Inside Out and Back Again Themes

Inside Out and Back Again Themes

Language barriers cause social isolation.

When Ha finds herself unable to communicate with her peers, she is left in a predicament where the only things others can know about her are the obvious—'she's not from here, she's not one of us.' Even if only a small percentage of students misunderstand her differences as a thing to make fun her for, that still means that for no fair reason, she will be bullied, and in fact, she is bullied.

Social barriers can be broken by commitment and optimism.

Ha finally finds herself some community toward the tail end of the novel in Mrs. Washington and her buddies, but it would be wrong to say, "See? It all panned out just fine. No need to have worried." Ha had to fight for her acceptance by continuing to show up day after day, by continuing to subject herself to her unfair treatment, and if not for her own open-mindedness and resilience, when community is offered, she accepts, whereas many people would have let bitterness or fear of rejection stop them from investing in others.

Children's experiences are epic and religious.

This can be seen in so many aspects of the book, but none more than the fact that this book is written as an epic poem, in verse, covering the journey to a new home. The implication thematically is that because kids are still building their perspectives, adult situations like moving or fleeing the Vietnamese war, are even more potent and poignant than their parents' experiences. In a way, the parents are going through something, but the kids are being shaped by it. It's becoming part of who they are and how they view the earth. That's a major theme of the novel.

America is not an easy place to immigrate or flee to.

Our own customs seem invisible to us, but through the eyes of a refugee, the reader sees a new perspective of the American worldview. First of all, the kids in her class are not welcoming to Ha. Most cultures on the earth have held a common virtue (xenia in Greek) relating to the way foreigners are treated. In Eastern religions (although Vietnam is also diverse in this regard), sometimes other humans are regarded as divine or godly, so no matter who they are, they deserve deferent treatment. But that's not a shared virtue in America as Ha discovers.

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