The Gangster We Are All Looking For, written by Lê Thi Diem Thúy, is a fictional novel about a family’s settlement in America. Ba and the protagonist daughter make their journey to America with four uncles. Once they arrive, they wait to be reconnected with the mother, Ma. After some time the family finds one another, yet it is not long before Lê introduces tension between the parents. One night Ba comes home late from work drunk which disables him from finding Ma’s lips to kiss. This angers her and begins a meaningless fight between the two which the daughter watches hopelessly. What is significant is the manner in which the narrator copes with the yelling and breaking of things.
The daughter’s reaction reflects a common theme within Lê’s text. In the midst of the movement, she disappears into the bathroom to “fill the tub with water” (66). She then goes to “climb in and pretend [she] was at the ocean on the world’s hottest day” (66) This implies the calmness an ocean brings to the daughter and the water resembles ways in which the family has been pulled apart and pulled together throughout the text.
During her parent’s fight, the daughter has no control so she resorts to a place that grants her some power. She is able to control the voices she hears by cutting them off until they are “nothing but waves crashing” while laying in the bathtub (67). These waves in the water are the obstacles the family has had to overcome throughout their journey like the death of her brother, traveling across the sea, and understanding her identity. They are all waves of emotion like the one she feels now listening to her parents fight over nothing. Even though the waves create trouble, the water also offers power over her emotional discomfort. The daughter can drown out the yelling voices and chaotic background by channeling the movement of the waves and submerging herself.
While the water creates waves, it also creates currents that have led the daughter and her family forward. As the daughter sits in the tub the flow of the water is turned on again to break the “awful quiet” that occurred after her parents fight. The water gives her the power to keep going even after waves of trouble.
Paying attention to the water in this scene gives the text significance. The theme is used throughout the entire novel as an extended metaphor of pushing the family apart and pulling them together again. The tub full of water is an escape for the daughter when her parents fight creating family stress that pushes Ma and Ba apart. Yet, when she turns it back on to break the silence, the water works in a way to pull everyone back together. The water breaks the tension and soothes their worries.