Five Ways to Disappoint Your Vietnamese Mother by Diana Nguyen
In Five Ways to Disappoint Your Vietnamese Mother by Diana Nguyen we have the theme of disappointment, happiness, independence, freedom, control, change and pride. Narrated in the first person by Nguyen herself the reader realizes from the beginning of the story that Nguyen is exploring the theme of disappointment. Nguyen’s mother is disappointed that her daughter wants to become an actress. Nguyen is more interested in the arts and humanities than she is in becoming a doctor. Something her mother wishes her to be. It is also interesting that despite getting good grades in high school Nguyen’s mother remains disappointed in her. Comparing her to girls in the school who got higher grades. This may be important as it sets the precedence for Nguyen’s mother’s unhappiness. While on the other hand Nguyen remains happy and independent of her mother.
The refugees that visit the store that Nguyen works in are also important as they symbolize a changing Australia. However it is noticeable that one customer does not like Vietnamese people but is so ignorant of Asia she calls Nguyen Chinese. The Afghanis and the Sudanese refugees are significant too as the freedom they have encountered in many ways mirrors the freedom that Nguyen is experiencing in her life. She too feels free. In fact she feels so free that she has a boyfriend. Someone who is not liked by Nguyen’s mother because he is Chinese. If anything Nguyen’s mother seems to want to control Nguyen. At least until she leaves university. It is only then that the mother thinks Nguyen should have a boyfriend. So opinionated on the matter Nguyen’s mother eventually kicks Nguyen out of the family home.
There may be further symbolism in the story which might be important. Working in the store symbolizes how independent Nguyen is of her mother. She is not reliant on her. The fact that Nguyen accepts her mother’s decision to move out of the family home also suggests an independent streak in Nguyen. The Vietnamese school that Nguyen attends could represent two things. Firstly the mother’s desire to control Nguyen and secondly the strong desire that the mother has to instill Vietnamese culture into Nguyen. Again the mother is disappointed when Nguyen leaves the school. The boyfriend too is an example of Nguyen’s mother trying to control Nguyen. However she loses that battle and Nguyen seems to be happy with her boyfriend. Probably the most striking symbolism is the fact that Nguyen considers herself to be Australian and not Vietnamese. This goes against her mother’s wishes and suggests that Nguyen is again independent of her mother.
The end of the story is interesting as despite struggling through life Nguyen is happy. If anything everything she has encountered with her mother has made her stronger. She is able to categorize her mother into the category of people who are not proud of her. Though more importantly Nguyen seems to be proud of herself. Proud she has found a career as an actress. Proud that she knows she is a good actress and proud of having a boyfriend she loves. While on the other hand these are not things her mother would consider she should be proud of. This may be important as Nguyen may be suggesting that to feel proud about oneself one has to be independent in some way of others (Nguyen’s mother). Nguyen knows her mother will never change and that is okay as long as Nguyen is happy with the direction her life is going.