¡§The role of the cripple in ¡¥Paradise of the Blind.¡¦¡¨


Organizing Principle #1

One of the roles the cripple plays is in embodying the idea of living a life unfulfilled, which is a theme that runs through the text. Duong uses the character of the cripple to make this thematic idea of unreached potential apparent, as the cripple, due to his disabilities, is one of the most obvious characters who is leading an unfulfilling life. The character¡¦s disabilities have not only ¡§crippled¡¨ him physically, but have also ¡§crippled¡¨ his ability to find the type of fulfillment that he is looking for, and thus, plays a significant role in reinforcing this thematic idea.


¡§He lived, year in and year out, stretched out on that bed of coarse linen.¡¨ (110)

This quotation emphasizes the idea that the cripple is leading an unfulfilling life, as through the use of the phrase ¡§year in and year out¡¨ it is suggested that he has fallen into a pattern that is unchanging. This idea of predictability and being ¡§stuck¡¨ in the same routine, creates a sense that his life is mundane and boring. Furthermore, the use of the word ¡§coarse¡¨ in describing the bed linen suggests a discomfort, and thus reiterates the unhappiness associated with the cripple¡¦s life.


¡§Some days, he wanted to get married, to learn a profession. Some days, he wanted to drown himself in a well.¡¨ (110)

The repetition of the words ¡§some days, he wanted...¡¨ reinforces the idea that the cripple is unable to find the fulfillment that he is looking for. The repetition of the phrase ¡§some days¡¨, reemphasizes the way the cripple has fallen into a never ending pattern or routine, contributing to the sense of mundaneness surrounding his life. Moreover, ¡§he wanted¡¨ suggests a hopefulness and desire, however, the way in which two contradicting ¡§desires¡¨,¡¨ one dreaming of a better life, and the other of ¡§drowning himself¡¨ are placed one after the other, suggests that regardless of the desire, the cripple will be unable to attain it. Thus, these failed dreams, contribute to the ¡§unchanging sadness¡¨ surrounds the cripple¡¦s character. Furthermore, these desires help to emphasize the potential the cripple had, if he had not been crippled, perhaps he could have been married, and could have learnt a profession, and thus, this contributes to the idea of unfulfilled potential. 


¡§In the end, he ticked out his life reading and rereading the same spy noels, teasing children, being taunted by the young toughs...dreaming of paradise, and, from time to time, just screaming.¡¨ (110)

Through the use of the phrase ¡§in the end,¡¨ there is a sense that the cripple has compromised his dreams and goals, and retreated into this same, repeating cycle of activities. Thus, this again, contributes to the unfulfilled nature of the cripple¡¦s life, as he is unable to satisfy his true ambitious and desires. This mundane lifestyle is emphasized again through the word ¡§rereading¡¨, suggesting a lack of excitement.

The ¡§children¡¨ and the ¡§young toughs¡¨ are also significant, as they contrast the cripple greatly. Children and youth are typically associated with possibility and hopefulness, in that they have a world of opportunity before them, and thus, through this quotation, this contrast between this sense of optimism and hopefulness associated with the kids, and the bitter nature of the cripple, as seen i the way he ¡§teases¡¨ the children, is made clear. 

The idea that the cripple is ¡§dreaming of paradise¡¨ is significant, as due to his disabilities, the cripple is unable to do anything more than just ¡§dream¡¨ of his paradise. Furthermore, this need to ¡§dream of paradise¡¨ suggests that there is something missing or lack of satisfaction in the cripple¡¦s current life, however, ¡§dreaming¡¨ suggests that such paradise is unattainable.

The way the cripple ¡§just scream[s]¡¨ is important, as it suggests a painfulness and sorrow to his life. It perhaps creates a sense of frustration and unhappiness associated with leading such an ¡§unlived¡¨ life and thus, helps to emphasize the thematic idea that Duong is looking to convey.



Organizing Principle #2

Although Duong utilizes the cripple to emphasize the idea of unreached or unfulfilled potentially, the cripple¡¦s life is also used to reflect, the equally unfulfilling lives of the other characters in the text. Although the characters are not bound by physical disabilities, it is clear that characters such as Aunt Tam and Que, are all ¡§crippled¡¨ by their personal beliefs, such as family duty, fulfilling ancestral traditions and ideology. Thus, the cripple plays a significant role in bringing to light the ways in which these other characters, are equally as ¡§disabled¡¨ in finding true fulfillment, and achieving their own potential.


Aunt Tam

Aunt Tam¡¦s obsession with fulfilling her duty towards her family, bloodline and Hang

¡§There were also a few dried-out tubes of lipstick, two bottles of perfume, a box of Thai Swallow powder, a rotten Cot base makeup and an entire sampling of the beauty products that had been fashionable thirty years ago.¡¨ (253)

The description of the make up as ¡§dried out¡¨ and ¡§rotten¡¨ reinforces the way in which Aunt Tam¡¦s life was unfulfilled. Alongside her wedding dress, the makeup, suggesting a desire to impress or look beautiful, reveals Tam¡¦s desires to be married, or to be loved, which is a desire that Aunt Tam was unable to attain for herself. The phrase ¡§dried-out¡¨ is particularly significant as it suggests something that was once full of life, and lively, which perhaps reflects the same way Aunt Tam¡¦s once had opportunities that she did not take hold of.


