When Heaven and Earth Changed Places

by: Le Ly Hayslip

Huyen (Mother)

Characters Huyen (Mother)

Huyen, Le Ly’s mother, represents the Vietnamese peasantry, closely adhering to its traditions and social code. Throughout her life, she works hard raising her family and caring for their land. She embraces the Viet Cong, even after her own near-execution and subsequent exile. When Le Ly returns from the United States, she is greeted rather coldly by her mother, who gradually accepts her again, as Vietnam gradually re-embraces the West. Huyen remains suspicious of Le Ly and her Western ways, and Huyen chooses to sleep on the floor at the hotel and generally to continue her traditional peasant way of life. Yet she does not reject Le Ly and what she has come to stand for; in fact, she eagerly accepts gifts from Le Ly on numerous occasions. Huyen is centered between the two ideological poles of her children—a Communist official son and an Americanized daughter. She still believes in the idea of a Communist and independent Vietnam but eagerly accepts the benefits of the Western world.  Most Vietnamese, like Huyen, remain somewhere in the middle.

Huyen also represents the Vietnamese people in her slow but eventual ability to learn to forgive. From Le Ly, Huyen is reminded of the healing power and goodness of forgiveness, and is thus able to forgive her daughter, Ba, which reunites the family one last time. In a broader sense, Le Ly aims to convey this lesson to the Vietnamese in general. Through forgiveness, healing and much-needed reunification are possible.