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Monkey Bridge and the Vietnam War - Essay Example

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The narration in Lan Cao’s novel Monkey Bridge unfolds through two narrative voices. These are that of Mai, a young Vietnamese refugee who immigrated America on the day Saigon fell in 1975, and her mother, Thanh. …
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Monkey Bridge and the Vietnam War
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Download file to see previous pages There are numerous themes which the novel explores. Language and its numerous ramifications play an important role in the novel. While at one level, Mai discovers the “astonishing new power” (Cao, 37) of language through her proficiency in English, language is also shown to be deeply imbued with social and cultural power politics. The sense of inadequacy that Thanh feels for speaking English with an accent, even though she speaks Vietnamese and French perfectly well, may be seen in this context.
The characters in Monkey Bridge are portrayed largely through inter-subjective perspectives. It is interesting to note how Thanh “dies” in Mai’s mind owing to her inability to adjust to the American society.
It is significant to note the way in which the narrative modifies the conventional idea of filial reconciliation and gives it the feel of a detective story. Mai’s attempt at understanding her mother’s past is aimed at an understanding of her identity and traditional belonging. Paradoxically, while the other characters are etched out through the narratives of Mai and Thanh, the protagonists come into their own after having reconciled themselves to their anguished pasts vis-a-vis the other characters.
The novel also deals with the notion of shared memories or shared history. Besides living in constant fear that her painful experiences in Vietnam shall rematerialize in her American present, Mai also shares her mother's grief for the presumed abandonment of her grandfather. This brings about a symbolic and structural fusing together of the characters of Mai and Thanh. Thus, Mai hopes to bring back fullness to herself and to her family by finding out the truth about the day her mother left Vietnam without Baba Quan.
The conclusion of the novel assumes a confessional character as Thanh commits suicide, leaving a note that finally reveals all about her troubled past. Interestingly, this letter also shows all of Mai's previous notions about her grandfather, gathered from her mother's diary, to have been completely fallacious. As it dawns on Mai that her mother’s diary was not "my own and my mother's history", but rather, replete with "gorgeous fictional reimaginings" (Cao, 255), the novel seems to question the very idea of truth in fiction and in life. Her grandfather, who she idealizes for long, turns out to have been not a respectable man but an abusive, alcoholic parent. Thus, her mother's hallucinating callings were not out of a yearning to be reunited with him, but in fear of him. Furthermore, he was not left to the mercy of enemy forces, he was himself a Vietcong. The character of Mai and her mother Thanh are two of the most believable ones on the novel, Monkey Bridge. These two characters show a gap between themselves that can be understood only through an understanding of the gap that usually exists between people of two generations. The gap between these two characters is widened by the fact that they believed and had grown up in different cultures and environments. Both these characters are however, similar in the fact that they are not a part of the mainstream in their societies. This is what brings them closer by the end of the novel and this gives these two characters something that could enable them to bond with each other. The oppression that is meted out to an immigrant from another country ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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