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Paper Two, Question 6

Anthony Dillon

Literary works often show men and women struggling to resolve problems and not succeeding very well. To what degree do you find this to be true in at least 2 of the works you have studied?
Among struggles in literary works, internal conflicts are perhaps the most prevalent and atrocious. The Things They Carried by Tim OBrien and The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh, postmodern novels published in 1990, embody the internal conflicts confronted by soldiers fighting in the Cold War-era proxy war in Vietnam. While Ninh illustrates a fictional narrative around the protagonist, Kien, a Viet Cong soldier, who fought for nationalism, OBrien presents a post-modern approach, in which he casts himself as both writer and character of the novel, as if he is drawing upon personal experiences in the voice of Tim, an American soldier fighting for North Vietnam and patriotism. Although seemingly different perspectives of the same war, both novels are male-oriented, centering the soldiers of the war; these mens multifaceted struggles are represented through various relationships with the women of the novels, such as Phuong, Martha, Mary Anne and Sally Kramer. In conjunction, the novels are parallel in their objectives to critique society and question the nature of war. In the midst of wars brutality and gulf of experience between those who are and are not at war, the internal endeavor to seek comfort through beauty, only possible through reminiscence, is emphasized in an attempt to resolve the problems between fantasy and reality, such as loss, change and societal rejection. Despite the attempts to relive or restore their former beliefs, the metamorphosis of the female characters and the disillusionment of their puppy love catalyze the gradual shift towards isolation and insanity suffered by the male characters. The cruelty, terror and sins of war that can only be justifiable by loyalty, gradually corrupt the soldiers sense of humanity; therefore the men turn to the only means of redemption, puppy love. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from his lover Martha, a junior in New Jersey, while Kien carried the everlasting memories of his Phuong. Cross, from The Things They Carried, and Kien, from The Sorrow of War, are similar in the sense that they struggle to accept the loss of purity of their loved ones. Despite knowing that she had boyfriends, Cross convinced himself of Marthas virginity. The letters were treated with reverence, handled only with the tips of his fingers and symbolically sealed in plastic, untainted by the filth of war. Martha was regarded with sanctity because she belonged to another world, the world away from war he idealizes her as she never mentioned the war, allowing him to momentarily escape the burdens of the responsibility as a lieutenant. Cross desire for her purity is a reflection of his attempt to escape the obscenity of war, deceiving himself that the innocence of his pre-war self still exists. In fact, in the midst of combat, the proximity to death brings him to realize his strength and that his truest self stems from his religiosity. In a similar sense, through dramatic irony, the readers become aware of Phuongs rape that desecrated her virginity, however Kien, oblivious to her impurity and fixated to the belief of Phuongs virginit y states that she makes him the strongest, the luckiest, the greatest, in which the idea of power through faith is exemplified by the parallel use of superlatives in the novels. In addition, the recurring theme of selfdeception to preserve notions of purity becomes the only way for the men to overcome their shattered conception. War is also inferred as vulgar, ephemeral and ugly through the anaphora and repetitious use of simple sentences, She would be untainted by war. She would be forever beautiful, emphasizing the fictitious qualities of war. Furthermore, the possessive pronoun, His Phuong would remain young forever, demonstrates his possession and immortalization of Phuong, or more accurately, the ideal of Phuong defined by virtue. Despite the physical burdens, the geographical and emotional separation between the men and their women leaves them with loneliness and isolation, and as the men struggle to fill their hollow holes of grief, they are reminded of the lost opportunities, the world they abandoned and the life they could have had. The men eventually depends on Phuong and Martha, as if they were Ted Lavenders tranquilizers that satisfy his drug addiction. Holy and sacred, Phuong, through the biblical allusion, he often dreamed of and reall y felt the warm flesh again and tasted her virgin milk, which references the maternal relationship between the Virgin Mary and Jesus displays the comfort felt as if from a mother or a holy figure, such as God. On the other hand, the intensely sensual description of Kiens tasting of Phuongs breasts like an elixir overlaps with Cross fetishistic behavior on a good luck charm from Martha, of which he carried in his mouth, turning

