Night Sky with Exit Wounds

Night Sky with Exit Wounds Literary Elements

Speaker or Narrator, and Point of View

The speaker throughout the collection is loosely defined but consistent. This speaker has both a personal history and life experiences that are similar to those of the poet, Ocean Vuong, and it is likely that the collection is intended to be at least loosely autobiographical. Some of the speaker's defining traits are his fraught relationship with his father, his love for his mother, his status as an immigrant, his homosexuality, and his rejection of the American ideal as hollow and empty.

At the same time, there are some other poems (notably, "My Father Writes from Prison," "Of Thee I Sing," and "Seventh Circle of Earth") that rely on the speaker's adoption of different personas. These poems shed light not just on the multiplicity of possible life experiences in different places, but they also bring out, emphasize, or shed new light on qualities that we already know to be present in our speaker.

Form and Meter

Most of the poems are free verse, but there is great variation in form.

Metaphors and Similes

Vuong's writing is filled with images in a way that makes it difficult to summarize how metaphor and simile are used. Even the Symbols, Allegories, and Motifs section of this Note traces just a few of the important metaphors and similes that are deployed in the collection. What is more important to understand, however, is that Vuong uses metaphor and simile heavily to explore how language can be shifted and adapted to change our perceptions of the world. By unmooring language from its everyday associations and implications, Vuong's hope as a poet is to teach us about the importance of bodily perception and raw language in conveying the truth of experiences.

Alliteration and Assonance

Alliteration and assonance occur frequently throughout the collection and are primarily used to either emphasize the violence of a given situation (e.g., "snow scraping" and "snow shredded" in "Aubade with Burning City") or give body to the semi-religious passion or zeal felt by the speaker in various instances. In both cases, these devices help Vuong shed light on the power and capacity of language.


Many ironies are explored in Night Sky with Exit Wounds, and this is primarily because of Vuong's fascination with one thing's ability to contain two almost antithetical qualities. Probably the most prominent example of this in the collection is the speaker's view regarding the Vietnam War, which he sees as unfathomably destructive yet also creative insofar as its occurrence precipitated the birth of his family. Such a fact about the Vietnam War is highly ironic and is meant to be felt as such by the reader.


Lyric Poetry


Various places, but mostly Vietnam and the United States


Various, ranging from elegiac to detached to impassioned

Protagonist and Antagonist


Major Conflict

While there is not a single major conflict that underpins the collection, the collection can be said to trace the speaker's struggle to reconcile the facts of his life with the weight of the past. This struggle takes on many facets and comes to include identity (i.e., race, sexuality, immigration status), the speaker's relationships (i.e., with sexual partners, with his parents) and the question of what fundamentally constitutes history when so much tries to erase the speaker and his perspective on events.








Many allusions are made throughout the collection, most prominently to the Bible, classical mythology, various aspects of Americana, and seminal events in American history. In "A Little Closer to the Edge," for example, images of apples and snakes allude to the Biblical story of the Garden of Eden. In "Telemachus," "Eurydice," and "Odysseus Redux," classical myth is deployed so as to not only draw out the capacity to find mythology in the everyday, but also to challenge the assumptions and values held by Western mythology regarding race and sexuality. In "Self-Portrait as Exit Wounds," various images (e.g., John Wayne, Michael Jackson) associated with America are used to provide a startling contrast with contemporaneous scenes of destruction in Vietnam. In "Untitled," 9/11 is used as a means for the speaker to relate his personal grief with the grief felt by the entire nation. The system of relations that the speaker seeks to explore between himself and others is thus contingent upon his deployment of allusion.

Metonymy and Synecdoche

Much as the speaker uses allusion heavily to toy with and unmask the systems of relations that underly things like nationhood and race, he also uses metonymy heavily throughout the collection. Often, metonymy is used ironically to reflect how others might see him and those he loves (such as when he refers to himself as "Charlie" to encapsulate the racial trauma and prejudice left in the wake of the Vietnam War).


Vuong uses personification to rich effect in many poems. For example, in "Immigrant Haibun," hyacinths are said to have "gasped" in the embassy lawn. Such humanizing language cements the tragedy inherent in the piece while also emphasizing the fragility inherent in the flower motif that recurs throughout the collection.