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.
As the narrator of The Sympathizer recalls when he studied in America, he particularly remembers the experience of reading the line by Emerson that “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” (12) He concentrates on this sentence as describing both America and Vietnam, “where we are nothing if not inconsistent,” (12) but it is also interesting to consider in relation to the broader theme of inconsistency within the novel. The narrator immediately introduces himself as a “man of two faces [and] perhaps not surprisingly … a man of two minds … able to see any issue from both sides.” (1) Both his external (two faces) and internal (two minds) identities are deeply and inherently inconsistent, as a half-French and half-Vietnamese man who must grapple with his roles as immigrant and undercover communist agent, and so it is as though his identity is constituted by its absence. He is defined through his inconsistency — to the extent he is not American or Vietnamese, immigrant or political operative, and instead somewhere in the middle — which is interesting to consider in relation to what we have discussed in regards to fictional characters having consistent interiority and moral codes. The Sympathizer reveals that humans do not have to be consistent, in the sense that our identities depend on more than our stable qualities and motivations. We have the ability to “sympathize” with many different people and ways of thinking — and it is through this process of defining ourselves against others that we fully realize our own identities. How we understand fictional characters then relies on more than how they are constructed as individuals, but to the extent that they are defined in relation to others.
While Bluest Eye is seriously concerned with how gender, race, and class can effect a the self-esteem of someone in Pecola’s situation, it also depicts a parallel process whereby she becomes a foil for other people’s self-esteem. Indeed, we can read self esteem as an interpretation of one’s own desirability (or ugliness as Pecola sees it) as mediated through their social, or in this case, narrative world. During one of the narrator’s few moments of earnest self-reflection she says, “We honed our egos on her, padded our characters with her frailty, and yawned in the fantasy of our strength” (205). Morrison makes this interplay of desire among social relations a focus of her narrative but I think it’s fair to say that this matrix of status, desire, and esteem can be identified in most of the novels we have read. Even if characters do not expressly orient themselves towards one another as Claudia and Freda do, we can determine their politics of desire from how they are individually characterized and how they interact as and towards each other’s characters. In the afterward, Morrsion tells us her process began with Pecola and then she added friends to build the world around her and this shows in the novel’s relatively hands off (or outside in) perspective which simultaneously characterizes several narrators, their desires, and their relationships and develops Pecola’s through interplay and description mediated by these character’s relationships.
This memoir seems to be literally colored through her father’s influence, as the color is either a blue in the shade or some blue and yellow combo that favors the blue, reminiscent of when the yellow carriage was being colored in, as her father intervened and, preventing it from becoming a blue carriage, turning it ‘back’ into a yellow carriage. If color is so important, what does it mean when black silhouettes take the stage at important moments? For example, the last panel of chapter five on page 150, we are told what colors the sunset had (certainly not the ever present shaded blue/blue-green) but at this moment, the two are black silhouettes as if preventing their different colors from intervening in the scene, making this lack of color seem like abject truth. But then in the middle panel on page 203, as we again rehash the visit to the bookstore (following the Ouroboros-like nature of this memoir), it seems like Roy’s black silhouette stands in the background, only to disappear in the next panel as if he was never actually there. Perhaps here the silhouette stands to show the truth of her father’s influence on her, and while this claim might be supported by a similar phenomenon of her brother fleeing a man reminiscent of her father on page 193, and perhaps Roy, and no her father, appears because the parallel between the influence is more appropriate, but while I like this claim, I admit it struggles because Roy, and not her father, appears here.