacuated said villages? I am merely noting that the creation of native prostitutes to service foreign privates is an inevitable outcome of a war of occupation, one of those nasty little side effects of defending freedom that all the wives, sisters, girlfriends, mothers, pastors, and politicians in Smallville, USA, pretend to ignore behind waxed and buffed walls of teeth […] ready to treat any unmentionable afflictions with the penicillin of American goodness.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mimi , Ti Ti, Phi Phi, Sarge
Page Number: 37-38
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

But out of deference to our hosts we kept our feelings to ourselves, sitting close to one another on prickly sofas and scratchy carpets, our knees touching under crowded kitchen tables on which sat crenellated ashtrays measuring time’s passage with the accumulation of ashes, chewing on dried squid and the cud of remembrance until our jaws ached, trading stories heard second- and thirdhand about our scattered countrymen. This was the way we learned of the clan turned into slave labor by a farmer in Modesto, and the naive girl who flew to Spokane to marry her GI sweetheart and was sold to a brothel, and the widower with nine children who went out into a Minnesotan winter and lay down in the snow on his back with mouth open until he was buried and frozen and the ex-Ranger who bought a gun and dispatched his wife and two children before killing himself in Cleveland […] and the spoiled girl seduced by heroin who disappeared into the Baltimore streets […]

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Man / The Commissar , The Parisian Aunt
Page Number: 70-71
Explanation and Analysis:
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 11 Quotes

It mattered not what story these audiences watched. The point was that it was the American story they watched and loved, up until the day that they themselves might be bombed by the planes they had seen in American movies [….] Perhaps the Movie itself was not terribly important, but what it represented, the genus of the American movie, was. An audience member might love or hate this Movie, or dismiss it as only a story, but those emotions were irrelevant. What mattered was that the audience member, having paid for the ticket, was willing to let American ideas and values seep into the vulnerable tissue of his brain and the absorbent soil of his heart.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Man / The Commissar , The Auteur
Page Number: 172-173
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

After the war ended and he was freed, he thought he’d go back to his people, the way that he’d been told to all his life by white people, even though he was born here. So he went and found out that the people in Japan didn’t think he was one of them, either. To them he's one of us, and to us he's one of them. Neither one thing nor another.

Related Characters: Ms. Sofia Mori (speaker), The Narrator, Abe Mori , Son Do (“Sonny”)
Page Number: 214
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

That very night, we snuck out of our dormitory and made our way to a tamarind grove, and under its boughs we cut our palms. We mingled our blood once more with boys we recognized as more kin to us than any real kin, and then gave one another our word.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Bon, Man / The Commissar , The Parisian Aunt
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:

Bang bang was the sound of memory's pistol firing into our heads, for we could not forget love, we could not forget war, we could not forget lovers, we could not forget enemies, we could not forget home, and we could not forget Saigon […] men who had died or disappeared; the streets and homes blown away by bombshells; the streams where we swam naked and laughing; the secret grove where we spied on the nymphs who bathed and splashed with the innocence of the birds […] the barking of a hungry dog in an abandoned village; the appetizing reek of the fresh durian one wept to eat; the sight and sound of orphans howling by the dead bodies of their mothers and fathers; the stickiness of one's shirt by afternoon the stickiness of one’s lover by the end of lovemaking, the stickiness of our situations […] the hills afire with sunset […] the most important thing we could never forget was that we could never forget.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Lan (“Lana”)
Page Number: 238-239
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:
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 20 Quotes

We're revolutionaries, my friend. Suffering made us. Suffering for the people is what we chose because we sympathized so much with their suffering […] Only without the comfort of sleep will you fully understand the horrors of history. I tell you this as someone who has slept very little since what has happened to me. Believe me when I say that I know how you feel, and that this has to be done.

Page Number: 337
Explanation and Analysis:

Somebody must have something done to him! Was I that somebody? No! That cannot be true, or so I wanted to tell him, but my tongue refused to obey me. I was only mistaken to be that somebody, because I was, I told him, or thought I did, a nobody. I am a lie, a keeper, a book. No! I am a fly, a creeper, a gook.

