The protagonist of a story is the main character who traditionally undergoes some sort of change. He or she must usually overcome some opposing force. In this story, the protagonist is Anne Fadiman whose experiences with the Hmong in researching and writing this book is the basis for understanding the story. She examines every aspect of how Lia Lee’s tragedy unfolded and becomes her champion when deciding where blame lies in the end.
The antagonist of a story is the force that provides an obstacle for the protagonist. The antagonist does not always have to be a single character or even a character at all. In this plot there are two antagonists: at times, the Lees are antagonistic when trying to deal with the doctors in Merced; however, their antagonism sincerely comes from the culture to which they are bound. The other antagonists are the doctors at MCMC who refused to accept that understanding a patient’s culture is integral to treating his illness.
The climax of a plot is the major turning point that allows the protagonist to resolve the conflict. The climax occurs when Lia suffers the “big one,” or the seizure that ultimately contributes to her vegetative state.
Lia’s brain impairment is never resolved and she is taken home by her parents to be loved and cared for by them. The doctors in Merced and other medical communities begin to realize that understanding the cultural differences of an immigrant must be considered when treating them as patients. However, in the end, they still believe that the bottom line means save the patient’s life while the Hmong believed that it was the patient’ soul.
This true story involves the life of Lia Lee, a Hmong child who is epileptic. She suffers severe grand mal seizures and eventually, as a result, becomes vegetative for the rest of her life. The key point of the book, however, is not Lia’s epilepsy as much as it is the cultural barriers that led to them destroying her brain. The proper treatment and so-called compliance with it becomes the basis of a tug-of-war for Lia’s life between her doctors and her parents. The author uses this battle as a way of discussing Western and Eastern medicine and how each group views the patient in such different ways.