The Sympathizer

The Sympathizer


Viet Thanh Nguyen

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Themes and Colors
Cultural Duality Theme Icon
Asian Identity in the United States Theme Icon
Loyalty vs. Duplicity Theme Icon
Moral Ambivalence and Purpose Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Sympathizer, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Cultural Duality

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer uses duality as an overarching theme to explore the narrator’s personal racial ambivalence, as well as the social ambivalence of the Vietnamese refugee community in the United States. The story follows the nameless narrator to California after the fall of Saigon in 1975 (which marked the end of the Vietnam War), where he and other refugees must rebuild their lives. However, the narrator is also a sleeper agent…

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Asian Identity in the United States

Aside from exploring the centuries-old divide between the East and the West, Nguyen more specifically addresses the racism that Vietnamese refugees endure in the United States, due to persistent stereotypes about Asian people. The author uses two key Western institutions—universities and movie studios—to explore how racism and misrepresentation are systemic. Nguyen observes how Americans, who lost the Vietnam War, still control the narrative of the war, refashioning themselves as heroes and the Vietnamese as hapless…

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Loyalty vs. Duplicity

The narrator in The Sympathizer is a Communist mole for the North Vietnamese who is also a captain in the South Vietnamese army, working directly for the General and his wife, Madame. For the narrator, North Vietnam is a motherland—that is, his birthplace and the place to which he remains politically committed. South Vietnam is a fatherland of opportunity where, with the help of Claude and the General, he fulfills his personal ambitions. The…

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Moral Ambivalence and Purpose

In The Sympathizer, the nameless narrator’s duplicity in his relationships fosters a sense of moral ambivalence. His commitments to both Communism and Western democracy, to both North and South Vietnam reinforce the notion that he belongs to everyone and no one. He is nameless, known only by his titles of “captain” and comrade, because his true identity exists in the space between these labels. On the other hand, his blood brother, Bon

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