Power and representation in the Sympathizer

Subject: American History
Type: Analytical Essay
Pages: 5
Word count: 1298
Topics: American Culture, Book, Vietnam War


The main focus of this academic essay is to discuss how storytelling and power are relevant in expressing the main ideas. The study is based on the book The Sympathizer by Viet T. Nguyen. Having won prestigious award for the masterpiece, the book has received a wide acclamation over its quality and its use of several literary techniques in presenting the story. Furthermore, several positive reviews have been made following the success of the book. For instance, the quality of the work through the use of different literary techniques has propelled it to being selected as the editor’s choice for the NY times magazine.

The main argument that is presented by this study is that The Sympathizer has made use of several features, which present a foundation for analyzing the relationship existing between representation and power as represented in the narrative.

Power and Representation in The Sympathizer

There are several techniques that all work in harmony to deliver the required effect that the author intended. For instance, several genres have been made use of in the book. Mystery, dark comedy, and war are some of the main ones that highlight the rich use of devices to deliver such a compelling narrative.

One of the most prominent aspects of storytelling that is featured in the book is the use of the first person’s voice to facilitate the narration. By presenting the voice to be that on an anonymous story teller, the author not only maintains suspense throughout the book, but also captures the readers’ attention. In the story, an unidentified narrator, who is consequently developed as a mole within the ranks of the South Vietnamese armed forces, is leading a life in exile within the United States. While in exile, the voice demonstrates that he is experienced and talented in the matters of film making. The narrator later goes back to Vietnam to help fight the communists (Nguyen 29).

Through the representation of the narrator as an entity that possesses duality in character, The Sympathizer manages to create an authoritative story telling atmosphere that demands attention from the audience. Furthermore, the fact that the persona is represented both as a mole and also as an immigrant in a foreign nation makes the book relevant both at national and international levels. The individual holds a power position while in this state, and continually updates his commanders of the progresses. The use of a mysterious narrator is important as it guides the audience though the opposing situations characteristic of the American way of life and the several aspects associated with the Vietnamese war. Also, the first person voice is brought into context of a mole who has finally been captured.

The book can also be described to present the views of the war form the perspective of the Vietnamese population. Furthermore, it calls to memory the actions that happened a few decades ago during the Vietnamese war, while providing an opportunity for the reader to view the war from a new angle. The level of detail used in the presentation of the narrative is also enough evidence to emphasize on the importance of extensive research into the issues addressed via story-telling method.

America and Vietnam are two countries that have had a history of engaging in a military conflict in the past. By presenting the case of a spy who lives a double life both as an American citizen, and a mole who thrives in a nation regarded as having lesser political powers and marked by hostility, The Sympathizer presents a classic example of literary warfare in action. Furthermore, the book also surpasses the historical boundaries in an attempt to shed light on some of the popular themes in the modern culture, such as the great rift between the western and the Eastern countries. The book does not fail to highlight some of the widespread misconceptions that exist between the two. In the novel, the Western community uses its intelligence to manipulate the minorities to bend to their will, while attaining their objectives in the process. Furthermore, a presentation of the tough choices that people may face when given only the opportunity to choose between two rights is given.

While the unidentified voice remains anonymous throughout the entire story, the impact made by him is permanent to the reader. A key reason for this phenomenon is the fact that one can easily be able to relate to his disposition. Furthermore, it is clearly shown that he is a man who needs to make sacrifices by going against his emotions and instead, sticking to his personal beliefs. The ability of Nguyen to successfully portray the anonymous character having dual personalities and still succeed in conveying the story shows the significance of first person when used in presentations (Powell 15).

Duality has largely added to the success of the presentation of the narrative. For instance, the other contradiction that marks the storyline is the fact that the protagonist is the unlawful son of a Vietnamese and a French priest. However, the storyteller indicates that he loves the mother while showing some sense of animosity toward his father. Hence, this is symbolic of the perceptions of the West by the members of the less powerful nations in the East. The other instance of this disparity is due to the fact that the protagonist received his education in the US, and learned the English language without the American accent. Hence, this shows how he, as a Vietnamese, is opposed to the socio cultural aspects of the Western countries.

The other important theme used in the narrative is betrayal. The author shows how strong relationships between human beings may always falter in the face of adversity. The protagonist is said to have several connections in his capacity as a mole. The narrator is later forced to take part in assassination missions so as to prove his loyalty for the very people he is trying to fight. After the graphical depictions of the murders, he becomes very emotionally disturbed. After an attack is organized against the communists, the US brings together an assault team to Asia. Despite being presented with the option of staying back in the US, he is torn between saving himself and endangering his own life to save that of his friend. Using this analogy, the author manages to express how strong true friendship is as compared to the strength of most political ideologies.

The power of a people united against oppression by the governments can be represented in the closing remarks of the narrator after he finds out that he has just been played. Later on after returning to Vietnam, the narrator discovers that the revolution, just like any other, is liable to betray its fighters. The narrator has feelings of betrayal after the predicament to a point where he goes insane. However, the theme of hope presents itself in the story when the narrator exclaims that in spite of everything, he would still stand firm as a revolutionist. Furthermore, he states that he and his other counterparts will always seek to advocate for what they firmly believe in.


Based on The Sympathizer novel by Nguyen, the essay elucidates on some of the ways in which representation and power are presented in the narrative. The study analyses the various elements of literary devices that are used in the book in order to show their relevancy to the current study. As can also be seen from the study, a representation of adverse experiences through the use of narratives presents a great potential for highlighting the main concepts being expressed.

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  1. Nguyen, Viet T. The Sympathizer. New York: Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press. Print.
  2. Powell, Katrina M. Identity and Power in Narratives of Displacement. 2015. Print.
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