In Paradise of the Blind, there is a line that reads, “There are always those who are conscientious and loving, who worship what they do. Devotion like this is impossible to explain. No matter, for it was this love that assured the survival of an entire way of life” (24). Without devotion, things break, and in this case, it is the broken family the author wishes to teach readers about because of the significant shift from traditional to single-family homes. In 1960, families living in traditional homes ranged at 73%, and by 2013, the rate was 46% (Pew Research Center). The change in social structure within the family home, when looking at this rate, shows that the institution of marriage and family is no longer valued, but it also infers that children in this situation also lacks the advantages that two-parent homes have. In Children of Single Parent Families: How They Fare as Adults, Cooper and Mueller write, “…young adults raised by single parents (primarily single mothers) tend to have lower educational, occupational and economic attainment” (169). By analyzing the role of Hang, a reader will observe a breakdown of the traditional family role and understand that absent fathers are the contributing factor to the rise of single-family households.
To realize Hang’s shame as a ‘bastard’ child, one must first learn the reasons why Ton chose to leave. To be a father is to devote your life not to you but to the children you produce, and Hang’s father was neither devoted nor strong in character. Huong uses the character of Ton to introduce the theme of cowardice when Ton runs away during the night to leave his sister to suffer in his place. It is necessary to understand Ton’s weakness to realize Aunt Tam’s strength. Aunt Tan says, “Go now, brother. You won’t be able to stand the humiliation. We have to swallow it to survive. Times will change” (Huong 30). But, it also sets a pattern as Ton runs a decade later after Que becomes pregnant. Readers later learn that he could not choose between his village wife and his child, so he chose to commit suicide which further defined his cowardice. Ton was not dedicated to anyone except himself, and his daughter suffered for it which helps transcends the hardships of children living in single-family homes today.
When a reader compares the abandonment of Ton to the life of his abandoned child, it shows how a missing father greatly affected Hang’s ability to understand her existence. While Ton was taking another wife in the village, Hang’s mother Que was working as a vendor supporting her with a single income. While Que was working, Hang was home alone without supervision. The weight of being a bastard child weighed heavily on Hang her entire life. Huong writes, “I tried to remember a man I never knew: Father. To me, my childhood seemed like a ball kicked across the road, aimlessly, without any purpose” (Paradise of the Blind 91). Being bastardized by a patriarchal society was difficult for Hang as she found no value or purpose because of the stigmas placed upon her. As society degraded her, she came to think she had no value at all much like the ball or the dirty street she saw before her. The loss of not knowing whom her father was brought about many changes to which she felt she had no control simply because she was confused as to whom she was. It also helps readers understand why she wanted to be like her Aunt Tam. She was strong and independent and everything her father was not.
The idea of a fatherless child embodies the social breakdown correctly as it shows how a family can suffer psychologically and economically. In transcending this social issue into a work of fiction, it mirrors the real world problems so effectively by showing the dysfunction of a broken society. By identifying the cause and effect of the social issue affecting single families, it offers hope it can be overcome because of the awareness. It also shows that kids labeled as bastards in society can overcome these stereotypes by achieving despite the circumstances that they were born. It also shows that as more men left their responsibilities, it created an effect from this social change as the women became independent enough to take on these responsibilities on their own. That being said, in no way does it take away the importance of the role of the father as children need the influence of both parents to know where they came so that they can figure out where they are going. As more authors look at this issue as Huong did, it brings hope that the traditional family unit may once again become the norm as more access to education and employment opportunities becomes available. Huong also allows readers to question their own beliefs and act upon them to bring about this change she feels the world so badly needs.
Cooper, Phillip W. and Mueller, Daniel P., “Children of single parent families: How they fare as young adults.” Family Relations, 169-176. (1986).
Huong, Thu Duong. Paradise of the Blind. Translated from Vietnamese by Phan Huy Duong and Nina McPherson. Perennial, New York. 2002.
Pew Research Center. “Fewer than half of U.S. kids today live in a ‘traditional’ family,” (2014 Dec 22), Retrieved on October 2, 2016, from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/12/22/less-than-half-of-u-s-kids-today-live-in-a-traditional-family/