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The Vietnam War in the words of the Vietnamese Pham, Duong Thuy Thi

Abstract

The dissertation examines Vietnamese literary representations of what is known in the West as the Vietnam War. Analysis of prewar literature (1858-1945) shows that the early resistance literature, kindled by the French conquest in the late nineteenth century, reaffirmed the lý (broadly speaking, logic) of nationalism, while the changes of the 1925-1945 period highlighted the significance of tình (emotions of the heart) among members of the Việt Minh, the revolutionary organization which successfully staged the national uprising in 1945 and later defeated the French at Điện Biên Phů in 1954. On the Vietnam War, the dissertation first looks at non-fiction. Memoirs by National Liberation Front (NLF) leaders Nguyễn Thị Định and Truong Nhu Tǎng are compared and contrasted with those by Nguyễn Cao Kỳ and Trầ in Vǎn Đôn, leaders of the opposing Republic of [South] Vietnam (RVN), for their positions and reflections on the contested concepts of nationalism, communism, freedom, and democracy, which define the cause and form of the war. For fiction, the study summarizes the literary trends and philosophies that governed the different strands of Vietnamese literature during 1954-1975. Subsequently, representative fictional works by RVN and NLF writers are analyzed to explore the various stances and levels of commitment supporters of the opposing factions demonstrate toward their respective "imagined communities." It is found that differing images of the Vietnamese woman accurately reflect the different natures of the warring factions. The RVN woman is represented in the fiction of RVN writers (e.g. Võ Phiến, Nhã Ca, Mai Thào, Nguyễn Thị Thụy Vũ and Nguyễn Đình Toàn) as a passive victim of circumstances outside her control and understanding. By contrast, the NLF woman is described by NLF writers (particularly by Anh Đúc in Hòn Đất and Phan Tú in Mẫn and I) as embodying both lý and tình, the combination of which underlies the nationalists’ strength and commitment to their cause of national independence and prosperity. The study concludes with a brief look at Vietnamese postwar fiction in the context of the postwar complexities, and suggests directions for future research on Vietnamese literature and the Vietnam War.

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