Write an analysis of how Chapters 8 and 9 explore the connection between culture, food and community The interdependent connection between culture, food and community is pivotal in the demonstration of the importance Vietnamese tradition in Paradise of the Blind. Chapters eight and nine focus on the importance of culture through family particularly evident in the way food acts as an expression of this culture. Food is also used to establish a sense of community, which is an important aspect in the Vietnamese culture.
Food is presented as a direct reflection of a person’s wealth in Vietnamese culture. Limited in other forms of power, women like Aunt Tam can rely on materialistic objects, such as food, in order to display their wealth and earn respect. This is evident as one of the guests at the feast exclaims, “What a pleasure this evening has been. A sumptuous meal followed by such spellbinding stories. This is a blessing from heaven.” The use of words with strongly positive connotations, such as “sumptuous” and “spellbinding” displays the great degree of appreciation and thus importance that food has on Vietnamese culture.
This idea is further emphasised with the reference to the Gods and ancestral beings through the use of the word “heaven”. Another example of food reflecting the idea of wealth is when another guest says, “A sticky rice flavoured with rose-apple juice! Why, it’s exquisite.” Aunt Tam responds to the compliment, “Oh please, will you stop it?” The use of the word “exquisite” again highlights the importance of food and its inherent effectiveness in delivering praise.
The way in which Aunt Tam replies, almost rehearsed and clichéd, suggests that there was an unspoken expectation of praise and therefore respect in the original intention of the feast. The undeniable connection between food and wealth reflects the material-focused culture of Vietnam.
Another idea that connects food to culture is the idea of the sacrifice, particularly in relation to food. Selflessness is a major part of Vietnamese culture and a certain amount of gratification can be achieved through sacrifice, which is shown in these chapters as sacrifice of food. Hang observes that Aunt Tam “ate almost nothing as if watching me gave her greater pleasure.” Aunt Tam’s sacrifice of her own wellbeing reflects the cultural idea that the strongest link between people is in family. Aunt Tam is willing, even happy to sacrifice her own well-being in order to cater for Hang.
This idea of sacrifice can also be linked to the cultural idea of worship and fate, whereby it is believed those who perform good deeds in the present will be rewarded in the future. This idea of selflessness has evidently also affected Hang as she says “I played the part of the successful niece… I smile dutifully at everyone. My lips stiffened into a permanent smile.” Although Hang is obviously uncomfortable, which can be seen through the use of words such as “dutifully” and “stiffened”, she continues to put on a façade of happiness to please her Aunt. This reinforces the cultural idea of the strength of familial ties as well as the importance of sacrifice in solidifying these relationships.
The practice of food preparation establishes a sense of community in the chapter. Food preparation appears to have a rehearsed, methodical quality which is evident in the line “The scene was lively but well-ordered as if all the feverish activity was directed by the iron hand of some invisible conductor.” The simile of the conductor draws a comparison of food preparation to an orchestra, thereby highlighting the importance of group collaboration. Furthermore, the juxtaposition of the “feverish activity” and its “well-ordered” nature suggests the idea of controlled chaos. Thus the great amount of activity that is required in the practice of food preparation can only be completed with the cooperation of each individual party.
Finally, the unchanging nature of culture is shown to cause conflict within Hang’s character as she is caught in her desire to become a modern woman and her family’s strong links to cultural traditions. Hang describes the countryside as “Everywhere, an indescribable backwardness hung in the air, immaterial yet terrifyingly present: It would be like this for eternity.” This line suggests not only in restrictive nature of culture but also shows how difficult it is to shake culture. The use of the phrase “terrifyingly present” highlights the inescapable nature of tradition and the strong bond to which each individual in the book is tied to their traditions.
The ideas of food, culture and community are explore in chapters eight and nine, particularly through the ideas of family relationships and its strong links to traditional Vietnamese culture.