On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Summary & Study Guide

Ocean Vuong
This Study Guide consists of approximately 38 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous.
This section contains 579 words
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On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Summary & Study Guide Description

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.

The following version of this book was used to make the guide: Vuong, Ocean. On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous. Penguin Random House LLC, 2019.

In On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, the author tells the story of a 28-year-old young man writing a deeply intimate love letter to his mother. In his letter the unnamed narrator combines a series of seemingly unrelated memories, events, and musings in an attempt to convey some inexpressible truth.

After being born to Rose and his estranged father in Vietnam, the narrator and his family flee their country and immigrate to the United States. As a young boy, the narrator grows up with Rose and his grandmother Lan in a tiny Hartford apartment. His mother struggles to provide for their family by working long hours at the nail salon. She is however perpetually plagued by flashbacks to the traumas she saw and suffered during the war. Her episodes insight perpetual outbursts of rage and violence against her young son. Lan reminds her grandson that his mother cannot help her behavior as she is mentally unwell. Though the narrator seems to possess a deeper connection with Lan, Lan also suffers from schizophrenia and is never entirely stable either.

The narrator, however, is attached to both women, recounting a litany of memories featuring both of them. His relationship with his family was based largely around storytelling. Lan would even task him with plucking the grey hairs from her head in exchange for another tale from her past. She would tell him about leaving her arranged marriage, finding employment as a sex worker for American GIs, escaping soldiers, meeting her second husband Paul, and moving overseas. Witnessing both Rose and Lan's difficulties conversing in English, the narrator eventually adopts the role of family interpreter, swearing never to leave them without words.

When the narrator turns 14, he gets a job at a tobacco farm outside Hartford. There he connects with his fellow workers and learns the simultaneous empowerment and toll of manual labor. One day he also meets Trevor, his boss Mr. Buford's grandson. The two become close quickly and begin spending time alone in the barn. Over time their conversations and hangouts grow increasingly intimate. The narrator's sexual awakening opens his perception of himself, his body, worth, and the world.

He not only learns how to be intimate with Trevor, but he learns the finite facets of Trevor's identity, taking on his hates, fears, and longings. Trevor's fraught relationship with his abusive father stirs many of his internal turmoil and subsequent rebellious behaviors. His opioid addiction further complicates his depression and angst. When the narrator leaves for college, the two say goodbye. Sitting in the parking lot outside a diner, the narrator refuses Trevor's advances as he is high. He does not know, however, it is the last time they will see each other.

During a class at university, the narrator receives news via social media that Trevor has overdosed and died. He returns to Hartford immediately, plunged into memory and distress. when his mother asks him what is wrong, he is in incapable of explaining as he has never told her about Trevor before. Through his grandmother's passing and another attempt at writing his mother, the narrator eventually achieves peace with his loss. Through writing, excavating his memories, the raw truth of his hurt and grief, the narrator is able to reconcile each of his relationships, to better understand himself, and imagine his future.

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