Some things in life become part of you. People, places, feelings; you can become so close that you are one. But sometimes, these things can consume you; swallow you whole. In Tim O’Brien’s novel, The Things They Carried, many characters become one with the land of Vietnam. Vietnam consumes characters in different ways, but it always results in a character’s unity with the land. Unity is defined as “the state of being one; oneness”. Kiowa physically becomes part of the land in “Speaking of Courage”, when he sinks into the shit field, where Jimmy Cross ordered his troops to camp out.
In this case, Kiowa is literally swallowed by the land. Mary Anne becomes part of the land differently in “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”. She becomes psychologically attached to the land; it consumes her mind and her life. Vietnam is dangerous and hungry. It will eat you alive. During Norman Bowker’s flashback in “Speaking of Courage”, it’s learned that Jimmy Cross orders his platoon to camp out in “a big swampy field beside the river… There was a ville nearby… fifty meters downstream… and right away a dozen old mama-sans ran out and started yelling… bout how the field was bad news… not a good spot for GIs. ” (144, 145).
Cross decides to set up camp, regardless, and “the rain kept getting worse… by midnight the field turned into soup. ” (145). A soldier soon realizes that “it was a shit field… the village toilet. ” (145). The Viet Cong troops attack the platoon, and hell breaks loose. “… he heard somebody screaming… It was Kiowa… Kiowa’s wide open eyes settling down into the scum… Kiowa was almost completely under… There were bubbles where Kiowa’s should have been… Kiowa was gone. ” (148, 149).
Kiowa gets sucked into the shit, and physically becomes part of Vietnam. Tim O’Brien’s writing emphasizes Vietnam, the land itself, as a character. Vietnam does as it pleases; takes what it wants. It selfishly takes Kiowa away, so that both of them can be in unity until the end of time. However, unlike Kiowa, Mary Anne becomes psychologically one with Vietnam in “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong”. Rat Kiley tells a remarkable tale about an American war medic, Mark Fossie, who ships his girlfriend, Mary Anne, over to Vietnam to be with him. “.. the guy sends her the money. Flies her over.
This cute blonde… just barely out of high school… Comes right out to the boonies. ” (90). The troops stationed at the medical base take a liking to Mary Anne; she reminds them of the girls back home. Time passes, and Mary Anne begins to evolve. She’s curious about everything, especially Vietnam; the people, the land and the war. “She was curious about things… she liked to roam around… asking questions… She had a good quick mind… The war intrigued her. The land, too, and the mystery. ” (95, 96). Soon, Mary Anne hangs around with the elite Green Berets stationed at the medical base.
She goes on ambush and patrols the wilderness with them. Mary Anne enters Vietnam as a naive child, but the land changes her into a brutal she-warrior. Vietnam infatuates her; it fills her body and soul with the desire to be free within its mysterious realm. “… everything around it, the entire war, the mountains… villages… the trails and trees… rivers and deep misted-over valleys… Sometimes I want to eat this place. Vietnam. I want to swallow the whole country… I just want to eat it and have it there inside me… you can’t feel like that anywhere else. ” (111).
Mary Anne loses herself to Vietnam. It consumes her, and she embraces it. She is bound to the land in perfect unity, until her dying day. “She had crossed to the other side. She was part of the land… She was dangerous. She was ready for the kill. ” (116). Vietnam is ravenous and can never satisfy its vicious hunger. It feeds on the minds, bodies, and souls of its prey by eating them alive. To be consumed by the land is to become one with it; joined in complete unity, both perfect and terrifying. Vietnam is shrouded in mystery and danger. If you’re not careful, it may suck you in… and never let you go.
Courtney from Study Moose
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