Going After Cacciato

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The titular character of O’Brien’s novel, and by far its most enigmatic presence, Cacciato is a young, round-faced American soldier who decides to leave the army and journey to Paris. While the soldiers often complain that Cacciato is a simpleton, and even imply that he’s mentally handicapped, Cacciato often seems far wiser and clear-headed than the people around him: while the other soldiers agonize over their decision to murder Sidney Martin, Cacciato excuses himself from the discussion. The soldiers’ mission to track down Cacciato as he journeys to India, Iran, and other countries (in no small part because they think he’ll betray their murder to the authorities) forms the bulk of the novel’s plot. Throughout these chapters, Cacciato is described as being almost superhuman, or endowed with the qualities of a saint or a religious figure. Toward the end of the novel, however, we begin to see the truth: Paul Berlin, Cacciato’s friend, accidentally shot Cacciato as Cacciato was beginning his journey to Paris. The novel we’ve been reading, then, is a fantasy constructed by Berlin as a way of fighting his own acute sense of guilt.

Cacciato Quotes in Going After Cacciato

The Going After Cacciato quotes below are all either spoken by Cacciato or refer to Cacciato . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Broadway Books edition of Going After Cacciato published in 1999.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Paul Berlin watched through the glasses as Cacciato's mouth opened and closed and opened, but there was only more thunder. And the arms kept flapping, faster now and less deliberate, wide-spanning winging motions—flying, Paul Berlin suddenly realized. Awkward, unpracticed, but still

flying.

Related Characters: Paul Berlin , Cacciato
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:
O’Brien here sets the surreal, rather confusing tone of his novel. Paul Berlin, a young soldier fighting in the Vietnam War, has been tasked with following Cacciato, a mysterious soldier who’s apparently deserting the army. As Paul tries to track down his former peer, he finds Cacciato moving through the plains of Vietnam, apparently flying. O’Brien never entirely explains whether this scene is real or imagined. Berlin is portrayed as an unreliable narrator with an active fantasy life, but it’s also possible that the novel itself—not Berlin—is meant to be fantastic and unrealistic. O’Brien chooses to write his novel in such a way—blurring the line between fantasy and reality—because he feels that such a book is the only honest way to deliver an account of the Vietnam War. In Vietnam, many American soldiers like Paul Berlin confronted unspeakable horrors and sustained deep psychological wounds, eventually, they could no longer distinguish between nightmare and the real world. The sight of Cacciato stretching his “wings” and trying to fly conveys the soldiers’ frantic desire for freedom and escape in a way that a totally realistic novel could never manage.
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Chapter 5 Quotes

He would go to Europe. That's what he would do. Spend some time in Fort Dodge then take off for a tour of Europe. He would learn French. Learn French, then take off for Paris, and when he got there he would drink red wine in Cacciato's honor.

Related Characters: Paul Berlin , Cacciato
Related Symbols: Paris
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Paul Berlin, stationed on a beach, imagines escaping from his duty in Vietnam and traveling to Europe, where he dreams of leading a leisurely, sensual life of wine and women. O’Brien keeps returning to the image of Berlin sitting on the beach, and at first, it’s unclear when, exactly, Berlin is sitting there. But as the novel goes on, it becomes clearer that Berlin is remembering—and at times, fantasizing—about a search for Cacciato in which he participated recently.

Perhaps the key phrase in this section is “in Cacciato’s honor.” For Berlin, Cacciato (and Paris, the city with which he's associated) is a symbol of escape from the terrors of Vietnam: although Berlin and his fellow soldiers have been tasked with capturing Cacciato, they secretly regard him as something of a hero for finding a way out of the nightmarish world in which they’re trapped.

Chapter 18 Quotes

But who was he? Tender-complected, plump, large slanted eyes and flesh like paste. The images were fuzzy. Paul Berlin remembered separate things that refused to blend together. Whistling on ambush. Always chewing gum. The smiling. Fat, slow, going bald, young. Rapt, willing to do the hard stuff. And dumb. Dumb as milk. A case of gross tomfoolery.
Then he spotted Cacciato.
"That's him," he said. A bit of pastry clogged his throat. He looked again, swallowed—"That's him!"

