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Written by Sonia Chen
“To live with dignity, the important thing is never to despair. You give up once, and everything gives way. They say ginger root becomes stringy, but pungent with age. Unhappiness forges a woman, makes her selfless, compassionate.”
Hang’s mother always emphasized being selfless but also living by proverbs and traditional practices. Her mother always lived according to her duty assigned to her. She had also encouraged Hang to show the same selflessness. This quote was spoken by Que, but Hang remembers it now as she is trying to decide if she should go visit her Uncle Chinh even though she is still weak from her own sicknesses. This further emphasizes the extent to which most Vietnamese are bound to traditional roles.
“Don’t be afraid, Master. You taught the children in this town. Me, I peddled a cyclo to feed my wife and kids. Times have changed. Bastards fish shamelessly in muddied waters, but honest people are powerless. All we can do is keep our hands clean.”
In this backstory, Ton, Hang’s father, is escaping from the village to avoid capture by the revolutionaries. This man who was sleeping at a bus station is a cyclo peddler who is not part of the revolution against all landowners. Her recognizes Ton and helps him escape since her doesn’t want to dirty his hands with the anti-landowner craze. This shows that there are always good people out there, even when times are hard and there seems to be little hope for a fleeing target of the revolution.
“As long as these hands can work, there will always be money. Don’t worry. I know how to get by. I can earn three times the value of rice harvest with one of my tomato crops. With one of my mandarin-orange harvests, I made enough to buy you a gold necklace. I’be already ordered it. The pendant is heart-shaped and it weighs a gram and a half, and the chain the same. When you turn sixteen, you’ll wear it.”
Aunt Tam’s assurance of plenty and support for Hang signifies the beginning of a rift forming between Hang and Que. Aunt Tam also shows her hardworking nature complement her need to follow tradition and provide for her family lineage. Since Aunt Tam’s brother, Ton, is Hang’s father, Aunt Tam feels the need to preserve this family line and pamper Hang. She also emphasizes Hang’s education and tries to motivate her to proudly carry on the family name.
“We all turn to family. After all, blood runs thick. And this love I feel for my brother, how could I deny it to others? But I want you to understand something clearly: Your brother is my family’s mortal enemy. Her killed my brother. I forbid you to use my money to feed him.”
This quote emphasizes the theme of family. Family ties and family feuds can either build or break relationships. Here, Aunt Tam has been very generous to Que since she feels the need to extend love to all. However, when Que lies to Aunt Tam about where the rings she gave Hang are, Aunt Tam decides to punish Que for it. Since Uncle Chinh, Que’s brother, essentially killed Ton, Aunt Tam will not allow Que to use her money to feed her enemy’s family.
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