In the novel Paradise of the Blind by Duong Thu Huong,the shifts in the government, cultural, and social factors in Vietnam under the implementation of communism are illustrated through the use of symbols, such as sticky rice.In the beginning of the novel, Vietnam is consumed with cultural values and solid family structures, but these values and families are soon destroyed as communism takes over the country.This instance is illustrated throughout the novel by the comparison of sticky rice to communism, cultural values, and family structure. Therefore, Huong uses the preparation of sticky rice as an analogy to the functioning of a communist government system.
The instance of preparing sticky rice is used to illustrate the hardships of the implementation of communism. In the novel, Aunt Tam was in the process of preparing sticky rice for a celebration and stated, “‘It’s not easy to make sticky rice with rose apple'” (Huong 150). This excerpt explicitly demonstrates the idea that the preparation of sticky rice is difficult, which is representative of the difficulties that derive from the implementation of communism. Although the preparation of sticky rice may be a challenging endeavor, the taste of “‘a sticky rice flavored with rose-apple juice…is exquisite'” (150). This portion of text illustrates the idea that the thought of rose-apple sticky rice seems great, but the difficulty of preparing such a delicate dish is much greater, which relates to the idea of instilling a communist government system. In theory, communism is an efficient and effective system, but to achieve success with this system in reality, the execution of the implementation of communism must be done perfectly. The implementation of this system is difficult because since the communist system advocates for a sense of equality and collectivism, each person must be treated the same, which is hard to accomplish. This concept is further supported by the fact that “after the rice is cleaned, it has to be dried with a hand towel, grain by grain if necessary” (150). The act of drying each grain of rice separately is a tedious task, and exemplifies the complications that evolve from striving to create a society based on equality. Each grain of rice is a representation of an individual in Vietnam, while the dish of rose apple sticky rice as a whole represents the country of Vietnam. In Vietnam, the population is too large for communist leaders and officials to ensure that each individual receives the same amount of a certain resource needed for survival, which immediately diminishes the idea of collectivism, yet strengthens the concept of individualism. The provision of resources, which were to be distributed equally throughout the country was depicted during the time of the Land Reforms. When the government took over, they wanted the citizens to encourage the idea of going “‘Down with the landowning classes'” (25). By bringing down the landowning classes, essentially everyone would be equal. The redistribution of land allowed everyone to receive an equivalent amount of resources, yet when the land was given back to the original owners, during the Rectification of Errors, it “‘looked like a neglected grave'” because the “land reform had ripped through the village like squall, devastating fields and rice paddies, sowing only chaos and misery” (77 & 33). These land owners had to rework the land to get it back to its original state, which was an exceptionally challenging task. Due to this, “each grain of rice was weighed like a pearl” (196). Since pearls are a symbol of wealth and rarity, this excerpt exemplifies the idea that the rice was not easily obtainable after the redistribution of the land. This illustrates the idea that the inefficiencies accompanied by the ideologies of communism hindered society because the citizens that were given land to cultivate were not properly educated on the process of farming rice. Thus, during the process of creating a sense of equality, the communist system hindered the society. Therefore, the preparation of sticky rice is used to represent the result of a flawed communist system.
The steam created during the preparation of the sticky rice is a symbol of information. During the cooking of the rice, even if there is “‘the slightest excess of steam, the rice loses all of its flavor'” (150). This quote is a representation of a failed communist system. The fact that the rice lost “all of its flavor” illustrates the inefficiencies of the system, due the incorrect implementation and the impossibility of creating a sense of perfect equality. The presence of excess steam, which ruins the rice, illustrates the result of corruption overpowering the communist government system, causing it to fail. This corruption is shown while Hang visited Uncle Chinh, a Communist Party functionary who claimed to be ill, she realized that he only needed her help in “‘preparing his trunks of imported goods,'” which to be sold on the black market (219). The fact that Chinh and other members of the Communist Party use official visits to Russia to make money by trading luxury goods on the black market illustrates the abuse of power,hidden within this government system.The hypocrisy of this becomes apparent while Chinh hectors his colleagues, telling them they ‘”must behave in an absolutely exemplary manner while [they] are in this brother country'” (171). This is a hypocritical statement because although he reminds his colleagues of their mannerisms, he uses government funding to participate in the black market. This facade of nobility and trustworthiness deceives the public, and further fuels their corrupt nature.Also, the act of Chinh manipulating Hang into visiting him to work for him,leads to the idea that the steam also symbolizes the amount information given to the public by the communist leaders. These leaders must give off the right amount of information, in order to control the public. If the public is given too much information, the public could disagree and decide to overthrow the system, which is illustrated by the idea that when “‘you mix [rice] with the rose-apple juice, the grains mustn’t clump together'” (150). This excerpt demonstrates the concept that when the communist government system is being introduced to the Vietnamese people, they must be cautious of rebellious individuals who could create a united front to overthrow the system. Thus, excessive corruption and giving off too much information would cause communism to lose its effectiveness and structure, just as the excess of steam would cause the rice to lose its flavor and consistency.
The symbol of sticky rice is used to represent the Vietnamese culture and family structure during the implementation of communism. With the preparation of sticky rice, even “‘the slightest excess of steam, the rice loses all of its flavor'” (150). This excerpt can also be interpreted to symbolize the loss of culture and family structure during the reign of communism. During this time, the Vietnamese people could not uphold their culture and traditions as a result of their preoccupation of surviving the harsh conditions that were now present due to the repercussions of the Land Reforms. Before the utilization of communism, most of the Vietnamese people “never missed a festival day,” which illustrates the idea of a resilient sense of cultural values (78). After the enactment of the communist government system, the “festivals, the ceremonies, even Tet…didn’t exist” (78). These passages depict the progression of the Vietnamese citizens neglecting tradition. The family structure was also negatively affected by communism, which was also due to the struggle to survive during communism. Later in the novel, Hang’smother,Que,”had kicked [her] out” and abandoned her (172). Que abandoning Hang symbolizes the destruction of family structure, which is seen throughout the progression of the plot. While food was scarce,Que gave her provisions to Chinh“‘he’s all the family I have left’” (111).Que scavenges for food for her brother, even though she and her daughter have nothing. Ina reiteration of the relationship between Hang and her mom, she states “‘I sought her love, while she sought recognition from the Do family’”(137).By placing such an emphasis on other people, rather than Hang, the author is implying that in difficult situations, individuals tend to search for something better. The act of giving Chinh food and trying to gain acceptance into the Do family exemplifies the idea of trying to maintain and rebuild a sense family.Therefore, the steam also aids in the understanding of the loss of people’s cultural values and family structure during the devastation and destruction of their failing government.
The preparation of sticky rice is used to illustrate the functioning of a communist government system.As the plot progresses, the deterioration of Vietnam occurs, due to the implementation of a flawed communist government system.Thus, throughout the novel, rice is used to portray different aspects of life, such as family structure, cultural values, and Vietnam as a whole, under communism.