Nguyen’s book seems to be encouraging us to think a lot about the way we interpret motivation/ attribute people’s actions to their character. In general he seems to be pointing to a psychological bias (the fundamental attribution error) whereby people selectively attribute¬† a person’s actions to their character or circumstances based on the extent to which we understand/trust them. The list of oriental/occidental attributes presented in chapter 4 exemplifies this insofar as the out-group (orientals) are presumed to be culturally set in stone where as the occidental attributes are conditional, framed with words like “occasionally,” “somewhat,” and “once in a while.” The occidental in group is given much more freedom to be influenced by its circumstances whereas the out-group is characterized directly.

In order to subvert this bias, Nguyen places his narrator in a position where he literally sympathizes (or empathizes) with people on either side of the Vietnamese civil war such that he attributes the actions of everyone involved to their circumstances. Even ideology is framed as circumstantial when he discusses his three childhood friends¬† and how they ended up divided by the conflict. So why shape the main character as a sympathetic reader of character and motivation who doesn’t attribute people’s actions to their character? Perhaps we can attribute his predisposition to understanding and sympathy as a natural out-growth of the dual-life he lives, at the very least we can be certain that Nguyen wants us to see how someone incapable of cleanly siding with one group over another has greater occasion to be sympathetic¬† in a way that those divided by conflict can not be.