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Symbolism in The Sorrow of War

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Katie Merkley

on 11 February 2013

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Transcript of Symbolism in The Sorrow of War

By Bao Ninh Symbolism in The Sorrow of War Intro Throughout the novel The Sorrow of War, author Ninh creates the harsh opposite world of war, that as Americans, we are not used to hearing about this. Ninh's meta fictional novel uses many symbols such as water, color, fire, and historical context to understand the setting Over 3000 years ago the Vietnamese people moved down from the mountains down to the Red River delta due to an increase in population. Vietnam has many river and lakes including the Mekong or "nine dragon tails" or the delta. The Vietnamese named it this because they believed they were descendants of the dragon, an animal associated with water in their culture. Symbolism of Water "Let our stories become ashes now" (81)

"That evening the students made a huge campfire and started a party around it" (173)

"It was a memorable, happy evening around the campfire amidst the trees with a background of the darkest of seas" (174)

"Kien was kneeling by his stove shoving torn paper into it and lighting and relighting it" (115) Symbolism of Fire Symbolism of Color symbolism of Color symbolism of Fire "...burning his precious, strange canvases one by one the night he imagined death had called him" (126)

" She had forgotten that he'd once decided to throw the lot into the fire. She had kept the pages, not burned them" (288) symbolism of Water “deathly yellow paintings” 128 (foreshadowing)

“the characters wandered aimlessly...... they wore dismal expressions, their faces long and drawn......the paintings were utterly depressing” 125

“nearing the end of his life with no exception they [the paintings] were all done in varying tones of yellow. Yellow. No other colors, just yellow” 125 In Vietnamese culture there are two types of yellow (Ninh 2009)
Symbolism of Color In Vietnamese culture, white represents death and "the end" (The bohouse)

Vietnamese wear white to funerals and bring white adornments because white symbolizes death in most religions predominant in Vietnam Color in Culture

Clothes usually dark, mostly gray and blacks, bright colors are worn on special occasions

Red and gold are traditional celebrations colors

Celebrations and traditional ceremonies all have colors associated with them Flag of Vietnam Elements Traditional Vietnamese culture emphasizes four elements, air, fire, water, and earth. In Ninh's novel water and fire are prominent symbols that emphasize the terror and fear of war. Water can symbolized in the novel as the change before and after the war. Colors Colors in Vietnamese culture are very prominent. White is worn in funerals, and is associated with death. Black is also associated with fear, death, and evil. Red symbolizes good and happiness, as well as love. It is also prominent in Tet which is the Vietnamese new year. Blue is very calming and is used as peace and serenity in Vietnamese culture. Yellow is associated with death because it is interpreted as death of agriculture because in autumn all crops will die. Vietnamese Background The Vietnamese conflict was not acutally declared a war, but took place in the middle of the Cold War years 1955-1975. The conflict was between communist North Vietnam and capitalist United States. Water became so prominent in the Vietnamese culture due to its abundance. Over time the people incorporated it more and more in their lives. The rivers were used for festive boat races to floating homes. Water was a large part of their culture because it supported their rice agriculture. The Vietnamese spirit of agriculture and goddess of water were popular object of worship. Symbolism of water • “flood receded everything” (6)
• “dull sea of rain” (14)
• “ grey wet-season sky” (14)
• “The rain brough sadness, monotony, and starvation” (15)
• “my village was flooded” (21)
• “the stream, which gurgled on” 23
• “pelting rain in the wet grassy yard” (31)
• “though it rained day and night” 32
• “a sorrowful, drizzling rain began” (69)
• “memories of a midday in the dry season in beautiful shunshine” (88)
• “after the downpour the sun came out” (100)
• “exposed where floods have bitten deep” (16)
• “The radio says it’s never rained as hard... “You’re about to go to the north, I hear”” (19)
• “Kien felt imprisoned by the rain” (23)
• “the rainey season last year, the last rainy season” (26)
• “Kien looks out the window trying to lighten his mood. The rain stops” (43)
• “long storms of war” (63) •“Phuong was totally naked, her pale body very clear. Behind her was a grassy plot and some bushes. She faced the clear water of the lake.” (222)
•“She was beautiful like a green meadow after spring rains” (227)
•“Kien dreamed that his life had been transformed into a river stretching before him. He saw himself floating towards his death. Then at the very last moment, when he was about to go over the edge, he heard Phuong’s call echoing from that bitter duck of the marsh near the school. It was the final call of his first love.” (227)
• “Kien seemed to see the end of his stream of life.” (121)
•“He saw his life as a river with himself standing unsteadily at the peak of a tall hill, silently watching his life ebb from him, saying farewell to himself. The flow of his life focus and refocused and each moment of that stream was recalled, each event, each memory was a drop of water in his nameless, ageless river.” (117) Color Symbolism "When the flood receded everything dried in the heat of the sun into
thick mud and stinking rotting meat. And down the bank and along the
stream Kien dragged himself bleeding from the mouth and from his body
wound. The blood was cold and sticky like blood from a corpse. Snakes
and centipedes crawled over him and he felt death's hand on him." (6)

"After the American withdrew, the rainy season came, flooding the
jungle floor, turning the battlefield into a marsh whose surface water
turned rust-colored from the blood." (5)

"What a beautiful, warm sweet April day it was. The delirious hugs
together in the light green water. The fish brushing by them, the lily
pads." (118)

"Dark red blood spurted from two of them onto the carpet, while the
third, just a girl really, slumped at the base of a stairwell against
a wall." (105)

"flowing like red mud" (5) Golden Yellow symbolizes wealth and prosperity
Fading yellow is seen as a harsh color, which is the color Kien father uses in his paintings
Fading yellow can represent the hopelessness Vietnam has during the war
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