Related Characters: Paul Berlin (speaker), Cacciato
Page Number: 120
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Berlin and the other soldiers have tracked Cacciato to the city of Mandalay. As Berlin walks through town, eating food, he's amazed to see Cacciato walking through the streets, dressed as a monk. Berlin describes Cacciato as a child, or even a baby--fat, bald, smiling, chewing, etc. Indeed, Cacciato seems completely innocent of the crimes he's witnessed in Vietnam: Paul and his fellow soldiers are men, but Cacciato is portrayed as something like a child, blissfully (and enviably) unaware of the horrors of war. 

It's interesting that Berlin's recollections of Cacciato ("bald, young") arrive before he sees Cacciato, not immediately afterwards. Perhaps O'Brien is suggesting that Berlin is imagining Cacciato. Since it's already been implied that Berlin is imagining the entire mission to hunt down Cacciato, one could describe this passage as an imaginary encounter within an imaginary encounter. As the quest to track down Cacciato goes on, reality blurs to the point where every event feels like a dream, or a projection of Berlin's psychology.

Chapter 22 Quotes

A few names were known in full, some in part, some not at all. No one cared. Except in clearly unreasonable cases, a soldier was generally called by the name he preferred, or by what he called himself, and no great effort was made to disentangle Christian names from surnames from nicknames. Stink Harris was known only as Stink Harris. If he had another name, no one knew it. Frenchie Tucker was Frenchie Tucker and nothing else. Some men came to the war with their names, others earned them. Buff won his name out of proven strength and patience and endurance. He had no first name and no last name, unless it was to call him Water Buffalo, a formality which was rare. Doc's name was so natural it went unnoticed; no one knew his first name and no one asked. What they were called was in some ways a measure of who they were, in other ways a measure of who they preferred to be. Cacciato, for example, was content to go by his family name; it was complete. Certain men carried no nicknames for the reverse of reasons that others did: because they refused them, because the nicknames did not stick, because no one cared.

Related Characters: Stink Harris , Cacciato , Doc Peret , Frenchie Tucker , Water Buffalo / Buff
Page Number: 145-146
Explanation and Analysis:

Here O'Brien describes the strange and fascinating culture surrounding nicknames in Vietnam. Almost every soldier has a nickname; furthermore, a soldiers' nickname is the only name he'll answer to, and the only name his peers are aware of. Thus, nobody knows who the "real" Water Buffalo is (outside of his Vietnam-self), and nobody seems to care.

The prevalence of nicknames among the soldiers suggests that everyone in the army has a second identity, distinct from their identity back in the U.S. Many of the soldiers treat the military as a "fresh start," so it makes sense that they would reject their old names along with their old lives. Furthermore, many of the soldiers will go on to "forget" their experiences in Vietnam, or pretend that they never happened--in a sense, they're rejecting their own names.

Cacciato's lack of a nickname might suggest his rare naivete and honesty. Unlike his peers, Cacciato seems to have nothing to hide--he's the same person in Vietnam that he was in the U.S.

Chapter 36 Quotes

So now he ran. A miracle, he thought, and he closed his eyes and made it happen.
And then a getaway car—why not? It was a night of miracles, and he was a miracle man. So why not? Yes, a car. Cacciato pointed at it, shouted something, then disappeared.

Related Characters: Paul Berlin (speaker), Cacciato
Page Number: 243
Explanation and Analysis:

In this dreamlike sequence of events, Paul and his fellow troops manage to break out of their prison cell in Tehran and make a run for it. No explanation is offered for how they're able to escape (they have a grenade, but it's not clear where they got it). After a certain point, O'Brien purposefully doesn't even try to make the scene seem realistic--for example, Paul seems to imagine a getaway car, and then sees one in real life. We're reminded that the entire episode--and the entire hunt for Cacciato--might be Paul's daydream in the first place, meaning that his "inventing" of a car is only one tiny part of the story he's dreamed up.

