The Representation of Women and Its Translation

Appearance and Personality

In any forms of popular culture, including contemporary female popular fiction, a key theme defining women is their physical appearance and personality (Milestone and Meyer, 2012). Women’s physical appearance in this literary genre is represented by various features including their bodies, their hair, their skin condition, their actual age and their outlook. The perfect beauty, as Milstone and Meyer observe, is very narrow: a perfect women “should be small, thin, have silky hair and be conventionally pretty” and “appropriately feminine,” which means they should be respectable, innocent, shy and modest (2012, p. 93-107). This subsection will investigate how these features are represented in Irish contemporary female popular fiction and how they are recreated in the Vietnamese translation.

ST: And although I might not have been model material, I suppose I had a certain, shall we say, natural kind of charm—you know—short shiny brown hair, blue eyes, freckles, big smile, that kind of thing. And I was so unworldly and naive. I never realized when I was coming face to well-made-up face with the stars of stage and television (Keyes 2003, p. 7-8).

TT: Va mac dh khong co hoi huom gi kieu nguoi mau nhung toi cho la minh cung co mot net rieng nao do, thoi thi goi la duyen tu nhien di nhe- toc ngan mau nau huyen ong a, mat xanh, da thap thoang tang nhang, nu cuoi tnoi tan, Va toi cuc ki ngay tho, trong sang. Toi khong he biet cho den khi cai mat moc cua toi duoc dien kien nhung khuon mat phan son day com cua cac ngoi sao san khau dien anh (Keyes 2010, p. 12).

[And even there’s no feature of a model, I think I have my own grace. Call it natural charms- short hair of shiny brown colour, blue eyes, some freckles on my skin, fresh and bright smile. I was innocent and naive. I never knew until my unmade-up face sees the full and thick made up face of stage and TV stars]

This paragraph is a self - description of the heroine in Keyes’s Watermelon. The usage of the modal verb “might” and the verb “suppose” reveals a level of uncertainty on the part of the female character. According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, might is used to express the possibility that something may happen or may be true but the speaker is uncertain and suppose is used to say something is true, although the speaker is unsure. These words create an understanding that the woman in question is not fully confident about her appearance. She is aware of her distinctive features but unsure of their value at the same time. In the target paragraph, the modal verb is omitted and the verb “to think” is used, which shows that the translated heroine appears to be more convinced and confident about her appearance.

Another noteworthy point is that while in the source text, the character merely indicates that she has freckles on her face, in the Vietnamese translation, she only has some freckles. This could be explained by the fact that freckles are considered quite a normal thing for Western people with a fair complexion while they appear as a negative factor affecting beauty for Vietnamese women. Therefore, adding the determiner “some” to the translation seems to make the character look prettier.

Another point of difference is in the description of personality. In the source text, the heroine says that she never realised how inexperienced and innocent she was until she had to face the pretentious, insincere people around her. In the translation, the well-made up faces are mistakenly translated and the woman in the translation appears to be somebody who never uses make-up to make herself look better. In this way, the heroine appears to be a good character because according to traditional Vietnamese beliefs an elegant woman should be somebody who has natural beauty, a beautiful soul and is well behaved. The image of a woman who wears make up is always associated with an insincere personality.

ST: I sat back in my seat, my baby on my lap. I suppose I must have looked just like a normal mother to all the other passengers. But—and the thought struck me quite forcibly—I wasn’t. I was now a Deserted Wife. I was a statistic. I had been lots of things in my life. I had been Claire the dutiful daughter. I had been Claire the scourge of a daughter. I had been Claire the student. I had been Claire the harlot (briefly—as I said, if we get the time, I’ll fill you in). I had been Claire the administrator. I had been Claire the wife. And now here I was being Claire the deserted wife. And the idea did not sit comfortably with me at all, I can tell you (Keyes 2003, p. 38).

TT: Toi nga lung ra ghe, em be dat trong long. Toi da tung la co con gai Claire cham ngoan. La dua con gai Claire tai hoa. La co sinh vien Claire. La con nho Claire an dem (ngan gon thoi. Nhu toi co noi, neu co thoi gian toi se ke chi tiet cho ban nghe). La co quan ly Claire. La co Claire vo hien. Va bay gio thi toi la co vo Claire bi chong bo. Noi that voi ban, toi khong thich cai Claire cuoi chng ti nao (Keyes 2010, p. 34).

