On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Symbols, Allegory and Motifs

Tiger Woods

It is revealed that Tiger's father, Earl, met Tiger's mother while serving in the Vietnam War. Tiger's mother, Kultida, is of Thai and Chinese background, and the nickname Tiger comes from a Vietnamese soldier who was killed in the war. Despite Tiger Wood's Asian background, he is most often referred to as "black" or "African-American." This upsets Little Dog's mother, who sees Tiger Woods as a symbol of the ways in which Asian-American identity is hidden or erased.

Paul's Garden

Little Dog's grandfather Paul is an avid gardener and naturalist. In one instance, Little Dog and Paul harvest fresh basil from the garden to make pesto. Paul served in the Vietnam War, where he met Little Dog's grandmother and he feels an incredible regret for what happened during the conflict. The garden can be seen as Paul's regrowth, or his attempt to find renewal and health following the trauma of the war.

Monarch Butterflies

The image of monarch butterflies is repeatedly mentioned throughout the novel. Vuong describes their migration, "from southern Canada and the United States to portions of central Mexico, where they will spend the winter" (4). He also notes how fragile this species is, given that "it only takes a single night of frost to kill off a generation" (4). Vuong positions the butterflies as a symbol of all people in migration, particularly his own family. Like the butterfly, these people are beautiful and vibrant, but also fragile and threatened.

The White Dress

In one scene, Little Dog and his mother go to a Goodwill "because on that day a yellow tag meant an additional fifty percent off" (9). At the store, Little Dog's mother finds a beautiful white dress. Trying it on, she asks "do I look like a real American?" (9). Little Dog does not respond, but thinks to himself that his mother will never be invited to an event formal enough to wear the dress. As such, the dress is a symbol of the desire of Little Dog's mother to fit into American life and culture. While she is able to afford the dress, it is only an article of clothing, and she still has not been accepted into her new home.

The Colored Cow

In another scene, Vuong describes a field trip he took with his class as a young boy. The class went to a farm, and Vuong found it to be incredibly beautiful. After the class returned to school, their teacher asked them to color a picture of what they saw. Little Dog creatively used a variety of colors to express the radiance and beauty of what he encountered at the farm. When his teacher saw the drawing, however, he grew frustrated and angry and forced Little Dog to redo it in a more realistic manner. Later, Little Dog rescued his original attempt from the garbage can and gifted it to his mother. This incident is symbolic of the ways in which Little Dog's imagination is hindered and stifled throughout his young life, yet also of the ways in which he triumphs and combats against this control.