Humanities
Cuyamaca College The Danger of A Single Story TED Talk Analysis

Cuyamaca College

Question Description

Need help with my Literature question - I’m studying for my class.

“What I argue is that this is one episode in a century long history of American expansion that began in 1898, went through World War II, the Pacific, Korea, Vietnam, and now into Iraq and Afghanistan.” “The importance of a sense of shared suffering….it is the notion of being able to build an affinity with other people’s suffering and oppression and exploitation that is really the beginning of political consciousness and political alliances.” – Viet Thanh Nguyen, at Yale University “Curiously, though, so influential has been the discourse insisting on American specialness, altruism, and opportunity that imperialism as a word or ideology has turned up rarely and recently…but the connection between imperial politics and culture is astonishingly direct” (8) -Edward Said, Culture and Imperialism

The second section of our Multicultural Literature course has centered on American imperialism. The books we are reading tackle important ideas like sexual and imperial domination, shared suffering and the rise of political consciousness, the role of anger in chronicling American intervention, and the relationship between culture and imperialism. For this assignment, you will be asked to write a literary analysis paper, 4-5 pages long, Times New Roman, size 12 font, and double- spaced. You will be graded on clarity, content, focus, rhetoric, organization, and attention to all requirements of the assignment.

Prompt : talking about the sympathizer

A literary hero often goes through tremendous conflict and adversity, before ending with triumph or reward. The character trajectories in Brother, I’m Dying and The Sympathizer considerably complicate this kind of heroic trajectory. In Brother, I’m Dying, how does Uncle Joseph embody heroic qualities, and what kind of messages does Danticat convey by delineating this character’s trajectory over the course of the memoir? OR Alternatively, in The Sympathizer, how and why does the narrator establish and trace an alternative kind of psychological trajectory over the course of the novel?

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Final Answer

Attached.

The Sympathizer: A Complex Approach to Telling War Stories- Outline
Thesis Statement: Nguyen’s plot maintains an alternative hero’s journey as corroboration
for telling an alternative story of the Vietnam War.
I. Introduction
II. Alternative perspective
III. Ambiguity
IV. Complex story
V. Conclusion


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Professor
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The Sympathizer: A Complex Approach to Telling War Stories
The hero’s journey in many works of literature often follows a predictable path
starting with call to adventure, rise of action, climax where the hero is in tremendous
challenge and then triumph over challenges. This happy ending has been made a part of many
literature novels as a conventional feature of a ‘complete’ story. However, some stories are
not ‘complete’ and they arouse critical thinking and engagement with the hero’s journey to
produce an informed understanding of the main themes. One such story is Viet Thanh
Nguyen’s The Sympathizer that tells the story of the Vietnam War. Nguyen’s plot maintains
an alternative hero’s journey as corroboration for telling an alternative story of the Vietnam
War.
One of the basic reasons Nguyen uses this alternative approach to narration is because
he tells an alternative story of the Vietnam War and hence his novel is removed from the
conventional narratives of the war. It is crucial to understand that the primary audience of the
book, Americans, have likely been exposed to the dominant American perspective of the war.
However, the narrator makes it clear that he brings a different perspective by identifying as “a
spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces…simply able to see any issue from both sides”
(Nguyen 1). This early affirmation of the dual identity of the narrator introduces the readers
to an alternative perspective on the war. The alternative hero’s journey, therefore, is in line
with the alternative perspective of the narrator who also is the ‘hero’ of the book.
Moreover, Nguyen’s choice to follow an alternative narrative is evidence of his
resistance against the imperialism of the United States by availing alternative view on the war

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which has been Americanized. Nguyen’s approach seeks to return the power of storytelling to
the people most afflicted by the war by placing them in the middle of the action and the
narration. Part of imperialism is in dominating the literature and stories of a people in a bid to
tell a story that favors the imperialist. Essentially, America tells the story of other countries
and hence thrives in presenting itself in a favourable manner. For instance, Nguyen points out
that “they [Americans] pretend they are eternally innocent no matter how many times they
lose their innocence. The problem is that those who insist on their innocence believe anything
they do is just” (190). This quote is an analysis of the approach of imperialism which can
also be found in storytelling. Therefore, Nguyen aimed to challenge this approach by
presenting an alternative perspective. This perspective of the Vietnamese narrator and
participants is affirmed in non-adherence to conventional hero’s trajectory in Western
storytelling.
The adverse effects of imperialism are further seen in the Vietnamese characters who
are unnamed. The failure to reveal the narrator’s name is a means of portraying his
Vietnamese identity and humanity as unimportant. Notably, other characters such as Bon and
Man are given names that are meaningless in their culture or identity. Similarly, the narrator
remains unidentified throughout the novel. This way, the author presents the role that
imperialism takes in dehumanizing the people it colonizes. By telling their story and twisting
it to their favour, the imperialists come across as corrupting the very nature of story-telling
for selfish means. Primarily, the careful use of names that do away with the unique identities
of the characters and keeping the narrator’s identity unrevealed, Nguyen maintains an
alternative approach to storytelling, one that exposes the flaws of imperialism. Generally,
Nguyen uses names as a tool for exposing the offensive nature of American Exceptionalism
as displayed through practices of imperialism such as the Vietnam War.

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Another aspect that the narrator uses to establish an alternative trajectory is by
maintaining ambiguity in their identity and intentions. The reader learns that the narrator
acted as a spy against the capitalists for the communists but also liked the ways of the
Americans. Chapter 18 of the novel exposes the narrator’s inability to produce a satisfactory
statement to the Communist government because he even quotes Western authors and
ideologies rather than politically-correct Communist ideologies. He resigns to his admiration
of the West by stating: “if I am to be condemned-if I am already condemned, as I suspectthen I will do no less than explain myself, in a style of my own choosing” (Nguyen 72). Here,
he acknowledges that his commandant may not like his confession because it seems to lean
on the Western cult...

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UT Austin

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