[I push my chair back, put my baby on my lap. I used to be well- behaved daughter Claire. Was catastrophic daughter Claire. Was student Claire. Was “night-hunter” Claire (briefly - As I said, if I have time, I will tell you the details). Was manager Claire. Was virtuous wife Claire. And now I am Claire, the wife who is left by husband. Honestly speaking with you, I do not like the last Claire at all]

This extract is another self-description by Keyes’s heroine. She is so devastated by the fact that her husband has left her that she feels insecure and has lost all her self-confidence. The line “I suppose I must have looked just like a normal mother to all the other passengers” reveals her state of anxiety and also shows how important it is for a woman to maintain her public reputation. Then a sequence of repetitions of the structure “I had been” emphasises the contrast between her current situation and how she had previously been, which gives readers an understanding of her pain and suffering. It is also very interesting to note that the heroine chooses the word “harlot” to describe herself. Harlot is a Middle English word, which is used as a euphemism for an unchaste woman in a 16th century translation of the Bible (Etymology Dictionary, Online) The usage of this old-fashioned word underscores the well-educated background of a woman who has a degree in English and Literature and knows how to describe herself properly at one point and at the same time it is also probably an ironically chosen word because it also expresses Claire’s attitude towards Victorian and Catholic morals.

The omission in translation of the first few sentences leads to the absence of the pessimistic, uncertain state of the main character. It also is remarkable to observe how Claire - “the dutiful daughter,” “the harlot,” “the administrator,” “the wife” have been recreated in the Vietnamese translation. In the English source description, Claire appears to be an obedient child when she was small, then a playful adult, then a woman who has a job and a family, or in short, an ordinary woman with an ordinary life while in the Vietnamese translation Claire is represented not only as an obedient but also as a well- behaved daughter, not just as a wife but as a virtuous wife, not just as an administrator but as a manager. In this way, the Vietnamese Claire appears as a woman who has a successful career but still adheres to her traditional role of being a righteous wife. This image of Claire is very close not only to the understanding held by Vietnamese audiences of Western women who have to balance work and family life but also owes much to the marketing strategy of publishing houses aiming at introducing a new lifestyle for Vietnamese women.

A further noticeable point is how a “harlot” has become a “night hunter,” which is a Vietnamese slang term used to describe a prostitute. While the English usage highlights Claire’s well-educated background and sense of humour, the Vietnamese rendering represents only the connotative meaning of the English original but loses the background detail provided in the usage of the source language.

ST: major pang of guilt—she was crying because I wasn’t breastfeeding her. Maybe she deeply resented being fed from a bottle. Yes, I know, you’re probably outraged that I didn’t breast-feed her. You probably think that I wasn’t a proper mother. But, long ago, before I had my baby, I had thought it would be permissible to have my body returned to me after I had loaned it out for nine months. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to call my soul my own now that I was a mother. But I had kind of hoped that I might be able to call my nipples my own. And I’m ashamed to say that I was afraid that, if I breast-fed, I would be a victim of “shrunken, flat, droopy tit” syndrome (Keyes 2003, p. 30).

TT: toi thay toi loi vo chng, be khoc vi khong duoc bh me. Chac la be ghet bh binh. Toi biet ban se gian du khi biet toi khong cho em be bh ti. Chac ban nghi toi la mot ba me khong ra gi. Nhung da tu lau, rat lau truoc khi sinh em be, toi nghi minh se duoc phep lay lai than the cua minh sau khi da dem cho muon suot chm thang. Toi biet bay gio la me roi thi toi chang duoc xem linh hon minh la cua rieng nua. Toi xau ho qua phai thh nhan voi ban la toi so neu cho be bh ti, toi se thanh nan nhan cua chung “vh se, teo top” (Keyes 2010, p. 29).

