Novel Without a Name

by Thu Huong Duong

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In Novel Without a Name, what is the possible symbolism of the tiger?

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Novel Without a Name was published in 1991 by Vietnamese author and political dissident Dương Thu Hương. The novel explores the horrors of the Vietnam war from the perspective of Quan, a Vietnamese platoon commander.

This novel spares its readers much of the gore of war, with violence often taking place off the page, behind the scenes. The reader learns of the tiger attack referenced in the question after the fact, which provides narrative distance from the incident of a tiger gnawing a sick soldier to death. The risk of attack by tigers shows the danger of trying to survive as a Vietnamese soldier. Along with tigers, malaria and dysentery and fights among comrades make time between battles almost as perilous as actual combat. In this way, the tiger could symbolize risks the Vietnamese people faced from within the country. Dương’s narrative does not even come face to face with “Charlie” or American soldiers. There is only one American seen in the novel, and this person seems to be a journalist, not a soldier. The American enemy remains unseen while soldiers face the very real “native” threats of disease, beasts, and each other.

Additionally, the tiger holds a symbolic place in Vietnamese culture. Tigers are associated with Mother Goddess worship. Thought to be the lord of the forest, the tiger is also a symbol of power and is both feared and revered. The tiger is also among the official state animals of Vietnam, further adding to its possible symbolism as a threat from within the country.

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