Thursday, May 20, 2010

An Inverse Relationship Between Mother and Daughter

So, I was struck by the quote on page 170 that says: "There is no escaping it, the fact of mother and child, as synchronous and inseparable as left and right, up and down, back and front, sun and moon."

It is really interesting to me because so far the relationship between Mai and her mother does not at all sound like this description. In fact, since the beginning of Mai's tale, there has been a disconnect between Mai and her mother. The disconnect associates Mai with the western world (aka America) and Thanh with the eastern world (aka Vietnam). There seems to be no bridge between the two and it only perpetuates this disconnect in their communication and understanding of each other. However, it does seem strange that Thanh talks about her journey being the same one as Mai's because upon a second glance Thanh's story is the story of Mai... only backwards! When Mai came to America, her assimilation was smooth and quick. However, four years later we find that the transition is flawed and incomplete. She begins to question her homeland and tries to find peace with her familial history. Thanh's transition was initially very difficult. She had a stroke, which made it even more impossible to assimilate creating a shadow of who she had been in Vietnam. However, after her rehabilitation from the stroke, she is beginning to piece together a new life and make a slow transition into America. This represents an inverse relationship between Mai and her mother, possibly the root of the disconnect we see between them!



  1. Interesting Comment. That particular quote stuck to me as well because that was not the connection that I had seen between Mai and her mother. This quote is important because it stressed the importance of their relationship. Although Mai is very different from her mother, Mai needs her mother. Ultimately I see Thanh's actions as a rebellion against this way of thinking. Her attempts to shield her daughter from the truth have brought out an unnatural relationship between them.

  2. You mention that the “transition is flawed and incomplete,” which I agree with mainly because it is flawed because Thanh becomes a burden for Mai and Baba Quan becomes a need in Mai’s life. Mai manages to adapt quickly and Thanh fails to adapt so completely that she kills herself in the end. This kind of sounds like Darwinism to me, maybe it is a hidden message that Lan Cao is trying to get across, survival of the fittest and all of that. Lan Cao is a lawyer after all and that field is quite competitive. Back to the point, I think that the disconnect between mother and daughter comes from the fact that Thanh just can’t seem to keep up with her daughter. Thanh sort of becomes a weight in Mai’s life that is holding her back. The sad thing is that towards the end of the novel it almost seems as if the two are finally on their way to reconciliation with everything, then Thanh goes and kills herself. If Thanh killed herself so that she no longer weighs Mai down then she was only successful on a surface level, sure Mai no longer has to worry about her mother’s “craziness” but she also no longer has the spiritual support a parent is supposed to provide.

  3. The tragic incident of the novel is the death of Thanh in the end, even though she feels its a traditional death. The catastrophe is that Mai's goal, aside from connecting with her homeland, is to save her mother. In a number of moments in the novel she claims she only desires to save her mother. Unfortunately this does not happen. This was a way that they could have connected and Mai never recieved that connect.

  4. That's an interesting connection to make with the way they have adapted to the assimilation. Personally, when I look at Mai and Thanh's relationship, I see the classic teenage daughter/mother relationship archetype. Even without the move and the war and everything that resulted in them being so disconnected form each other, I believe that the generation gap would ultimately lead them to feel like they don't know each other. There's that period in the teenage years where the teen doesn't know who they are and they begin to see everything in a different light, especially their parents. I think the relationship in this book is very much similar to that, just made a bit more complex by the war and exile.