- The Narrator – The unnamed narrator of the novel. He is the son of a white French Priest and a Vietnamese woman. The Narrator became a member of the Communist revolutionaries while in school, and at the beginning of the novel he is working as a spy for the Communist Forces. At the beginning of the novel he is spying on a high-ranking general in South Vietnam, and flees to America with the general and continues to report on his activities. His loyalties are tested throughout the novel and he struggles to maintain his relationships while also keeping his cover intact.
- The General – A decorated general of the South Vietnamese Army, who is the immediate superior of the Narrator. He flees Vietnam after the fall of Saigon with his family and soldiers selected by the Narrator. He opens a liquor after arriving in Los Angeles, and also helps his wife run a Vietnamese restaurant. He uses the profits to fund an attempt to send troops back to Vietnam in an attempt to take it back from the Communists.
- Bon – The Narrator's blood brother, a soldier in the South Vietnamese military, who flees to Los Angeles with the Narrator and the General at the beginning of the novel, but his wife and child are killed during an attack on the airstrip from where they were evacuating. The loss of his family causes him to commit himself to the General's counter-revolution in the pursuit of vengeance.
- Man – The Narrator's other blood brother, and the one who convinced the Narrator to become a revolutionary and take up his position as a mole. Man convinces the Narrator to travel to Los Angeles with the General and report on the General's attempts to send troops back into Vietnam.
- Claude – The Narrator's CIA contact, who recruited the Narrator in his youth while he attended college in the United States. Claude helps the Narrator and his Southern allies settle in the United States, and assists them with the establishment of their counter-revolution.
- Ms. Mori– The Japanese-American secretary of the Asian Studies professor at Occidental College, whom the Narrator works under as well. She and the Narrator begin an affair, and she helps the Narrator rectify the different aspects of his identity.
- The Auteur – An acclaimed Hollywood film director who hires the Narrator as a consultant on his film The Hamlet, a Vietnam War film. He grows to dislike the Narrator a great deal because the Narrator challenges his desire to forsake accuracy and representation of the Vietnamese in favor of his artistic vision.
- The Congressman – A conservative congressman who represents Orange County and uses his service in the war to stir up support among the Vietnamese refugees. He assists the General and the General's allies in the funding and development of their movement to retake Vietnam.
- Identity – As soon as the novel begins it becomes clear that the Narrator constantly struggles to rectify the various aspects of his identity. He is the illegitimate child of a White European Priest and a Vietnamese woman, he is a communist living amongst and spying on capitalists, and he is a native of Vietnam in exile in the United States. Throughout the novel he struggles to understand who he truly is, but feels conflicted due to his ability to understand both sides of the conflict of which he is a part.
- One of the primary reasons the Narrator struggles with his own identity is the fact that his two closest friends are on opposite sides of the war, and he is pulled in both directions by the two of them. While he is technically a member of the Communist forces, his loyalties lie on both sides of the war.
- Ms. Mori is a unique foil to the Narrator in this aspect due to the fact that she is the child of Japanese parents, but has fully embraced her American identity and does not care if other people see her as foreign or an outsider.
- The Americanization of the Vietnam War – The War is seen through the lens of the Narrator, who is well-versed in both aspects of the Vietnamese perspective of the conflict, but he is increasingly exposed to the American idea of the war in which the Americans are the heroes in spite of the fact that they are fighting to support a government that rose from the ashes of the French Imperial regime.
- This is perhaps best exemplified by the fictional film that the Narrator works on as a consultant. The Vietnamese are relegated to roles in which they speak only their native tongue or in fragmented English, and they are all either demonized versions of Viet Cong soldiers, victims of the horrors of war, or are simply there to add an air of authenticity to the film without actually contributing anything worthwhile.
- The Congressman also uses a distorted version of his own service in the war in order to manipulate his constituents and gain their votes, in particular by pandering to the South Vietnamese refugees with his tales of serving alongside the South Vietnamese soldiers. However, it is clear he is mostly taking advantage of the plight of the refugees for his own political gain.
- Loyalty – Along with the idea of identity, the Narrator struggles maintaining the various loyalties he has established on both sides of the conflict. While he feels a loyalty to the Communist Revolutin because of his own ideology, he also understands the views of his enemies because of his love for Bon and his relationship with the General. In time, he comes to accept that his ultimate loyalty is to his homeland, even though he still considers himself a revolutionary.
