Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Even in translation, Nhât’s concise but ample prose style is still evident. He conveys the local flavor through vivid and vibrant descriptions of urban life in war-torn towns and cities of Vietnam during the early 1960’s. The author favors descriptions of everyday, banal sights and activities, such as beggars eating filthy rice and Old Pham’s penchant for rice alcohol with dry shrimps, not to mention his dwindling monetary flow because of that penchant. These details are banal and mundane; however, because they are part of the fabric of Vietnamese life and unfamiliar to Western readers, they may seem exotic. These details are one of the salient features that produce the overall effect of the local and ethnic milieu of “An Unsound Sleep.”

As demonstrated by his portrayal of the lowest class of people in war-torn Vietnam, the author’s sympathies lie with the common person. His choice of subject is a literary convention or technique used to deliver a larger message that the poor and unrepresented are being trampled on by the government, the well-to-do, and the privileged.

Old Pham and his daughter are character types that represent their socioeconomic class and the proletariat. The old man and his daughter are not unique and important as individuals but as representatives, as stand-ins, for the masses. The author uses these character types in order to convey his critical view of the political suppression of the Buddhist demonstrations. The reader can see that Nhât is much more sympathetic with the politics of North Vietnam than with the supposedly democratic South Vietnam.

Nhât uses a basic literary convention of a simple family, socioeconomic class, political struggle, and locality to create a profile sketch of the overall sentiment and popular discontentment of the time in a country fighting a civil war.