The Book Of Salt And Exile According To Julia By Gisele Pineau

2419 Words 10 Pages
In exploring such a poignant topic as exile, one must first examine the group of people most likely to be subjected to exile. Often, this group tends to be the socially observed “other.” What an other is can change drastically depending on who is defining it, and to whom they’re assigning the term. As we’ve seen in both Book of Salt by Monique Truong, and Exile According to Julia by Gisele Pineau, the characters Bihn and Man Ya represent comparable, but fundamentally different ideas of the other in French society. They are used, in many situations, as representatives of their race as a whole, and the French ruling class is often depicted as categorizing these character’s acceptability in their country by previous notions of Bihn and Man Ya’s …show more content…
Another category that allows groups in power to determine who is classified as the other is language. Language serves as a central conflict in both Bihn and Man Ya’s narratives, because their native tongue doesn’t match the official spoken narrative of the French ruling class. The first example of this we’re introduced to in The Book of Salt manifests itself in the refusal for Bihn’s employers to learn to properly pronounce his name. Even after he’s repeated it for them multiple times, Gertrude Stein’s, Alice B Toklas’, and Sweet Sunday Man’s pronunciations fail to improve. In fact, Sweet Sunday man makes no attempt to even say Bihn’s full name, choosing instead to call him Bee, something that’s revealed to greatly trouble, and further isolate Bihn from the society around him. Furthermore, Bihn’s native Vietnamese and Man Ya’s native Creole are described as abrasive, unnatural, loud, and angry to those who naturally speak French, or English. In this way their native tongue serves as an indication of their worth, people denouncing them as lower because of their unnatural …show more content…
For Bihn, the only was he can possibly survive is by learning the language. He needs to have at least a basic understanding of it to know what his employers are saying to him, and needs to have a basic comprehension of how to respond in order to be deemed competent. The ability to speak the language is seen as a status symbol. Bleriot, a native French speaker, is said to have “placed great trust in the power of his language to elevate him from the fray, to keep his nose clean even when he was rooting in the dirt of someone else’s land (Truong 123).” Bihn cannot pass for a native speaker, though. Through the eyes of the French people, he’s merely a “little Indochinese, who can’t even speak proper French, who can’t even say more than a simple sentence (Truong 15)”, and because of that, he’s demoted to a life of service. If he can’t speak the language, his only use is to learn to understand it, learn to “swallow [foreign words]… the vocabulary of servitude (Truong 13).” In this way, Bihn’s imperfect French marks him as a foreigner, and by definition, an other. For Man Ya, the same understanding holds true. As accentuated through the education of her grandchildren, the path to success for black immigrants starts with literacy, and the acquisition of a proper French way of speaking. But unlike Bihn, she makes little attempt to learn a new language. Man Ya seems to put

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