Paradise of the Blind

by Duong Thu Huong, Thu Huong Duong

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In Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong, what religious beliefs dominate the culture and appear in the text?

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In Paradise of the Blind, the dominant religious beliefs of the Vietnamese culture presented involve Confucianism and center upon the character of Hang in the text.  There are many ways these religious considerations of culture appear, but the two main examples are the Confucian honor of male family members and the use of food as a main method of honor.

In regards to the Confucian honor of the males in the family, the characters of Tam and Hang’s mother are quite important.  Tam can be seen honoring her brothers through many gifts (such as currency, clothes, and food).  Similarly, Hang’s mother sacrifices many things for the least deserving (albeit male) members of the family:  her brother and her nephews.  Among the things Hang’s mother gives up are her food, her money, a much-needed roof, her health, and even Hang’s education.  In doing this, Hang’s mother adheres to Confucianism, but neglects other important aspects of the family.

As you can see (even in the examples of male honor above), food often takes precedence when displaying Confucian honor.  There is an introduction written by Nina McPherson that denotes the importance of food in Confucianism:

The Vietnamese reverence for food … is a recurrent theme in Duong Thu Huong’s writing. In predominantly rural cultures like Vietnam, food is often a powerful form of human expression, a currency that, like money, is used to quantify one’s love, respect, or even hatred for another human being.

The amount of food found within this novel is extraordinary (and provides ample evidence of Confucianism).  Every single event calls for special food preparation.  The amount of honor is determined by the amount of food (and the rarity of the items within the dishes).  There are so many dishes that the novel calls for a glossary of Vietnamese terms.  There are many examples.  First, note the vast array of dishes Hang’s mother takes to her brother.  Hang, as a female, goes without.  Also, look at the food Aunt Tam prepares for Hang.  Despite what happens in Vietnam in regards to government and politics, the food perseveres.

In conclusion, one must realize that the character of Hang’s corrupt uncle is also important because he represents the fall of Confucian tradition.  It is through observation of her uncle that Hang realizes that she cannot be fulfilled through Confucianism alone.  Confucian loyalties to the males in the family are unable to fulfill Hang.  In this way, Hang learns to become independent.

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The dominant religious belief system in the novel is Confucianism. There are other religious belief systems mentioned in passing, but Confucianism has by far the largest effect on the characters of the novel. In fact, one could make the argument that it is the biggest catalyst for change with regards to the main character, a young woman named Hang.

The religious considerations of the culture are seen in nearly every part of the text. The Vietnamese society depicted within the novel is heavily influenced by the teachings of Confucianism. This is seen most powerfully within the novel as the imposition of traditional gender roles on the female characters. Women are supposed to be nothing more than wives and mothers, while men work and run politics.

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