Tim O’ Brien develops the theme of identity in The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong. He uses the character of Mary Anne in order to bring about this theme. In Milan Kundera’ s Identity, the theme involves a character losing her identity and finding it later on in the story. But in Tim O’Brien’s The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong, Mary Anne finds her lost identity once she travels to Vietnam. O’Brien describes Mary Anne as the typical American white girl. “A tall big boned blonde. At best, Rat said, she was seventeen years old, fresh out of Cleveland Heights Senior High.
She had long white legs and blue eyes and a complexion like strawberry ice cream. Very friendly too”. It can be seen that even the colour scheme matches the colours of the American flag. “She’s got on culottes and this sexy pink sweater”. She is also described as to having a ‘bubbly’ personality and a happy smile. This description of Mary Anne fits the perfect image of a girl, which is expected by society. In other words, the identity of Mary Anne was no different from the typical female image. She can be seen as a conformist. Due to this conformity, we cannot see anything unique about Mary Anne’s character in the first part of the chapter.
The fact that Mary Anne is highly curious also matches the personality of any ordinary girl. But this personality trait leads her to undergo many changes in her life. “No cosmetics, no fingernail filing, she stopped wearing jewellery, cut her hair short and wrapped it in a dark green bandanna. ” These were some of the physical changes Mary Anne underwent after spending time in Vietnam. But the change is dramatic once she moves to the Green Beret hooch. “In part it was her eyes: utterly flat and indifferent. There was no emotion in her stare, no sense of the person behind it. But the grotesque part, he said, was her jewellery.
At the girl’s throat was a necklace of human tongues. ” This dramatic description of Mary Anne differentiates shockingly from the image of a teenage female, which is accepted by society. It would most certainly be considered taboo. But we can see that Mary Anne does not find this disturbing. In fact she enjoys it. “”I know what you think, but it’s not… bad. I feel close to myself. When I am out there at night, I feel close to my own body, I can feel my blood moving, my skin and my fingernails, everything, it’s like I am full of electricity… ” Here Mary Anne justifies her change. It can be seen that Mary Anne has found her true identity.
This is implied when she herself states, “I feel close to my own body”. In the past Mary Anne was tied down from finding her true identity due the conformities. But once she came to Vietnam, she was given the opportunity to gain her individuality. Tim O’Brien uses strong, and vivid imagery to show how different a person can really be when not tied down by social conformities. In the beginning, Mary Anne did not appear to have any uniqueness. But once the conformities were taken away, she had the opportunity to be herself and in fact enjoy being an individual. When considering Milan Kundera’s Identity and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.
“Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong”, both texts deal with the issue of personal identity in different perspectives. The character of Chantal in Milan Kundera’s Identity, loses her identity, and then under the influence of another character- Jean Marc, regains her identity. The character of Mary Anne in Tim O’Brien’s The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong, finds her true identity once she comes to Vietnam, where social conformities do not exist. The common factor in both texts being that the personal identity is lost due to social conformities, the two characters in the two texts have two different approaches regarding the issue of one’s identity.