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The Character of Kien in The Sorrow of War

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Family life is very important to the Vietnamese people. Families had a great deal of respect for their ancestors, their present relatives, and the ones yet to come. In the Vietnamese family, sons respected their fathers. Everyone respected the dead and believed in the importance of a proper burial of the dead. The survival and honor of the family rested on these beliefs. Through the course of the war, Kien lost these values: his father was not properly respected, the dead were not appropriately buried, and were even forgotten. After the war, the Kien spends his time struggling to return to these values and purge his soul of these sins.

At the beginning of the novel, we learn that Kien never understood his father. Kien also states that he comprehends “why his mother had left his father and come to live with this wise, kind-hearted man.” (Ninh, 59). It appears that Kien does not respect his father as his culture dictates. However, he tells a story of life with his father before the war in which the reader learns that while he does not understand his father, Kien respects him and takes care of him. “Whenever he went into his father’s attic studio Kien’s heart ached and he choked with compassion…. Twice a day Kien would bring frugal meals to his father…”(Ninh, 124). Kien may not have a close father-son relationship with his father, but he still takes care of his father, as a son should do. It is not until he struggles to organize his chaotic life after the war that Kien understands his father. “Only now, in his middle age, could Kien truly understand those years.”(Ninh, 124).

Proper burial of ...

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...eased soldier, Tung, whom Kien has forgotten. “ ‘Maybe it was Tung. What do you think, Kien?’ ‘Tung who?’ asked Kien. ‘Crazy Tung. The guardsman, don’t you remember?’” (Ninh, 97). Yet, after the war, Kien cannot quit remembering all that died. “He mistook her first for a jungle girl named Hoa…Then, horribly, for a naked girl at Saigon airport on 30 April 1975.” (Ninh, 113). Kien returned to his pre-war culture of remembering the dead.

The thirty years the Vietnamese spent fighting the war destroyed the value system of Vietnam culture. The war devastated the country, villages, and families. After the war, the Vietnamese began reconstructing their way of life. The character of Kien, in The Sorrow of War, shows the plight of the people of Vietnam before, during, and after the Vietnam War.
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