The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down Imagery

Lia's Big Seizure

Fadiman enhances our understanding of Lia and her family through visual imagery. She zooms in and shows us what happened the night of Lia's big seizure: "Lia, who had had a mild runny nose for several days, sat in her usual chair at the round white Formica table in the kitchen, surrounded by her parents, five of her sisters, and her brother. She was normally an avid eater, but tonight she had little appetite, and fed herself only a little rice and water. After she finished eating, her face took on the strange, frightened expression that always preceded an epileptic seizure. She ran to her parents, hugged them, and fell down, her arms and legs first stiffening and then jerking furiously. Nao Kao picked her up and laid her on the blue quilted pad they always kept ready for her on the living room floor" (140).

Escaping from Laos

Fadiman describes the Lees' escape from Laos in their own words, quoting Nao Kao and his daughter, May. The details help us not only to see the scene, but also to feel a little of their fear: "The Vietnamese found out that we were running away. They started to burn all around us so we couldn't walk. The flames were as high as our house here in Merced. Some fires were in the front and some fires were in the back, and the children were really scared. But some people were really brave and they just jumped through the flames and somehow we survived. After we crossed the fire, the Vietnamese thought we were taking the usual route where most Hmong go, and they planted some mines in the ground. But we went a different way, and the Vietnamese walked into their own trap and they got hurt. We carried the babies and when we came to steep mountains we tied ropes to the children and the old people and we pulled them up. It was cold and the children were hungry. I was very scared because we had a lot of children and it would be easy for the soldiers to kill them. Some other people who came from our village just before us, two of their children started running across a rice field, and the Vietnamese shot them, I don't know how many times they shot them, but their heads were all squashed" (156).

Using Dialogue

In some scenes, Fadiman quotes characters verbatim to take us into the scene. For instance, we can hear just what happens when Martin Kilgore does a house visit with the Lees, witnessing how little they share with him and realizing how little of what he says makes any sense to the family. Similarly, we get a sense of what happens at a naturalization ceremony by listening to the judge's proud remarks. 

Setting the Scene

Fadiman helps bring us into the setting with rich visual details. She describes her first impression of Merced, before she found the Hmong side of town: "The people who strolled their babies along the sycamore-lined avenues north of Bear Creek and gunned their pickups down the quaintly superannuated main street… all looked as homegrown as characters from American Graffiti… " (225). Similarly, she paints a picture of the scenery encountered by Dang Moua, the first Hmong to move to Merced: "With the back end of his Hornet nearly scraping the ground beneath the trunkful of clothing, pots, pans, dishes, and a television set, and the front end sticking up so high he could barely see over the hood, Dang drove his family west for two days and two nights on Interstate 40, following the sun…. The skies were so clear that he could see the Coast Range to the west and the Sierras to the east. The air was sweet with almond blossoms" (231).