The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer

by

Viet Thanh Nguyen

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The Clock Symbol Icon

When the narrator goes to the apartment of Sonny, a friend from his college days, he sees a clock “on the wall above the table” that is a replica of the clock in the General and Madame’s restaurant. Like their clock, Sonny’s is also set to Saigon time. The clock symbolizes the refugees’ equal commitment to their homeland. Despite their disparate politics—the General and Madame are conservatives and Sonny is a leftist—they all await the time when they can return home. The refugees’ anticipation parallels with the admiral’s comment that the remaining South Vietnamese soldiers who, in a reversal, have become guerrilla soldiers fighting against the Communist regime, will fight “for months, years, even decades if necessary.” In God’s eyes, he surmises, “this [is] no time at all.” The admiral’s comment, as well as the habit of setting clocks to Saigon time, reinforces the sense that time is relative. It’s related to one’s sense of place—temporally, the refugee community has never left Vietnam—and one’s commitments. The admiral strongly suggests that the guerrillas will fight for the rest of their lives. This indicates that they will measure time again only after they seize back control of their country and resume their lives as they knew them before the Communist takeover.

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The Clock Symbol Timeline in The Sympathizer

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Clock appears in The Sympathizer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 12
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...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 set to the wrong time.... (full context)
Chapter 16
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
...there because of Sofia. 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)