No! I am—I am—I am—

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Man / The Commissar , The Baby-faced Guard
Related Symbols: The Pickled Baby
Page Number: 338
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 21 Quotes

They were good students, just like me. They learned their lesson well, and so have I, so if you would please just turn off the lights […] if you would remember that the two of us were once and perhaps still are the best of friends, if you could see that I have nothing left to confess […] if I had become an accountant, if I had fallen in love with the right woman […] if my father had gone to save souls in Algeria instead of here […] if we had not fought a war against each other, if some of us had not called ourselves nationalists or communists or capitalists or realists […] if history had never happened, neither as farce nor as tragedy, if the serpent of language had not bitten me, if I had never been born, if my mother was never cleft, if you needed no more revisions, and if I saw no more of these visions, please, could you please just let me sleep?

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Man / The Commissar , The Communist Agent
Page Number: 353-354
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:

He was the commissar but he was also Man; he was my interrogator but also my only confidant; he was the fiend who had tortured me but also my friend. Some might say I was seeing things, but the true optical illusion was in seeing others and oneself as undivided and whole, as if being in focus was more real than being out of focus. We thought our reflection in the mirror was who we truly were, when how we saw ourselves and how others saw us was often not the same. Likewise, we often deceived overselves when we thought we saw ourselves most clearly.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Bon, Man / The Commissar
Page Number: 374
Explanation and Analysis:

Hadn’t the French and the Americans done exactly the same? Once revolutionaries themselves, they had become imperialists, colonizing and occupying our defiant little land, taking away our freedom in the name of saving us. Our revolution took considerably longer than theirs, and was considerably bloodier, but we made up for lost time. When it came to learning the worst habits of our French masters and their American replacements, we quickly proved ourselves the best. We, too, could abuse grand ideals! Having liberated ourselves in the name of independence and freedom—I was so tired of saying these words!—we then deprived our defeated brethren of the same.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker)
Page Number: 376
Explanation and Analysis:

I was that man of two minds, me and myself. We had been through so much, me and myself. Everyone we met had wanted to drive us apart from each other, wanted us to choose either one thing or another, except the commissar. He showed us his hand and we showed him ours, the red scars as indelible as they were in our youth. Even after all we had been through, this was the only mark on our body.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Bon, Man / The Commissar
Page Number: 376
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Narrator Character Timeline in The Sympathizer

