Within Vietnamese culture, different mythologies and customs play a pivotal role in the everyday life. From birth, the Vietnamese are taught to respect their elders, try to gain good Karma, and to carry their ancestral views from one generation to another. Monkey Bridge, a novel that demonstrates the alienation, assimilation, and exile of the Vietnamese after the Vietnam War in America is told by a mother and daughter pair. Through the narration of the daughter, Mai, we learn of her eventual success and accommodation to life in America. With Mai's mother's journal entries, Cao creates a conflict between Mai and Thanh due to their different perspectives of assimilation after the war. Thanh holds onto her engrained customs while in America whereas Mai attempts to leave them in their homeland. Throughout Lan Cao's novel, Monkey Bridge, Cao uses Mai and Thanh's conflict to exploit the tragic effects of war: abandonment, alienation, and separation.
Cao starts her novel with flashbacks and narration from Mai, a Vietnamese immigrant who fled Saigon in 1975. Upon learning about Mai's background before she fled Vietnam, Cao uses descriptive language to illustrate the calmness of America in order to highlight the brutality of Mai's homeland during wartime: "I could see the lush green lawn that stretched languidly across an immense parking lot. A few feet beyond, a spray of water blossomed upward, then rotated in a soundless circle wide enough to reach the far outcropping of grass" (12). Through her description of the American hospital, Mai's opinion, that she must accommodate her life to succeed in America, is clear. There is an innate relief within Mai's narration after her flashbacks to Saigon during wartime, knowing she is safe in America. .
With the typical feelings of the American Dream, Mai's urge to accommodate herself into American culture is only more prominent through her views on education, which are strangely different from traditional Vietnamese views.