Que¡¦s obsession with ¡§serving¡¨ her brother and his family, in order to earn her place/their respect

¡§I realized she had a mission now, a new source of happiness: to serve the needs of my little cousins.¡¨ (115)

This idea of having a ¡§new source of happiness¡¨ emphasizes the dedication Que develops towards Chinh¡¦s family and the desire to ¡§serve the needs¡¨ of her relatives, suggests subservience. Thus, although there is an association made between this ¡§service¡¨ and ¡§happiness¡¨, there is also a sense in which Que is sacrificing her own life for the sake of that of the ¡§little cousins.¡¨ This is later seen to create friction in Que and Hang¡¦s relationship, and the way Que is figuratively ¡§crippled¡¨ throughout the text through blindly following these obligations, is emphasized by her eventual amputation. Thus, at the end of the text, not only does Que continue to be bound by the obligations she establishes for herself, but she is also physically disabled, therefore, emphasizing the way in which is leading a ¡§life unlived.¡¨


Thus, through the disabilities and the physical incapabilities of the cripple, the ¡§crippled¡¨ nature of these other characters are also emphasized - in the same way that the cripple is leading a life that is unfulfilled, Aunt Tam and Que are doing the same. They are blindly following obligations and traditions, that don¡¦t necessarily lead to their own happiness or fulfillment. The cripple plays an important role in emphasizing this thematic idea.



Organizing Principle #3

Finally, the cripple¡¦s song plays a significant role in the text, as seen in the way it recurs multiple times throughout the text. Not only does the song establish a mood in Vietnam, but it is also used to reveals Hang¡¦s character development over the course of the novel. At the start of the novel, Hang lacked understanding of the song¡¦s lyrics and its meaning, however, at the end of the text, it is apparent she has developed an insight into the music and has realized this complex idea of leading a life unfulfilled.


Establishment of mood

¡§Hail autumn and its procession of dead leaves, the rows of barren poplars stand silent on the hillside.¡¨ (111)

The lyrics of the song, and specific words such as ¡§dead¡¨, ¡§barren¡¨ and ¡§silent¡¨ contribute to a sense of lifelessness and eeriness, which establishes a similar feel in Hanoi. This stillness creates a dark and depressing tone, thus creating an underlying sadness to Hang¡¦s childhood in Vietnam.


¡§...chant a sinister echo amid the joy and bustle of those festival days.¡¨ (127)

The way the song is described to be ¡§sinister¡¨ and contradict the ¡§joy and bustle of those festival days¡¨ helps to establish the mood as well. The way the sadness and darkness of the song, is described to ¡§masked¡¨ by the happier sounds of celebration, suggests that this sadness is always there.


Character development of Hang

¡§sinister echo¡¨ (127)

Hang initially describes the song to be a ¡§sinister echo¡¨, and the term ¡§echo¡¨ is significant as it suggests an intangibility or inability to fully grasp the song or its meaning. An echo is not permanent, and is something that passes quickly and thus, this suggests that the song and its meaning is not fully resonating with Hang.


¡§Each chime echoed inside me, and I closed my eyes, lulled by this familiar music¡¨ (91)

The way the song ¡§lulls¡¨ Hang to sleep due to its familiar nature, suggests the way in which she lacks an understanding of the lyrics and the song¡¦s meaning. Although she realizes that the song is sad, there is a sense in which she doesn¡¦t really know what it is about, as she is able to fall asleep to it, suggesting a comfort or soothing quality.


¡§But I no longer felt the stab of sadness, the despair that had weighed me down as a child.¡¨ (174)

This idea of ¡§no longer¡¨ feeling a ¡§stab of sadness¡¨ is significant, as it suggests that Hang has matured and grown up. She is longer as affected by the song in the same way she once was, in inducing memories and sadness regarding her father and the lack of his presence. Thus, this ability to move on and be unaffected by the song in the same way, suggests a maturing of Hang¡¦s character as she develops an understanding of the song¡¦s true meaning and also develops a sense of herself.

¡§All I heard now in this song was a vague pity in the middle of the chaos of life, a call for tenderness, protection, the desire to reach out for comfort.¡¨ (174)

In contrast to the earlier description of the song as an ¡§echo¡¨ suggesting an omnipresence, the song is now described as a ¡§vague pity¡¨ thus creating a sense of insignificance. The song that once was so ¡§familiar¡¨ is described to be concealed by everything else. Furthermore, it is clear that Hang has a developed a new perspective and understanding of the song, in the realization that the song is not just sad, but is also a ¡§call for tenderness, protection...¡¨


¡§It had taken time to grow up, to leave this place, finally to understand this song.¡¨ (233)

Acknowledgment of Hang¡¦s growth and the level of maturity she has reached, which correlates with her final understanding and realization of the song¡¦s meaning.


¡§This same voice, this same unchanging sadness.¡¨ (234)

The use of the repeated phrased ¡§this same¡¨ reiterates the unbreakable cycle that the characters are moving in, thus leading to the lack of fulfillment experienced in their lives. Moreover, the use of the short sentence length and the clear statement that Hang is making, suggests a coherent understanding, as she is able to explicitly state her stance and perspective.


¡§It wasn¡¦t a song. It was the cry of a crooked heart, a wounded beast.¡¨ (235)

¡§It wasn¡¦t a song¡¨ is significant as this final statement regarding the cripple¡¦s song, following its final appearance in the novel, contradicts the description of the ¡§song¡¨ from the rest of the novel. Thus, this differing label to the ¡§music¡¨ reinforces Hang¡¦s understanding and development, in her ability to recognize the chant as a ¡§cry¡¨ rather than a ¡§song¡¨, and again, the short sentence length suggests a firmness and assertiveness, contributing to the sense in which Hang truly understands the song and its meaning, as well as its relevance to the lives of the other characters. Therefore, there is clear growth of Hang¡¦s character from a naive child, to an insightful and understanding woman.