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator 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... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...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 says that the... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...their whiskeys and Claude says goodbye. Later that day, the president of South Vietnam resigns. The narrator works on the list of evacuees, while the General attends meetings at the Joint General... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator continues working on the list of evacuees, while those fighting in the Battle of Xuan... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
Along with Man, Bon is one of the narrator ’s “blood brothers.” In their school days, they swore undying loyalty to each other by... (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... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
After he finishes packing, the narrator borrows a car to get Bon. The military police wave him through the checkpoints when... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
When the narrator , Bon, and Man leave the beer garden, they stop to smoke a cigarette in... (full context)
Chapter 2 
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Back at the detention center, the baby-faced guard who checks in on the narrator often calls him “bastard.” The name hurts the narrator, who expected better from the Commandant’s... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...thickness appropriate to his or her rank.” The General, Madame, Bon and his family, and the narrator board one of the buses. The narrator waves goodbye to the staff as the buses... (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... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...by the driver’s window, and exchanges a few words with him. The lieutenant glances in the narrator ’s direction, where he leans out the door of the bus. The week before, the... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
...line up, though queueing is “unnatural” to them. When the marines check them for weapons, the narrator and Bon hand over their firearms. Next, entry papers are handed out by a young... (full context)
Chapter 3
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Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
While waiting for the planes, the narrator talks to a trio of call girls named Mimi, Phi Phi, and Ti Ti. His... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
At 4:00 AM, the narrator boards a “fetid and hot” bus that will take them to the parked C-130 Hercules... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
...the South Vietnamese Army are retaliating for not getting a seat out on a plane. The narrator insists that they’re being attacked by the North Vietnamese. Then, the plane’s gas tanks blow... (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 he turns, he sees that they’re no... (full context)
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Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator throws Linh over his shoulder. He then throws her at the General when he reaches... (full context)
Chapter 4
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Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...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 lays on... (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... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...small coffin on top of his mother’s, Bon throws himself into their open grave, howling. The narrator climbs in to calm him down. After he helps Bon out, they pour dirt onto... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...everyone lives in barracks. It’s the summer of 1975, and it is from here that the narrator writes the first of his letters to Man’s aunt in Paris. He composes his letters... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...Sheets strung up on clotheslines divide the barracks into family quarters. The General complains to the narrator about people having sex day and night, in front of their children and his own.... (full context)
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The General and the narrator toast with tea to the lieutenant colonel’s memory. The General then says that he suspects... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Shortly after arriving in San Diego, the narrator contacts his former professor, Avery Wright Hammer, seeking his help in leaving the camp. Professor... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Once he’s settled in Los Angeles, the narrator canvasses local churches, looking for a sponsor for Bon. Finally, the leader of Everlasting Church... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...bad mood and is unemployed. He drinks a lot, and his alcoholism and fury remind the narrator of Richard Nixon. Madame maintains the household and takes care of the children while her... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator ’s new job is “to serve as the first line of defense against students” who... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Initially, Sofia seems to dislike the narrator and is skeptical of him when he reports to the school newspaper that he’s never... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Initially, the narrator thinks that the Department Chair is playing a trick; it’s April Fool’s Day. However, the... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
...by “severe problems of identity suffered by Americans of Oriental ancestry.” The professor thinks that the narrator ’s embodiment of the Orient and the Occident demonstrates “the possibility that out of two... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
The night, the narrator reads a letter from the Parisian aunt. Man tells him that the rebuilding of Vietnam... (full context)
Chapter 5
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
Under Sofia’s tutelage, the narrator learns that “true revolution also [involves] sexual liberation.” The only thing that could make the... (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... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...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 Claude for knowing what it feels... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
...that they have a problem—a spy in their ranks. The General and Claude look at the narrator , as if for confirmation. He names the crapulent major. Claude says that he doesn’t... (full context)
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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 storeroom,... (full context)
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Still, Bon shows the narrator a sawed-off, double-barreled shotgun on a rack beneath the cash register. When the narrator asks... (full context)
Chapter 6
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...chatting and smiling non-stop. Thirty old colleagues, followers, soldiers, and friends are also in attendance. The narrator hasn’t seen these men since they were in the refugee camps on Guam. He mingles... (full context)
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The narrator commiserates with the crapulent major about how unhappy he is in Los Angeles. When the... (full context)
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The narrator last saw Sonny in 1969, during the narrator’s final year in the U.S. They shake... (full context)
