Identity through confession

After the narrator realizes that the faceless commissar is Man and so undergoes the “final revision” (336) of his confession, the narrative abruptly shifts from the first person to what seems to be the third person omniscent. It is unclear whether the narrator (what we have, until now, called the protagonist) is still really the narrator, as the narrative suddenly refers to him as “the prisoner” and “the patient.” (339) It seems as though he is not, especially since the novel had been framed as a confession to the Commandant, but we know that the narrator has already submitted his confession to him and that the confession had been rejected. We learn that “later, sometime in the bright future, the commissar would play the patient a tape recording of his answer [to the question about the female communist agent], though he had no memory of the tape recorder’s presence,” (349) which seems to further indicate that the narrator is no longer in charge of the narrative. However, we shift back to the first person, from the perspective of the narrator, over the course of his confession of the gang rape. Especially after our discussion of the Foucaultian concept of confession in class on Monday, I think that this strange break in the interiority of the narrator reflects the gap between the loss of his previous identity, as someone who did not witness the gang rape, and the construction of his new identity, as someone who does remember participating in the incident. It is through the confession that he realizes and regains his sense of interiority. The confession is now not for the benefit of the Commandant, but rather for himself, as a method to come to terms with his self and his memories.


  1. Perhaps it is not a regaining of his sense of interiority in an intentionally singular fashion. While I think what you have said is compelling, and I would easily agree with it, the narrative does return to our protagonist, but he now refers to himself as though e was made of two, or more, entities. This might speak to the idea of interiority being formed in relation to society. Up to a certain point, his confession had been about the West, but with this narrative shift, we see a completely different face, as if we are seeing a confession not to a Commandant or a Commissar, but to a Congressman, or whatever would be the appropriate political equivalent.

  2. I agree with the comment above that the interior regained by the narrator is not singular because how he refers to himself as a plurality in the end. I had wondered in my post whether this plurality indicates him subsuming a collective within himself or if it is him being subsumed by a collective. The first would have the implication that he accepts the many sides of himself to now include the external larger culture (flavors of this earlier in one of his expositions of the refugee experience in America and shared Vietnamese identity). The other would suggest a more drastic degree of plurality that involves being consumed by the collective but accepting it (the narrator seems to accept duality and multiplicity in the end). Either ways, his identity has undergone a major shift through the splitting process of the torture, which I think goes beyond one who did not witness the sexual assault and one who remembers having done so.

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