Identity and Race in The Sympathizer

Identity and Race in The Sympathizer

“Was five thousand dollars the worth of my miserable life? Admittedly it was a considerable amount, more than I had ever seen at any one time. That was what they were counting on, but even in my dazed state, I knew better than to settle for the first offer. (…)

But as you may know, or maybe you do not (…) an Asian—here I paused and allowed a faraway look to come into my eyes, the better to give them time to imagine the vast genealogical banyan tree extending above me, overshadowing me with the oppressive weight of generations come to root on the top of my head—an Asian cannot think just about himself.

So I’ve heard, said the representative. The family is everything. Like us Italians.” (201)

The passage above is a satirical twist of universal (but not unhealthy) greed and askew racial prejudice. Unlike just pointing out that some prejudice might not be so accurate, Viet Thanh Nguyen allocates the protagonist to take advantage of the prejudice to fulfill a universal desire for money. Here, the protagonist’s identity is characterized as an unfortunate yet agile figure that takes advantage even of an accident that could have led to his possible death. The farcical irony in this passage is that although the corporate agent identifies the protagonist with an Asian stereotype, in fact they share not only the same desire for more money either earned or saved, but also their familiarity to their extended family members. Here, racial stereotype is employed in the identification, while the readers notice that the two are mostly same in human traits.

1 Comment

  1. The elements of farce had me cracking up when I first read this passage. While he’s trying to connect to the representative pointing out what is shared both between stereotypes and cultures of family and responsibility, he does so by attempting to invoke as stereotypical an image as possible that the representative might not have even thought. The narrator deliberately expresses a faraway gaze, and from that we are supposed to assume that the representative pictures “the vast genealogical banyan tree extending above me, overshadowing me with the oppressive weight of generations come to root on the top of my head”? It almost feels like a double inversion, they both have things in common such as greed and familial obligations, but they project these stereotypes onto each other without knowing if they actually share these things in common, but the projection lies on both the representative and the narrator actively trying to create these stereotypical projections of themselves, both in the banyan tree comment and in the Italian comment. They both assume the other will try to take advantage of the situation due to racial stereotypes, and their solution is to actively make them think of racial stereotypes, even if neither of them would have made the original assumption in the first place.

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