When Heaven and Earth Changed Places

by: Le Ly Hayslip

Motifs

Main ideas Motifs

Mistreatment by Men

The mistreatment of women by men is one of the byproducts of the total abuse of war. Throughout her life, Le Ly is abused by men. As a teenager, she is tortured and raped by two former friends and Viet Cong members. In Saigon, she is assaulted by a family friend and some boys on the street. During her time in Danang, Le Ly has many American boyfriends, all of whom treat her poorly. Even her loving relationship with Anh becomes bitter when he abandons her. Le Ly is not alone in such abuse, as there are many other examples of rape, forced prostitution, and abuse toward women. Single mothers are left to care for families, and young girls are forced into prostitution, all versions of the woman warrior fighting in her own way. Yet Le Ly is able to forgive those who abused and harmed her, believing that the war forced people to do horrible things.

Buddhist Tradition

At the beginning of the war, Le Ly notes that the Communists told the villagers that they are fighting in order to preserve their Buddhist traditions from the Catholic republicans and foreigners. These traditions—respecting the land and worshipping one’s ancestors—are cornerstones to the villagers’ way of life. Trong best represents the connection of the villagers to the Buddhist tradition. However, as the war progresses, the Viet Cong makes it harder for the villagers to practice their traditions. The reasons for fighting change and people desert traditions. Despite this, Le Ly returns again and again to her Buddhist traditions, mainly through the advice and teachings of her father. The rituals and rites of Buddhism continue throughout Le Ly’s life and help support her during the war, as well as show her a way to cope with the horrors around her.

Family Network

Throughout her life in Vietnam, Le Ly is connected to and supported by her family. Relatives connected to either the Republican or Communist side help her out of jail; her sisters find her jobs and give her a place to live; her parents provide and care for her. In turn, she cares for and supports her family members when she can. However, the war erodes these familial networks, making family members unable or unwilling to help each other, and infusing fear and mistrust in the family unit. When Le Ly returns to Vietnam, she sees how this mistrust had found a place in her family between herself and her brother, and between her mother and Ba. Still, Le Ly promotes building trust where it had been destroyed. On a small scale, she rebuilds the trust within her own family. On a larger scale, she hopes to re-establish the trust between Vietnam and the United States so that everyone can finally heal from the war.