Essay: The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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  • Subject area(s): Literature essays
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  • Published on: December 26, 2019
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  • The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen
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Betrayal in the Ruins

In the novel, The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen; betrayal is portrayed throughout the novel. The name of the main character in the novel isn’t revealed; therefore, throughout the literary analysis, the main character will be identified as narrator. The narrator portrays himself as being “a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces” (Nguyen 1). Furthermore, In the heart, body, and mind, betrayal lies in everything and all things in Vietnam. For instance, Betrayal is presented in the communist party, the Americans, and even the narrator. Despite the relationships the narrator had with numerous people, betrayal was highly presented throughout the novel. The big conceptual idea here is that there is a moral compass in all of us; however, the narrators moral compass points towards people who suffer. Therefore, throughout the novel, he is betraying for the right purposes that suits his moral compass – helping those who are suffering.

The Vietnam war was a bloody Cold War era- proxy war. The Soviet Union, China, and all other pro-communist states backed Northern Vietnam. However, the communist party promised independence and delivering poverty. The narrator condemned this as betrayal to their independence; furthermore, this the led to the fall of Saigon. When the narrator imbeds himself with the American culture, he depicts his augments about Vietnam V.S. America, “After all, nothing was more American than wielding a gun and committing oneself to die for freedom and independence, unless it was wielding that gun to take away someone else’s freedom and independence” (Nguyen 43). The fall of Saigon meant independence and freedom was stripped and the rise of a communist controlled state would control absolute authority. Therefore, independence wasn’t granted at all as the Vietnam people were promised. Furthermore, the Americans betrayed the Vietnamese people as well.

The United States of America is against communism. Therefore, the United States promised the Southern Vietnamese people liberation and delivering abandonment. The narrator explains more about the United States, “Americans are a confused people because they can’t admit this contradiction. They believe in a universe of divine justice where the human race is guilty of sin, but they also believe in secular justice where human beings are presumed innocent” (Nguyen 18). The Americans failed to save the Vietnamese people from the communistic controlled state. Also, they failed to deliver abandonment because Russia and China were heavily backing the Northern Vietnam military force. Furthermore, during the final days of the war, the Americans botched the war itself; for instance, the Americans didn’t promise their delivery of transporting thousands of innocent Vietnamese citizens back to the United States. The betrayal from both the communist party and Americans developed a two-sided mind in the narrator.

The narrator of the story shows betrayal numerus times throughout the novel. However, the narrator is known to betray both the Americans and Vietnam. Throughout the narrator’s life, he begins to contradict himself thus, portraying evidence based on his morality, “What do those who struggle against power do when they seize power? What does the revolutionary do when the revolution triumphs? Why do those who call for independence and freedom take away the independence and freedom of others? And is it sane or insane to believe, as so many around us apparently do, in nothing? We can only answer these questions for ourselves. Our life and our death have taught us always to sympathize with the undesirables among the undesirables. Thus, magnetized by experience, our compass continually points toward those who suffer” (Nguyen 87). There are many Vietnamese who are suffering in this war; for instance, the narrator is known for betraying both the North and South. However, the evidence above can give us an idea that the reason why he betrayed both sides is because both the North and South Vietnamese were both suffering. For example, the North Vietnamese suffered through poverty and absolute control from the government and the South suffered through extensive war and death through betrayal. The narrator continues to betray everything and everyone through lies.

Throughout the novel, the narrator showed betrayal not only to the United States and Vietnam, but also to the people closest to him. For instance, the narrator lies throughout the novel to his friend Bon. Bon lives in South Vietnam and is against communism. However, the narrator is pro-communist, ludicrous, but true because he believes they will bring independence to North Vietnam; the state he was born in. The reason why the narrator lies to Bon is because “he was a sincere man who believed in everything he said, even if it was a lie, which makes him not so different from most” (Nguyen 43). Furthermore, Bon is gullible and easy to persuade. However, Bons’ family died from the evacuation from Saigon; thus, depression grew over him. The narrator shows sympathy towards bon, “He’s the best thing that could have happened to us, I said. And that was no lie. It was, instead, the best kind of truth, the one that meant at least two things” (Nguyen 91). When the narrator explains “two things,” he means that Bon is the best thing that ever happened to him, as a friend, and saving Bon, on a mission, only led the narrator to confess his guilt. Furthermore, confessing his guilt allowed him to be set free and in the ending scene, in which, he is heading back to America on a boat.

Throughout the novel, the narrator becomes almost lucky throughout the novel, due to his betrayal he comes near death often. The narrator became really good friends with the General of Southern Vietnam, they became so close, that the General invited the narrator over for dinner every night. Later on, in the novel, the General figures out that the narrator is a traitor and was spying on him. Betrayal brings out the pathos in all of us; for instance, the General had a gun and could have easily shot the narrator; however, “Although he could have shot me or turned us back, he did what I gambled every honorable man forced to take a bribe would do. He let us all pass, holding up his end of the bargain as the last fig leaf of his dignity. I averted my eyes from his humiliation” (Nguyen 108). The narrator depicts him as being humiliating. This is because the General had a duty of neutralizing all threats invading South Vietnam. Betrayal in the book can be perceived in the broader world.

Throughout my life and anybody’s life, we all betrayed something or someone. For instance, growing up I’ve betrayed friends. As a varsity football player and band player I’ve made friends in both clubs. However, when it comes to popularity, I would eventually turn my backs on band members and deteriorate their reputations as students. Thus, I would talk about all the weird things they do and say. Betrayal in the book can connect to the broader world; simply, betraying is only done for the right purposes. Furthermore, in the broader world, if one were to betray someone, then there will be consequences. In this case, the narrator was beaten and placed captured. One may betray someone in the broader world for redemption, a gate way, or in time. For instance, one will betray someone for redemption simply to get revenge based off of any scenario that’s leads someone in feeling guilt. One may betray someone as a gate way to something better in their life and also, in time, one will betray someone over time because things don’t matter anymore or anybody and people move on fast. Overall, betrayal is not pro and shouldn’t be taken into consideration, especially if one was to build an alliance.

Betrayal is all around us. In the novel, betrayal was presented from the United States, Vietnam, and the communist party. Furthermore, the narrator depicted a wide range of betrayal to both his friends and country. The “two-sided” mind, the narrator, had opposition to both parties of the war that only made him more betrayal to himself. We all have a moral compass in us and we tend to always follow it. In this case, the narrator followed his moral compass by helping the Vietnamese people, the Vietnamese-American people, and the communist party. The communist party was suffering because it was growing, at the time, and allied forces were suppressing it to grow and become stronger. The Vietnamese-Americans were suffering because in America, yourself identity is stripped. Furthermore, “You must claim America, she said. America will not give itself to you. If you do not claim America, if America is not in your heart, America will throw you into a concentration camp or a reservation or a plantation” (Nguyen 201). We can see the Southern Vietnamese General suffering once entering the United States. He is stripped of his identity, and nobody will give him credit; thus, the only thing he could do is open a liquor shop and fund an army in Vietnam. The narrator’s moral compass is to always help those who are suffering; thus, if betrayal is necessary for the others own good, then the narrator will betray you.

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