On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Characters

The main characters in On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous are Little Dog, Rose, Lan, Paul, and Trevor.

  • Little Dog: The narrator, Little Dog, is a gay Vietnamese American writer in his late twenties. He tells his story in the form of a letter to his mother. 
  • Rose: Rose, Little Dog's mother, suffers from PTSD. Though she abused her son when he was a child, Little Dog harbors no bitterness toward her.
  • Lan: Lan is Little Dog's loving maternal grandmother; she eventually dies of cancer.
  • Paul: Paul, a white American man, is Lan's estranged husband; Little Dog regards him as his grandfather. 
  • Trevor: Trevor and Little Dog fall in love as teenagers. When he is twenty-two, Trevor dies of an overdose.


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Last Updated on November 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4155

Little Dog

“Twenty-eight years old, 5ft 4in tall, 112lbs . . . handsome at exactly three angles and deadly from everywhere else,” Little Dog is a queer-identifying Vietnamese American writer who emigrated to Hartford, Connecticut, as a small child with his extended family. The strange beauty of the name “Little Dog” is soon explained, giving readers access to the history of his flawed yet loving family and Little Dog’s rich, complex heritage.

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What made a woman who named herself and her daughter after flowers call her grandson a dog? A woman who watches out for her own, that’s who. As you know, in the village where Lan grew up, a child, often the smallest or weakest of the flock, as I was, is named after the most despicable things: demon, ghost child, pig snout, monkey-born, buffalohead, bastard—little dog being the more tender one. Because evil spirits, roaming the land for healthy, beautiful children, would hear the name of something hideous and ghastly being called in for supper and pass over the house, sparing the child. To love something, then, is to name it after something so worthless it might be left untouched—and alive. A name, thin as air, can also be a shield. A Little Dog shield.

As exemplified in his account of his name, Little Dog’s narration reveals both his tender sense of humor and his clear-eyed, unflinching compassion for those around him. In Little Dog’s voice, all the people he loves come vividly alive for the reader. Flitting between his earliest memories and his present life as a nearly thirty-year-old man, Little Dog’s story is one of speaking the true self despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles. As the epistolary novel—composed as both love letter and confession to his mother—unfolds, we learn two truths about Little Dog’s upbringing: that his mother, who escaped to America during the horrors of the Vietnam War, suffers from extreme post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and that it is Little Dog himself who often serves as both target and vent for his mother’s unmitigated rage.

The first time you hit me, I must have been four. A hand, a flash, a reckoning. My mouth a blaze of touch. . . . Then the time with the remote control. A bruised welt on my forearm I would lie about to my teachers. “I fell playing tag.” . . . The time you threw the box of Legos at my head. The hardwood dotted with blood.

Despite his mother’s physical abuse, which lasted till Little Dog was thirteen, the narrator’s tone toward his mother is not bitter. This is because Little Dog knows his mother’s backstory: to know his family’s history is an act both of survival and mercy for Little Dog. Through shared memories, Little Dog lives through his family's reality and takes forward his own. Shared memory and stories become a way for Little Dog to stay alive.

A diminutive, quiet boy, Little Dog is often subject to bullying because of his skin color and sexual orientation. Even though Little Dog himself does not understand he is gay till he is fourteen, the bullies in his school and...

(The entire section contains 4155 words.)

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