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...from his house. He finds the job easy and likes it. He offers to give the narrator some free gas in exchange for helping him escape Vietnam. (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator goes home and watches Bon clean and oil the .38 Special. They watch Dr. Richard... (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... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator understands, and he’s stunned; it’s the longest speech he’s ever heard from Bon—the only man... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The next Saturday night, the narrator goes to dinner at the home of Professor Hammer and his boyfriend, Stan. Over dinner,... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator and Claude leave Professor Hammer’s house near midnight and smoke farewell cigarettes on the sidewalk.... (full context)
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The next evening, the narrator scouts the crapulent major. He parks his car half a block from the gas station... (full context)
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The visit to Chinatown reminds the narrator of a past incident in Cholon, involving the arrest of a Communist suspect, a tax... (full context)
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The next evening, the narrator and Bon park down the street from the gas station at 7:30 PM, wearing the... (full context)
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Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...cars nearest to the path. He kneels down and keeps his head beneath the windows. The narrator holds a plastic bag with a yellow happy face and the words THANK YOU! on... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
At home, the narrator takes off his shoes, also dotted with blood. He wipes them and then calls the... (full context)
Chapter 7
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The narrator confesses to the Commandant that the crapulent major’s death troubles him. Worse, no longer in... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The narrator thinks that he sees the severed head of the crapulent major serving as the table’s... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The narrator turns around to find Sonny talking to Sofia. He writes down her quips and they... (full context)
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The next weekend, the narrator chauffeurs the General and Madame from Hollywood to Huntington Beach, where the Congressman lives. He... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
...the program, though the General says that he left before it began. The Congressman recommends the narrator , instead, as a consultant. The film is called The Hamlet. (full context)
Chapter 8
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The screenplay is mailed to the narrator by the director’s personal assistant, Violet. Violet is brusque when she calls to ask for... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The narrator is a fan of the Auteur’s work, but he’s “flummoxed” by having read a screenplay... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The narrator notes that the Auteur didn’t get the details about the Vietnamese right in the script.... (full context)
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... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
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Back at the General’s house, Madame asks the narrator why the Auteur was so rude. The narrator figures that the director was just looking... (full context)
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Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The General pulls a newspaper from a stack on the kitchen countertop and asks the narrator if he’s seen it. The General is disturbed by Sonny’s article on the crapulent major’s... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
The narrator surmises that Sonny’s doing his job, though he may be a bit “naïve” in how... (full context)
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
...are among many allies. The General has a list of officers who want to fight. The narrator suggests forming a “vanguard” that will work in secret. The General decides to turn Sonny’s... (full context)
Chapter 9
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Violet calls the narrator a week after their meeting, though he doesn’t wish to speak to her. She says... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
The Auteur offers the narrator four months of paid work in the Philippines and six months of pay if the... (full context)
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Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
The narrator also tells the Parisian aunt about his agreement to help the General create a nonprofit... (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... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Three months later, the narrator goes to the Philippines. For his flight, he has a copy of Fodor’s Southeast Asia.... (full context)
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The narrator takes a day trip to a refugee camp at Bataan, where he recruits a hundred... (full context)
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For the past few days, the narrator has been feeling better about his past sins. He believes that he has put the... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The narrator visits the cemetery that Harry built in Luzon as an additional film set and thinks... (full context)
Chapter 10
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The narrator ’s notes to the Auteur allow for some change in how the Vietnamese will be... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Violet tells the narrator that no Vietnamese actors were cast because those who auditioned were amateurs, and the professionals... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The most difficult category for the narrator to cast is for that of the National Liberation Front guerilla, or the Viet Cong.... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The narrator is stunned by the Auteur’s “unprovoked attack.” When the narrator denies being a sellout, the... (full context)
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
The Auteur and the narrator are no longer on speaking terms. He explains Binh’s torture scene to the extras without... (full context)
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...to feel like he’s really being tortured. While everyone else goes to the shady canteen, the narrator sits by Yoon and offers to shelter him with a parasol, but Yoon refuses. He... (full context)
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...teary with pain and his face is bathed in actual sweat, mucus, vomit, and tears. The narrator looks at him and thinks of the communist agent. For the next scene, the Auteur... (full context)
Chapter 11
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The longer the narrator works on the movie, the more convinced he is that he isn’t a technical consultant... (full context)
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...of art “will not just be about the war but it will be the war.” The narrator finds this statement absurd. There’s some truth to it, but, in the Auteur’s egomaniacal imagination,... (full context)
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The technology used to obliterate the narrator ’s people comes from the military-industrial complex of which Hollywood is a part. The Auteur... (full context)
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Though it’s only a fake cemetery with a fake tombstone that the narrator dedicated to his mother, it still hurts him to know that it’ll be destroyed. He... (full context)
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The narrator awakens in a bed that is “shielded by a white curtain.” He has first-degree burns,... (full context)
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...accident. He and the other extras think that the Auteur did it in retaliation for the narrator insulting him. They say that they wouldn’t “put anything past the Americans.” The narrator tells... (full context)