it with his tongue, which demonstrates their desire to internalize thei r lovers, or rather restoring and retaining the purity that these men has lost through war. Jimmy Cross use of the idea of Martha as a psychological remedy against his internal struggle to come to terms with war was ultimately ended due to his guilt from Ted lavenders death, of which his irrational love distracted him from hi s obligations as a soldier, and a moment of carelessness carried consequences that lasted forever. The onomatopoeia and monosyllabic fragmented sentences Boom. Down represented realitys sudden collision with his momentary fantasies. He burnt the letters, collapsed his fantasies, eradicated his distractions and successfully resolved his internal struggle, accepted and endured the loss of purity of his beloved. Whereas, Kien, even though twenty years have passed, devoted and lingered in selfdeception and idealized figures to relive his past. Although it is a coping mechanism, it forever bounded him to the shackles of pre-war Phuong, whom doesnt exist anymore. The Vietnam War was a war between America and South Vietnam, but moreover, nationalism and patriotism of the soldiers, yet, ironically, the soldiers did not fight for their countries. Kien and Mark Fossie, from The Things They Carried, both struggled to preserve their purpose and reason to fight. In both cases, the male characters brought their loved ones to the battlefield in Vietnam as a reminder of their motives; however, it facilitated fundamental changes in the women, reflecting how war has caused dilemmas and challenges that the soldiers must overcome. Mary Anne was subservient and submissive to Fossie. They were sweethearts since grammar school. The allusion to the fairytale, Hansel and Gretel, they had known for a fact that someday they would be marri ed, and live in a gingerbread house in Lake Erie, and have three yellow-haired children, and grow old together demonstrates their initial utopian perspectives when they first entered the war. Moreover, as an American folk tale, highlights how their dreams and aspirations of love, marriage, maturity, children, joy and demise are respectively planned out. This was Fossies initial motivation the desire to achieve this American dream. Mary Anne was initially described by the sexist simile, her complexion like strawberry ice cream, as an immobile object that was incapable of individual thinking , change and that her only purpose was male consumption. However, in the chapter, Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong, Mary Annes curiosity led her to gradually assimilate with Vietnam guerilla culture. In fear, Fossie demanded their marriage and her return to America. In a similar sense, Phuong, a free spirit defies social norms, declaring her independence, of which Kien struggles to accept. Both men eventually lose their incentive for war. Through the pathetic fallacy in The Sorrow of War, after Kiens realization that Phuong, his past, present and future is slowly fading, the rain kept pounding day after day. The fighting seemed blanketed by the immense dull sea of rain, of which the weather and setting has reflected Kiens senseless mood and monotonous atmosphere of both sadness of war and loss of Phuong. However, unlike Fossie, who without Mary Anne fundamentally surrendered to despair and isolation, Kien resolves his struggle by investing his devotion for Phuong into his ideologies of nationalism and state, successfully holding onto a purpose to continue the fight. Kien abandoned this changed Phuong; he chose the war over her. Hoas rape is parallel to Phuongs in the sense that Kien transposes the image of Phuong and Hoa together; b y seeing Hoas rape, he resonates Phuongs, as if Kien was in danger. Yet, he allowed the bare-chested apes, the American soldiers desecrate Hoa, representation of how Kien now value his nationalistic ideology rather than the love for Phuong, especially this Phuong, whom is not only impure by loss of virginity but also loss of nationalistic ideology. In both novels, isolation is demonstrated to be an inevitable process to the soldiers, as overwhelming ambiguity of war cannot be explained. Norman Bowker, from The Things They Carried is identical to Kien, in terms of theyre inability to communicate the true nature of war to those who had not experienced it. Bowker suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and eventually committed suicide because he is stuck in the shit field, symbolic for war itself. He attempted to share his stories, however, he could not get himself together to contaminate his beloved Sally Gustafson, whose picture he had once carried in his wallet. More importantly, she was married and her name was not Sally Gustafson, it was Sally Kramer and she has her house and a new husband, there was really nothing more he could say to her. Moreover, Sally lived in a blue house, and looked pretty in a red blouse and white shorts. The three colors are symbolic as they are the patriotic colors of The Spangled Banner; hence she is the representative figure of America. The fact that she did not want to hear about the war, demonstrated the marginalization of returned veterans of the time. The Vietnam War was the first war, in which journalists and live broadcasts were issued; it is also the war that exposed horror to the American populace. In a similar sense, Phuong showed no interest, and no fear, however on the contrary, she ignores the war, as she understands personally its savagery. Veterans could not express their experiences for society simply does not care, or rather, they do not understand.

Taken the case of the story of the buffalo that Tim attempts to tell a women, she simply felt sad for the buffalo, completely missing the point about love. The exposition of OBrien, I wont say it but Ill think it. Ill picture Rat Kileys face, his grief, and Ill think, you dumb cooze. Because she wasnt listening, is a post-modern feature that interrupted the story in order to add the comment of the author. OBrien attempts to explain how the reaction of the women was not what he intended. Similarly, the story of the Orangutan in The Sorrow of War exemplifies how society will never understand for no one in todays regiment believed the story, yet it was true. The running style listing of wars nature, war is mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love through its overload usage of conjunctions not only provide each descriptive noun with equal weight to show that all of these human conditions are a part of war and that war is about human conditions, but also it mimics the rambling thought process of the mind in response to the worrying issue of what war is. The followed binary collapse, war is grotesque. But in truth was is also beauty conjoins the diametric opposites together, beauty and ugliness, demonstrating that war is truly overwhelmingly ambiguous and unexplainable. OBrien, as the author understands the true nature of war, however neither Norman Bowker, nor Kien sees this. Norman Bowker nihilistic and pessimistic about the future committed suicide and Kien due to his inability to communicate his story coherently, turned to writing instead, The Sorrow of War had been written for the sake of writing, not to publish, however, he descended into madness and disappeared after writing his fragmented story, in which no matter how hard he tried to revive the scenes, they wouldnt stay and he was left detached floating in a void. Failure to compromise with wars obscure nature has led both men to perish into oblivion as they struggle to express themselves; ironically, leaving their stories untold and forgotten. In conclusion, through The Things They Carried and The Sorrow of War, we, as the readers also struggle with these characters and the events of the novels because we can never truly relate and grasp on the concept of war. The internal conflicts of the characters are in fact a reflection of our human conditions; war merely forced us into realizing these struggles. War brings with it inherent difficulty, in no way is it intended to be good, pure, happy, or satisfying. Kien, by accepting the war and participating wholeheartedly at the beginning, to the expense of Phuong, later regretted his decision and paid for it with his sanity. On the contrary, refusal to conform to these losses and changes of the women only result in the men struggling to perceive the world behind their fabricated realities of the past.