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“It’s oil and water”: Race, Gender, Power, and Trauma in Vu Tran’s Dragonfish By Quan-Manh Ha and Chase Greenfield Trauma, an immediate effect of the Vietnam War and its aftermath, becomes a leitmotif within the corpus of Vietnamese American literature. Although countless volumes have been published in the United States on nearly every aspect of the war, the immense sufferings and losses of the Vietnamese people often remain marginalized or mentioned only as a footnote to American losses. When the Vietnamese are mentioned, their victimization generally serves as a foil for American rationalizations of their own political discourse on the war (Nguyen, Race 108). After the reunification of Vietnam in 1975 under the Hanoi-based communist government, over two million Vietnamese people fled their homeland to seek asylum across the world, and a large proportion of these refugees (estimated at over one million people) braved the perilous Pacific Ocean on small, overcrowded fishing boats and other vessels to escape the country. Only about half of these “boat people” ever made it to shore, and for the survivors, the struggles and losses did not end after making landfall (Vo 38). The subsequent events and the lifetime of recovery for a group of these Vietnamese “boat people” structure the plot of Vu Tran’s debut novel Dragonfish, which, according to its author’s website, is an attempt to “weave elements of his own life into [his characters’] personal histories, [and] to tell the overarching story of what connects these characters to each other and what tears them apart.” Dragonfish focuses on the relationships, desires, and conflicts among its three protagonists—Robert, Suzy, and Sonny—to highlight how their postwar interactions complicate race, gender, trauma, and remembrance. The three protagonists engage in an intense socio-political struggle for dominance and control, which is riddled with irony, heart-wrenching pain, and misleading appearances. They experience hardship and loss, but they rely on each other for recovery from past and present trauma, and to advance their own varying personal priorities and agendas. While both of the male

Language

english

Document Type

Article

Abstract

ABSTRACT: This article analyzes in-depth the interplay between race, gender, power, and trauma in Vu Tran’s debut novel, Dragonfish. We argue that Dragonfish focuses on the relationships, desires, and conflicts among its three protagonists—Robert, Suzy, and Sonny—to highlight how their postwar interactions complicate race, gender, trauma, and remembrance. The three protagonists engage in an intense socio-political struggle for dominance and control, which is riddled with irony, heart-wrenching pain, and misleading appearances. They experience hardship and loss, but they rely on each other for recovery from past and present trauma, and to advance their own varying personal priorities and agendas: while both of the male characters, Robert and Sonny, attempt individually to exercise control over Suzy, she in fact embodies the femme fatale archetype who subverts their dominance in order to act independently of their wills.

 

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