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After the extras leave, the narrator looks around the all-white hospital room and thinks about the only other all-white room he’s... (full context)
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The narrator entered the Watchman’s cell, trying to figure out how to be both his enemy and... (full context)
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The narrator set out to prove to the Watchman that he was as smart as he thought... (full context)
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Claude praised the narrator ’s work. The narrator felt like a good student, happy for Claude’s praise, which he... (full context)
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...bed, facing the white wall. He was wearing white shorts and a white T-shirt. When the narrator and Claude rolled him over, they saw that his face was purple and his eyes... (full context)
Chapter 12
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When the narrator leaves the hospital, he learns that he’s no longer needed on the film set. An... (full context)
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The narrator pours himself a cup of tea. He asks if Bon is a part of this... (full context)
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The General says that it’s the right time for a beer and offers one to the narrator , who notices their clock and says to Madame, who fetches the beer, that it’s... (full context)
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...Violet and a tall, thin white man in a powder-blue suit went to check on the narrator . When they asked how he felt, he whispered “all white,” though he could speak... (full context)
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The narrator claimed to have lost a portion of his memory to legitimize his demand. The rep... (full context)
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When the narrator returned to California, he cashed the check and left half in his bank account. The... (full context)
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...crapulent major’s widow opens the door and exclaims about how good it is to see the narrator . On the coffee table in the living room, she has prepared tea and French... (full context)
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The only advantage that the narrator thinks he has over the twins is having had a father who taught him about... (full context)
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The narrator ’s mother assured him that he wasn’t unnatural and clutched him to her bosom. When... (full context)
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The narrator wonders, if she could see him now in the crapulent major’s old apartment, if his... (full context)
Chapter 13
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The narrator isn’t surprised that Sonny and Sofia are now a couple. He was in the Philippines... (full context)
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The narrator drinks his vodka and decides to change the subject of conversation. He recalls the speeches... (full context)
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The narrator can’t believe that he’s finally won an argument with Sonny, something he never did in... (full context)
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The narrator reports in his next letter to the Parisian aunt that the General is carrying out... (full context)
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The narrator finds himself back in uniform again and in the field. However, he’s not there as... (full context)
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Before embarking on a ten-mile hike, the narrator and Bon smoke a cigarette. The narrator talks about the soldiers who confess to having... (full context)
Chapter 14
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The narrator wonders if his questioning of Sonny’s courage pushed Sonny to write the following headline in... (full context)
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The narrator sends all of this information to his Parisian aunt via a courier. In his latest... (full context)
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...a Communist sent by the North Vietnamese to spy on the refugees. He notes how the narrator knew Sonny in college and asks if he expressed these sympathies back then. The narrator... (full context)
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The narrator sees an ad in Sonny’s newspaper announcing that Lana will be part of a revue... (full context)
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...leather boots with stiletto heels. She sings “I’d Want You to Love Me,” a song the narrator has only heard sung by men, given that it’s “the theme song of the bachelors... (full context)
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When Lana finishes the song, the audience claps, whistles, and stomps. The narrator sits silently, stunned by her performance. She returns to the table reserved for performers. The... (full context)
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...marriage. They want her to marry someone “very respectable and very rich.” She looks at the narrator , addressing him as Captain, and says that he’s neither of those things, which makes... (full context)
Chapter 15
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The narrator pursues Lana by writing her letters in the perfect cursive taught to him by overbearing... (full context)
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...General arrives at the store at his usual time and, when he does, he and the narrator leave. He knows that the General is preoccupied with thinking about Sonny, whose article about... (full context)
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The narrator drives the General to a country club in Anaheim where the Congressman has invited them.... (full context)
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Dr. Hedd hands the book back to the narrator and regards the younger man intently. Dr. Hedd says to the group that he bets... (full context)
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Dr. Hedd asks the narrator if he’s happy. The narrator says that he’s not unhappy, then he turns the question... (full context)
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...Congressman raises his glass to the comment. The General knows how to read a crowd. The narrator has already reported to Man, through the Parisian aunt, about his fund-raising success in getting... (full context)
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When the Congressman asks the narrator what he thinks, he says that he disagrees with Dr. Hedd. Life is valuable to... (full context)
Chapter 16
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Just past midnight, the narrator and the General arrive at the General’s house. The General says that, though he appreciates... (full context)
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While 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... (full context)
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The narrator goes to Lana for solace. He arrives at her apartment with a bottle of wine.... (full context)
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The narrator spends an hour driving from Lana’s apartment to Sonny’s. He breathes deeply to control his... (full context)
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The narrator checks his watch. It’s a little past 9:00 PM. He rings the intercom. He announces... (full context)
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Sonny is sorry that he and the narrator have never had a proper talk about Sofia. The narrator claims fault for never having... (full context)
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...anything else. This is why he loves Sofia; she can tolerate his obsession. He tells the narrator that they never planned anything; they just started talking at the wedding and didn’t stop.... (full context)