[I feel very guilty, the baby cries because she doesn’t get breastfeed. Maybe she hates sucking the bottle. You will get angry when knowing that I don’t breastfeed my baby. Surely you think that I’m not a good mother. But it has been long, very long before giving birth to my baby, I thought I am allowed to get my body back after lending it for the whole nine months. I know I am now a mother I can’t even think my soul is mine. I am ashamed to confess to you that I am afraid that if I breastfeed my baby, I will become the victim of shrunken and droopy breasts]

ST: Everything really does change when you give birth. I never thought I’d see the day when I’d put anyone else’s needs before the attractiveness of my tits. So if my little sweetheart didn’t stop crying soon, I was going to consider breast-feeding her. If it made her happy, I’d put up with cracked nipples, leaky tits and sniggering thirteen-year-old boys trying to get a look at my jugs on the bus (Keyes 2003, p. 31).

TT: Sanh con roi moi thu dhng la thay doi ca. Truoc day toi chua tung nghi se co mot ngay minh dat nhu cay cua bat cu ai len tren cai hap dan cua doi nhu hoa cua minh. Vay nen neu em be yeu khong ngung khoc, toi se suy nghi cho be bh ti. Neu be ung, toi se chap nhan chuyen hai vu ri sua voi hai dau ti nut ne. Toi se chi cuoi khay neu dam ranh con tren xe buyt rang nhin cho bang duoc binh sua cua toi (Keyes 2003, p. 29).

[Giving birth changes everything. Before I never thought one day I will put anyone’s needs before the attractiveness of my breast. So if my baby won’t stop crying, I will think of breastfeeding her. If she likes that,

I will accept to have leaky breast with crackled nipples. I will just snigger if the young teenagers on the bus try to look at my jar of milk]

These two extracts represent a woman who is in two minds about whether to breastfeed her baby or not as she is really aware of her body, in particular the beauty of her breasts. In the first extract, the woman understands her role and responsibility as a mother, but on the other hand, she is more concerned about her own body and she still puts her own beauty before the baby’s need to be breastfed while in the second extract she makes a compromise between her body and her baby’s needs. The Vietnamese translation has rendered her confusion fully, but it is also noticeable that there are some differences between the translation and the source text. In terms of language usage, the original character uses a range of informal words for her breasts including tits and jugs while in the Vietnamese translation these slang words are translated only as breast, which is a polite and formal term in Vietnamese in spite of the fact that the equivalent slangs exist in Vietnamese language. This could be explained by the traditional expectation placed on Vietnamese women. Vietnamese women are expected to follow what is known as the “four virtues,” which are diligence at work, modesty in manner, propriety in speech and adherence to the expected moral standards. Therefore, the normalization of slangs here can be seen as an effort to represent the woman as a decent mother.

In addition, in the original, the baby was crying because the mother did not breastfeed her while in the translation it is because the baby does not get breastfed. The shift of agency and from an active to passive voice leads to a different representation of this woman. In the original, it is the woman who feels guilty because she does not fulfil her responsibility as a mother, while in the translation the guilt is the result of the baby’s dissatisfaction. The central role of a baby in a Vietnamese woman’s life is reinforced when the mother thinks that if the baby is happier with breastfeeding, she will sacrifice her beauty, while in the original the woman will breastfeed the baby if that action makes the baby happy. However, in both the Irish and Vietnamese portrayal the female heroine is willing to do everything for the sake of the baby.

It is also noticeable that the sentence “But I had kind of hoped that I might be able to call my nipples my own. ” is omitted in the translation, which can be explained by the assumption that the female body is a sensitive issue in Vietnamese culture and the whole context of the extract has represented the heroine properly. An omission of a detail like this sentence, in fact, does not affect the global reception of the main character. A noteworthy shift in translation is the attitude of the female character towards the teenagers staring at her breast on the bus. In the original, she put up with those sniggering teenagers while in the translation she will snigger at those boys who stare at her. This mistranslation leads to the different reception of the female character between source and target readers.

These extracts have revealed that physical beauty still remains to be of crucial importance to femininity. We see that in both the original text and translation, women are obsessed with looking good and even when they become mothers, they desperately want to gain back their youth by making effort to return to pre-pregnancy bodies. However, they are always willing to sacrifice for their children since mothering is seen as a labour of love. In terms of translation, it can be said that the translation is governed by the norms of the target culture since there are several translation shifts so that the Irish women would fit in the context of Vietnamese culture.

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