Palatability in The Sympathizer

I was quite struck by the scene in The Sympathizer where the narrator meets with the Auteur, criticizing him for his portrayal of the screaming Vietnamese characters in his script. The narrator asks “would you like to hear how they scream?” and when the Auteur nods, he stands up, says “here’s what it sounds like,” but instead of physically screaming simply writes down an onomatopoeic representation of a scream (p 131). The scene sets up an expectation of an actual scream, and the Auteur seems nervous about this possibility (he is described as swallowing, Adam’s apple is bobbing). In considering what to make of this scene, where the narrator bravely stands up to the Auteur but finds himself unable to do so with the physical force of a raised voice, I was reminded of the list that the narrator makes earlier of his “oriental” and “occidental” qualities. The “oriental” category is full of descriptors such as “respectful of authority,” “worried about others’ opinions,” “usually quiet,” “always trying to please,” and “self-sacrificial.” As a half-French and half-Vietnamese immigrant, and as a double agent and political prisoner, the narrator is forced to navigate aggression and palatability in interesting ways. He is constantly performing, both conforming to and subverting other’s opinions of him, and given the style of the novel as a confession written to a specific interlocutor with control over the narrator’s fate, this calculus of the opinion of others seems inescapable.

1 Comment

  1. I agree that the scene reflects the conflict between the narrator’s “occidental” and “oriental” side, but the text never made it clear if the narrator actually screamed or not, since it was possible that the narrator screamed when he recalled the interrogation. I do not know if the vagueness revealed the crush of the two sides, probably he was worried about others’ opinions of him if he screamed, but his “occidental” side was carefree, and by suggesting the possibility of screaming and yet not confirming it, the protagonist reconciled his two sides. However, if the protagonist did not actually scream, and as you mentioned, the Auteur was expecting him to scream, it is reasonable for him to claim that throughout his life people wanted him to choose one side, since for the “occidental” it was weird for him to restrain himself during a confrontation, and for the “oriental” it was strange for him to start the confrontation at all. Thus neither of the sides would identify him with them because he was neither and both, and the middle ground that the protagonist landed on was unintelligible to either for they did not have to go through the process.

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