Paradise of the Blind

by Duong Thu Huong, Thu Huong Duong

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Student Question

What do the train ride and Uncle Chinh's apartment symbolize in Paradise of the Blind?

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The train ride in the novel symbolizes the course of Hang's life, which has been characterized by travel of one kind or another.

As Hang travels across Russia by train on the way to Moscow, she reminisces about a similar journey she had made to Kyiv a while back. In turn, this prompts Hang to tell the next stage of her story. So here we have a trip to Moscow that reminds Hang of a trip to Kyiv, which in turn inspires her to tell the story of her mother's journey to Hanoi.

Life is a journey, they say, but for Hang and her mother, Que, much of their lives have literally been taken up with one kind of journey or another. Both find themselves uprooted from their homes for various reasons and must somehow adapt to new surroundings, whether it's Hanoi for Que or the Soviet Union for Hang. Their attempts at adapting themselves to the many sudden changes in their lives also constitute a kind of a journey, a voyage of self-discovery.

Uncle Chinh's apartment in Moscow symbolizes the privileged life enjoyed by the Communist elite, both in the USSR and Vietnam. Communists are supposed to believe in equality, yet due to high-level corruption, they get to live the kind of luxurious lifestyle that the masses can only dream about.

As for Communal Residence K, it symbolizes the kind of existence that most people in Vietnam are now forced to lead. Whereas high-level Communist functionaries like Uncle Chinh get to live the high life, the ordinary folk, the peasants, must live in communal squalor along with their neighbors. This settlement represents the warped ideal of equality that the Communists have imposed upon Vietnam: everyone is equal, but equally poor. Except for those in positions of power, of course.

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