- This is shown in the Narrator's work on The Hamlet, during which time he tries to ensure proper representation of the Vietnamese so that they will not be forgotten in the wake of the usurpation of the War's narrative by the American propaganda machine.
I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess. At other times, when I reflect on how I cannot help but observe the world in such a fashion, I wonder if what I have should even be called a talent. After all, a talent is something you use, not something that uses you. The talent that you cannot not use, the talent that possesses you — that is a hazard, I must confess. ―The Sympathizer, pg. 1
They were my enemies, and yet they were also brothers-in-arms. Their beloved city was about to fall, but mine was soon to be liberated. It was the end of their world, but only a shifting of worlds for me. So it was that for two minutes we sang with all our hearts, feeling only for the past and turning our gaze from the future, swimmers doing the backstroke toward a waterfall. ―The Sympathizer, pg. 17
Even now, the baby-faced guard who comes to check on me every calls me a bastard when he feels like it. This hardly surprises me, although I had hoped for better from your men, my dear Commandant. I confess that the name still hurts. Perhaps, for variety, he could call me a mongrel or half-breed, as some have in the past? How about métis, which is what the French called me when not calling me Eurasian? The latter word lent me a romantic varnish with Americans but got me nowhere with the French themselves. I still encountered them periodically in Saigon, nostalgic colonizers who stubbornly insisted on staying in this country even after their empire's foreclosure. ―The Sympathizer, pg. 20
Once again I was trapped by circumstances, and once again I would soon see another man trapped by circumstances. The only compensation for my sadness was the expression on Bon's face. It was the first time he had looked happy in months. ―The Sympathizer, pg. 89
Thus smartly dressed, I made my way through the men, all of whom I knew in my capacity as the General's aide. Many once commanded artillery batteries and infantry battalions, but now they possessed nothing more dangerous than their pride, their halitosis, and their car keys, if they even owned cars. I had reported all the gossip about these vanquished soldiers to Paris, and knew what they did (or, in many cases, did not do) for a living. Most successful was a general infamous for using his crack troops to harvest cinnamon, whose circulation he monopolized; now this spice merchant lorded over a pizza parlor. Even now, the baby-faced guard who comes to check on me every calls me a bastard when he feels like it. This hardly surprises me, although I had hoped for better from your men, my dear Commandant. I confess that the name still hurts. Perhaps, for variety, he could call me a mongrel or half-breed, as some have in the past? How about métis, which is what the French called me when not calling me Eurasian? The latter word lent me a romantic varnish with Americans but got me nowhere with the French themselves. I still encountered them periodically in Saigon, nostalgic colonizers who stubbornly insisted on staying in this country even after their empire's foreclosure. ―The Sympathizer, pg. 90-91
I had failed and the Auteur would make The Hamlet as he intended, with my countrymen serving merely as raw material for an epic about white men saving good yellow people from bad yellow people. I pitied the French for their naïveté in believing they had to visit a country to exploit it. Hollywood was much more efficient, imagining the countries it wanted to exploit. The Sympathizer, pg. 134
Among us will be men and women, as well as the thin and lean, but none one among us will be fat, the entire nation having undergone a forced diet. Among us will the light skinned, dark skinned, and every shade in between, some speaking in refined accents and some in rough ones. Many will be Chinese, persecuted for being Chinese, with many other recipients of degrees in reeducation. Collectively we will be called boat people, a name we hard once more earlier this night, when we surreptitiously listened to the Voice of American the navigator's radio. Now that we are to be counted among these boat people, their name disturbs us. it smacks of anthropological condescension, evoking some forgotten branch of the human family, some lost tribe of amphibians emerging from ocean mist, crowned with seaweed. ―The Sympathizer, pg. 382
A man needs a purpose, he said, contemplating the gun. Before I met Linh, I had purpose. I wanted revenge for my father. Then I fell in love and Linh became more important than my father or revenge. I hadn't cried since he died, but after my marriage I cried at his grave because I had betrayed him where it mattered most, in my heart. I didn't get over that until Duc was born.― The Sympathizer, pg. 97
For a long time I felt bad. I wondered why I didn't want to learn Japanese, why I didn't already speak Japanese, why I would rather go to Paris or Istanbul or Barcelona rather than Tokyo. But then I thought, Who cares? Did anyone ask John F. Kennedy if he spoke Gaelic and visited Dublin or if he ate potatoes every night or if he collected paintings of leprechauns? So why are we supposed to not forget our culture? Isn't my culture right here since I was born here? ― The Sympathizer, pg. 75