Overcoming the Waves in the Water

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.

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2 thoughts on “Overcoming the Waves in the Water

  1. I like that you talked about water, which I agree, is probably the central ‘theme’ of the novel. I think that to properly examine this thread, however, we have to take into account the epigraph / foreword-type thing placed before the main text. Located on a page unto itself, before even the table of contents and second title page, the short blurb reads, “In Vietnamese the word for “water” and the word for “a nation,” “a country,” and “a homeland” are one and the same: “nu’o’c” (Le). So, the references to water, which flow throughout the heart of the novel, are saturated by this notion of the fluidity of homeland and nation. This idea is present in the narrator’s (well, “narrator” may not be correct as while the author does speak through mainly a fictionalized version of herself as a child — which is whom I’m referring to when I say “narrator” — she also writes from the perspective of her other family members for brief moments, so the term “narrator” may not be technically applicable to any one character. However, for the sake of simplicity, I’ll use it to refer to the little girl) repetition of the idea that all beaches and all oceans are the same.

    So, the calming, restorative nature of water must be, in some way, defined by its ability to blur boundaries and link nations — just as it bore the narrator from Vietnam to America. As we conclude our discussions on the novel, it will be key to keep this in mind as we discuss why her parents voices become “waves of trouble,” remembering the “waves of trouble” in her voyage and questioning what has changed that allows her to find comfort and control through this powerful force.

  2. Great Post! You make some excellent points but in particular I really enjoyed reading about what water stands for in the narrator’s life. Water is the ultimate coping mechanism for the narrator because she has spent so much time around it in the past. She ultimately feels a deep connection with the water in the bathtub because it reminds her of the soothing sounds of the waves. I also enjoyed how you referenced about how water can be viewed as being the same as emotions because both waves and emotions come and go but they allowed the narrator to understand that eventually everything is going to be okay. Additionally, the water gives the narrator a sense of hope because as you said, “The water gives her the power to keep going even after waves of trouble.” In particular, the words, “gives her the power” implies that water makes her feel strong and that she is not lost but just overwhelmed with emotions at one particular time. One thing that I am curious about is that if the water pulls the family apart and then puts them back together does this ultimately make their family stronger? Or on the other hand, does it make the narrator notice that her family has flaws in their lives and that they need to fix them immediately? Lastly, since the water allows her to remember the past do you think the water also permits her to understand that she will have a hopeful future as long as she does not become overwhelmed by her emotions? Overall, I greatly enjoyed reading your post.

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