The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer


Viet Thanh Nguyen

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The Narrator’s Mother Character Analysis

She worked as a maid for the narrator’s father and began an affair with him, resulting in her becoming pregnant with the narrator when she was thirteen. She is barely literate and writes with “a cramped, shy hand.” The bit of education that she has comes from the narrator’s father teaching her Scripture and how to count in French. The narrator sees her for the last time the month before he leaves to attend college in the United States. As a parting gift she gives him a box of Pétit Écolier cookies, his favorite since childhood, along with a notebook and a pen. She dies from tuberculosis at the age of thirty-four. The narrator finds out about her death in a letter sent to him by his father when he is in his junior year at Occidental College. Unlike many people of her social status, she was buried in a cemetery with a headstone, paid for by the narrator’s father. Not having been present during her burial, the narrator creates an artificial grave for her in the cemetery built for the production of The Hamlet.
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The Narrator’s Mother Character Timeline in The Sympathizer

The timeline below shows where the character The Narrator’s Mother appears in The Sympathizer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 5
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...committed his first “unnatural act” at thirteen when he masturbated into a squid that his mother was preparing for dinner. After ejaculating into it, he feels guilty. They had only six... (full context)
Chapter 9
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
...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.... (full context)
Chapter 11
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon’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 pays his last respects... (full context)
Chapter 12
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
...the “little monsters” who surrounded him. He went home and cried when he saw his mother. He confessed everything. (full context)
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
The narrator’s mother assured him that he wasn’t unnatural and clutched him to her bosom. When he looked... (full context)
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...wonders, if she could see him now in the crapulent major’s old apartment, if his mother would still consider him one of the meek. After the visit to the widow, the... (full context)
Chapter 16
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
...sometimes he thinks he has; but, he hasn’t really, especially when he thinks about his mother. When Lana puts her hand on his knee, the narrator announces that he should go. (full context)
Chapter 19
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
The Commandant talks about the narrator’s origins and describes the relations between the narrator’s mother and father as his curse. The Commandant shows him a jar containing a naked, pickled... (full context)
Chapter 22
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...that he’s listening to a tape. He wonders if he screamed like this at his mother when he was an infant. The narrator wonders who’s screaming. The sound transports him back... (full context)