Going with the Flow: Movement and Water in The Gangster We Are All Looking For

The first time I was away from home for an extended period of time was my freshman year of college. The experience was exhilarating but it was also disorienting and scary. I missed my house, my neighborhood, and most of all, my family.person in the middle of nowhere

I would imagine that others experiences are similar to this. This is why I find the attitude of the narrator in The Gangster We Are All Looking For to be so surprising. Though the narrator has moved from Vietnam to the United States, leaving behind her mother and brother, the tone she uses to describe her journey is almost calm. While there is a sense of disorientation, the use of water imagery makes the tone of the narrator seem carefree or perhaps even apathetic within the first two paragraphs.

As the narrator describes the experience of traveling to the United States from Vietnam, as a refugee no less, her tone is almost peaceful. “We floated across the sea” she states, detailing how she and her father, along with four other men, traveled by multiple ships, planes and cars to reach the United States (le thi diem thuy 3). Nothing about the journey sounds easy and yet le thi diem thuy chooses the word float, a word associated with serenity, to describe the narrator’s journey. “Float” undermines the chaos of the fishing boat, Navy ship, plane, and car the narrator takes to reach the United States, making the journey seem easy and relaxing.

This sense of ease occurs again in the first sentence of the book, as the narrator describes how she and her father “washed to shore” (le thi diem thuy 3). The imagery in this phrase is again one that is care free. There is no control in washing to shore, one just goes along with the flow of the water. And yet that lack of control, inherent in both floating and washing ashore, does suggest disorientation. Both seem aimless, movements without a specific direction. In addition, both are movements that are not necessarily human. That is to say, through this word choice the narrator paints herself as an object more than a person. The allusion to an object floating through the water or washing to shore reinforces the idea that the narrator has no control over where she is going. She simply floats along beside her father, going wherever the water might take them. B3.Person surrounded by ocean

Works Cited

le thi diem thuy. The Gangster We Are All Looking For. Anchor Books, 2004.

One thought on “Going with the Flow: Movement and Water in The Gangster We Are All Looking For

  1. I find it interesting that you identify the narrator’s attitude to be apathetic and carefree. While the narrator does not name her emotions, I think I interpreted the work’s tone differently from you.
    To me, the while the word “float” might have serene connotations, it also suggests a lack of control. It implies that the six people on the fishing board had no way to steer, no way to decide where they are heading. It’s interesting that the word “float’ has such a double-sided set of connotations, suggesting both a sense of serenity, but also a sense of missing agency and control, a terrifying concept.
    However, in the second image you discuss, I would argue that this only exacerbates the lack of control, and therefore the sense of powerlessness that goes with it. You discuss the idea of being “washed to shore” as a disorienting motion that suggests an aimless tone. I suppose that what I struggle to see is how to reconcile the ideas of disorientation with the idea of being carefree. Instead, I connect that lack of control to a tonal anxiety and the disorientation with a sense of loss and being lost.
    Still, the connection between the serene and the lack of control suggests both a sense of great loss and an inability to react to that loss. This juxtaposition puts the narrator in even more a powerless position.

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