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An analysis of ”The Happiest Refugee” by Ahn Do

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Texts often aim at exploring social issues, and encourage readers to respond to them in different ways by positioning them to agree with the ideas of the text. The biographical text ‘The Happiest Refugee’ written by the narrator of the text, Ahn Do, invites readers to observe events, participate emotionally, understand his experiences and to respond to the characters. Ahn Do uses written techniques and conventions (including use of language) to engage readers and position them to react in particular ways. Readers are positioned to respond to the characters Ahn Do himself, his hard work, his courage, his success, his Mum, her personality, his entire family, and the pirates through the events that were created through text.

Reading about Ahn Do’s childhood having to struggle with poverty generates sympathy towards him. Ahn talks about his job of pamphlet delivery at the age of fourteen to earn money and help his mother and the rest of his family out financially. Ahn mentions the hardship he went through during the job through first person point of view such as ‘I slung the straps over my shoulders and it was lumpy and unbalanced’ carrying a forty kilogram worth of pamphlets in his old school bag and ‘Ten p.m. that night we slumped into bed absolutely exhausted. We still had about third to go…I’d never intended for my whole family to have to labour with me; the idea was for Mum to work less…sitting at a table madly trying to squeeze in my homework’. Through this technique, readers to how he felt, what happened to him and how it made him feel which invite the readers to respond with sympathy towards his problems with money at a young age.

Readers are positioned to react in a warm, positive manner towards Ahn’s Mum. This has been achieved through the use of dialogue in the event where his Mum invites their distant cousin and her daughter ‘to stay’ when Ahn is fifteen and his family is ‘pretty close to being flat out broke’ and ‘Financially…struggling, desperately struggling’. Ahn’s Mum insists to the far relative ‘Come live with us’ and replies ‘They’ve got no one’ and ‘if they can, they will. If they can’t, what does it matter?’ when Ahn’s younger brother, Khoa, ‘pipes up’ asking ‘Are they going to pay rent and stuff?’ Through this written convention, readers are positioned to be astonished by his Mum’s generosity towards others, and react positively and favourably towards her.

The boat trip experience as part of Ahn’s family’s escape from Vietnam promotes fear and suspenseful emotion through descriptive language. Ahn’s families are confronted with two pirate groups during their trip that steals their goods heartlessly. The pirate’s brutality has been illustrated through the use of descriptive language such as ‘They were pirates. They descended on us angrily, striking random faces to assert their intent, yanking off bracelets and rings from trembling hands…ordered all of us to take our clothes off’ from first pirates and ‘We stood there silent and numb, like sheep awaiting slaughter. We were forced to strip off our clothes again, and the pirates stalked up and down the rows of naked bodies, inspecting opened, trembling mouths, occasionally pulling out a gold capping’ from second pirates. The use of this language technique generates suspense and tension during the event and positions the readers to fear the cruel pirates.

Texts invite readers to get involved with the characters, look at events, participate emotionally and to respond to the issues explored. The text ‘The Happiest Refugee’ written by the narrator himself, Ahn Do, about his life, uses narrative techniques and conventions to engage and encourage the readers to respond in particular ways. Emotions such as sympathy, warmth, admiration and suspense are encouraged by the text through the characters of Ahn Do, his Mum, other members of his family and the use of the pirates & their conduct. Ahn Do successfully achieves these reactions through the use of narrative conventions like first person point of view, dialogue, characterisation and descriptive language.


Newton, Adam Refugees & courage University of Melbourne Press, 2009

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