Throughout The Sympathizer, the narrator categorizes himself based on the groups he defines himself to be a part of. On 186, Nguyen writes “My eyes welled up with tears as they raised their glasses to me, a fellow Vietnamese who was, despite everything, like them.” The concept of being ‘like them despite everything’ seems a paradox – if the narrator defines himself as an individual based on his differences from the stereotype of the rest of the community, how can he remain part of that community? Being ‘like them’ therefore has to be defined from an outside perspective, and implies an external sorting force that is independent of the narrator. In this way we see that the act of sorting himself can tie in to the narrator looking back and retelling his own life – the external force necessitated by the act of sorting tells us something about the narrator at the end of the tale, and the changes between the narrator in the story and the future narrator telling it.
Much of this book centers around social pariahs, predominantly through the story of Pecola Breedlove, and the process by which their society casts them aside. Parallel to this process of not belonging, the author accentuates a hierarchy of personhood based upon another type of “belonging” – physical possessions and characters’ relations to them. Claudia maps out the social hierarchy determined by characters’ relations to property on pages 17-18, when she notes how Cholly Breedlove has propelled his family from the periphery of “renting blacks” into the wretched state of “outdoors.” When a character finds themselves “outdoors,” as Pecola does in this section, they are devoid of all possessions.
Some objects, illustrated in the case of Claudia and her doll, or the Breedlove’s sofa, are imposed upon characters involuntarily, standing as metaphors for the oppressive social restraints they endure. Whereas Claudia reacts to her doll with anger and destruction, though, rejecting its presence, the Breedloves simply seem to harbor an internalized resentment towards their furniture, but nonetheless accept it.
Later in the narrative, Morrison uses the term “belonging” to describe the ugliness that dominates the Breedlove household. She visualizes the ugliness contagion that originates from Cholly as a type of garment which each member of the family wears distinctly (39). Pecola comes to truly believe that the ugliness belongs to her, and like her family does the sofa, accepts her ugliness as a fact of her existence. Though she has brief moments wherein she expresses a sense of ownership and projects beauty, Pecola mainly sees her “ugliness” as a contaminant, and thus casts aside her beautiful dandelions as weeds (48). This action of discarding foreshadows the physical and spiritual destitution of Pecola’s character – as a result of constant rejection, she ultimately renders herself “outdoors,” unworthy of both belongings and belonging.
One of the things that struck me in the opening chapters of Fun Home was Alison’s sense of her community and her place in the various communities she describes. We get descriptions mainly of Alison’s interactions with two communities – the family community that she was born into and struggles to navigate, and the queer community which she discovers in college. The intersection of these two communities was quite interesting to me, particularly as Alison struggles to reconcile her father’s sexuality with her own experience of sexuality. For Alison, joining (at least for one meeting) the Gay Union at school is a method of declaring her sexuality both to herself and to her community, and when she leaves she feels “exhilarated.” Alison’s discovery of her sexuality through books, these meetings, and her relationship with Joan serves the function of a kind of coming of age narrative within the novel, but this arc is complicated by her relationship with her family. Alison describes her declaration of her sexuality to her family as overshadowed by the news of her father’s affairs with young men, claiming that she had been “upstaged, demoted in [her] own drama to comic relief in [her] parents’ tragedy” (58). Alison seems to resent her father for this, but at the same time, it helps her to make sense of her relationship with him and her role within the family. Alison seems to find some sort of comfort in labeling herself as the “butch” to her father’s “nelly” (15), and this is further exemplified as Alison ponders whether her coming out could have influenced her father’s suicide. She writes that she is “reluctant to let go of that last, tenuous bond,” (86) implying that some part of her wants to have influenced her father’s death. Having grown up with such an estranged, complex relationship with her father, and with her own sexuality, the intersection of these two narratives seems to provide a sense of belonging and comfort for Alison, even though these personal