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...change himself, too. When he met Sofia, he became interested in how she saw him. The narrator says that he has something to confess. He insists that he’s not there because of... (full context)
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The narrator insists that he’s trying to help Sonny, who believes that the General has sent the... (full context)
Chapter 17
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The next morning, Bon soothes the narrator with a bottle of scotch. Drinking turns out to be the best cure. The narrator... (full context)
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Bon tells the narrator that they’re going back to the land where everyone looks like them. The narrator points... (full context)
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Claude ushers the narrator and Bon into a van. He tells them that he’ll keep them awake to help... (full context)
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They go to see the movie and the narrator notices that the audience is enjoying themselves. The narrator watches the only scene that he... (full context)
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The narrator asks Bon what he thinks of the movie. Bon says that it was the narrator’s... (full context)
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Before falling asleep, the narrator thinks back to his and Bon’s departure from Los Angeles. The General and Madame saw... (full context)
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The next morning, back in Thailand, Bon and the narrator awake before sunrise. Claude drives them to the camp near the Laotian border. There, the... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Bon and the narrator spend two weeks getting used to the weather and their new comrades—three bearded, long-haired marine... (full context)
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...ponchos and cover themselves with “hooded capes of netting into which [they wove] palm fronds.” The narrator has barely fallen asleep when the machine gunner tells him that it’s his turn for... (full context)
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The second night is no different from the first. The narrator looks up at the stars through the branches. He feels like he’s inside of a... (full context)
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...to muffle his screams. After some thrashing, he becomes still and dies. Though he’s dead, the narrator can still hear him screaming. The grizzled captain tells them that they have to move... (full context)
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...forward march after two hours. They lower the affectless lieutenant’s body into a grave. As the narrator kneels by the grave, he sees Sonny’s ghost squatting beside him and the crapulent major’s... (full context)
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...flying into the shallow water, where he lies, not quite dead and screaming. Bon pulls the narrator down. He commands the narrator to shoot. The narrator lifts the gun and squeezes the... (full context)
Chapter 19
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The Commandant is hurt by the narrator ’s implication in his confession that life in the camp is worse than death. The... (full context)
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The Commandant talks about the narrator ’s origins and describes the relations between the narrator’s mother and father as his curse.... (full context)
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The narrator knows that he can shorten his stay by just writing what they want: Communist slogans.... (full context)
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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 to meet the... (full context)
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The narrator feels his stomach churn as he knocks on the Commissar’s door. A voice tells him... (full context)
Chapter 20
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Before the narrator can say a word, the guards seize him, gag him, and blindfold him. The baby-faced... (full context)
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A voice comes from far above the narrator , somewhere in the ceiling: “Didn’t I tell you not to come?” The narrator asks... (full context)
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Man says that the reason the narrator is in the examination room is to remember what he’s forgotten. Man recalls what an... (full context)
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The narrator responds, “Nothing.” Man tells him that his answer is not quite right. When the narrator... (full context)
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...to see his burnt face. He hasn’t looked in a mirror in years. He asks the narrator if he can understand what it’s like to be frightening to one’s own family or... (full context)
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Man returns to the subject of the narrator ’s confession and asks him what he did to the Communist agent. The narrator insists... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...to occur, he must be fully awake, even if his state of wakefulness kills him. The narrator ’s captor unties his blindfold, and he can see light. The light emanates from hundreds... (full context)
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...a contraption from a burlap sack. Its purpose is to deliver static electricity to startle the narrator . The Commissar asks for some privacy with “the patient.” Everyone else leaves the room.... (full context)
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The narrator can no longer feel his body. When the Commissar asks if he can remember what... (full context)
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...an empty soda bottle and shoved it inside of the agent. Finishing this story, which the narrator views as a consequence of history, he asks if he can sleep. (full context)
Chapter 22
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The narrator says that he wishes he were dead. He figures that Man will finally release him... (full context)
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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 what will happen to Bon.... (full context)
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The narrator tries to pull the gun away from Man’s head and put it toward his own,... (full context)
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The overhead speakers click on in the narrator ’s room and release the sound of a screaming baby. The narrator finds it impossible... (full context)
Chapter 23
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With that one word, “nothing,” the narrator completes his re-education. Now, he’s preparing for his “watery departure” from his country. After the... (full context)
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The narrator goes back to his isolation cell. All he wants to do is sleep. The doctor... (full context)
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The narrator hasn’t seen the Commissar since the end of the examination. They meet in his quarters... (full context)
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So, what has the narrator learned, he asks? While nothing is more precious than independence and freedom, nothing is also... (full context)
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The narrator has no shortage of paper when he arrives in Saigon, where everyone is required to... (full context)
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The narrator , Bon, and their navigator will then get onboard a skiff and glide across the... (full context)