Focalization and Memory of the Self

The indivisibility of the internal monologue from the external dialogue throughout The Sympathizer, and the relationship of that stylistic choice to the genre of the (then judged inadequate) confession, appears to highlight how strongly focalized to an individual the experience of being a character can be. A quotation mark implies exactitude, perfect recall of both oneself’s and another’s words. Their lack functions as a hint to the later outright acknowledgment that “Yes, memory was sticky” and the entire concept of memory’s fallibility. In a way, it depicts words and internal monologue as an individual often experiences them in retrospect—all in a jumble, not neatly recorded and written out by who said them. The narrator’s “resistance” or his inability to grasp at first that his confessional could be judged as not confessional enough reflects that jumble, in which an individual’s assessment of what is important in a personal narrative does not conform to any objective measure. The confession is not an archival record, because neither, of course, is memory. Nor is an individual character’s collection of traits, attitudes, etc. I think that the consequence of this mixture of intensely focalized but subjective memory is that strong individual focalization does not translate to an accurate view of the self, let alone of other characters. Experience of the self, sadly enough, does not lead to self-knowledge.


  1. You mentioned how the text was strongly focalized on one single character, and this reminded me of how hard I felt to find the shifts in focalization in the text because the other characters’ perspectives or thoughts were presented by the sympathizer, and so one could argue that in these instances the focalizer was still the sympathizer. Your post offered a new insight that even when other characters were speaking, the focalizer was still the sympathizer since the conversations were memories of the sympathizer, and it was the sympathizer who was perceiving all the events. Then the younger sympathizer’s response to the events was also the older sympathizer’s perception of what he thought at that time, and at these moments when it was the older sympathizer perceiving how he perceived the events, who was the focalizer? The production of the perception required the younger sympathizer’s process of contemporary information and the older’s process of the process. Their perception both contributed, and so I feel that it is impossible to determine the exact focalizer, and I can only say the focalizer was the sympathizer.

  2. I really enjoyed this post and your thoughts on the intense focalization within The Sympathizer, particularly your thought that experience of the self does not necessarily correlate to self-knowledge. This got me thinking a lot about the narrator’s belief that immigrants are “deeply familiar with the nature, nuances, and internal differences of white people” (258), and use this knowledge to present a self that is pleasing to the typical American. In this way, it seems that an individual’s focalization is often shaped through both subject memory (as you stated) as well as an understanding of what is expected of them. In this way, experiences are even less reliable, as they cannot possibly reveal a true, accurate view of character and their interiority.

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