Dialogue in The Sympathizer

I found the construction of dialogue in The Sympathizer very interesting because it doesn’t follow the traditional conventions of dialogue. Dialogue does not stand out from the rest of the text, as it usually does in novels. It is not blocked off by line breaks or by quotations; it blends in with the rest of the text and with the dialogue of other characters. It’s interesting and sometimes confusing because you’re not quite sure when someone is done speaking and when the narrator picks up again. This forces you to figure out who is speaking based on what is said. For example, on page 8 there is a conversation between Claude, the General, and the narrator in which the General is interrupted by Claude: “So– the General began, only to have Claude interrupt him. You have one plane and you should consider yourself lucky, sir.”  Sometimes when I’m reading, I pay more attention to the text in the quotes than phrases of “he/she said to him/her.” This novel makes you pay attention to both equally.

I think this blending of the dialogue with the rest of the text goes along with the characterization of the narrator. Who he is to most of the characters is just his attempt to blend in, to not suspicion. He Americanizes himself by not only shedding his Vietnamese accent but also by being able to talk about the things that Americans talks about: “Some of my countrymen spoke English as well as I, although most had a tinge of an accent. But almost none could discuss, like I, baseball standings, the awfulness of Jane Fonda, or the merits of the Rolling Stones versus the Beatles. If an American closed his eyes to hear me speak, he would think I was one of his kind” (7). Similarly, if while you’re reading this novel you don’t pay enough attention, you might think that the dialogue is the narrator speaking and get lost.

1 Comment

  1. I was also struck by the representation of dialogue in the text, and the parallel you make between the “blending” of characters’ voices and the desire of the narrator to blend in with those around him, whether as a double agent or as an immigrant, is really interesting. We talked in class about how the lack of quotation marks makes more sense in the context of the novel as a confession, in that all the conversations are only happening within the narrator’s memory. But after thinking more about discussion on the Foucaultian concept of confession and the Zunshine text, I think that the lack of dialogue markers could perhaps be a reflection of what the significance of dialogue is in the novel. The conversations are less important for what they reveal about the characters who are speaking, but rather how they frame the narrator and allow him (and us) to get a sense of his identity.

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