Chapter 44 Quotes

Spec Four Paul Berlin: I am asking for a break from violence. But I am also asking for a positive commitment. You yearn for normality—an average house in an average town, a garden, perhaps a wife, the chance to grow old. Realize these things. Give up this fruitless pursuit of Cacciato. Forget him. Live now the dream you have dreamed. See Paris and enjoy it. Be happy. It is possible. It is within reach of a single decision.”

Related Characters: Sarkin Aung Wan (speaker), Paul Berlin , Cacciato
Related Symbols: Paris
Page Number: 318
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Sarkin Aung Wan asks her lover, Paul Berlin, to stay with her in Paris. Paul has reached a cross-roads: thus far, he could always pretend that he was following military orders by pursuing Cacciato to Paris, even when it was clear that he was really going to Paris to escape the war. Now, Paul and his friends are about to be chased out of the city: the authorities have finally caught up with them, and they know Paul is a deserter. Sarkin asks Paul to stay behind with her, risking arrest but also possibly gaining true happiness.

One should keep in mind that Sarkin might be an opportunist, more interested in having money and a nice apartment than in Paul himself. But in a sense, Sarkin is exactly right. Paul isn't just following his orders; he's choosing to have a difficult life. He obeys authorities and goes with the group, even when doing so makes him miserable and endangers his life.

Chapter 46 Quotes

"I guess it's better this way," the old man finally said. "There's worse things can happen. There's plenty of worse things."
"True enough, sir."
"And who knows? He might make it. He might do all right." The lieutenant's voice was flat like the land. "Miserable odds, but—"
"But maybe."
"Yes," the lieutenant said. "Maybe so."

Related Characters: Paul Berlin (speaker), Lieutenant Corson (speaker), Cacciato
Related Symbols: Paris
Page Number: 336
Explanation and Analysis:

In this final scene, a flashback to the beginning of the novel, Paul and Lieutenant Corson (who will eventually become rivals for Sarkin's love), discuss the possibility that Cacciato--who's just run away from the army--will succeed in reaching Paris. Strangely, both men agree that Cacciato very well might succeed in his quest, unlikely as it seems.

In a way, Cacciato's disappearance is meant to symbolize the soldiers' desire to survive the war in Vietnam--if Cacciato can make it all the way to Paris unharmed, then perhaps Paul, Corson, and the others can make it back to the U.S. sane and in one piece, too. The scene also reminds us that the novel we've just read might be the product of Paul's imagination--perhaps Cacciato is killed early on in his journey, but Paul continues imagining that Cacciato makes it away from the war and completes his unlikely odyssey to Paris. In the end, O'Brien leaves us with a cautious optimism--perhaps it's possible for the soldiers of this bloody, brutal war to survive while also maintaining their sanity--and perhaps it's hope, imagination, and fantasy that helps them do so.

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Cacciato Character Timeline in Going After Cacciato

The timeline below shows where the character Cacciato appears in Going After Cacciato. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
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In October, one of the soldiers, a man named Cacciato, “left the war.” The other soldiers try to understand what this means, and where he’s... (full context)
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Corson calls Cacciato’s friend, Paul Berlin, to discuss Cacciato’s disappearance. Corson asks Berlin if it’s true that Cacciato... (full context)
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Squad three proceeds to hunt down Cacciato. They make their way through the mountains and forests. Before too long, Paul Berlin spots... (full context)
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Although the third squad sees Cacciato far ahead, they haven’t caught him yet. They climb through high mountains. Eventually, they reach... (full context)
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As Corson studies the pages of Cacciato’s atlas, Doc suggests that they let Cacciato go ahead, rather than endanger their own lives... (full context)
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The soldiers continue chasing Cacciato through the mountains. By this point, Cacciato is well aware that he’s being followed—as he... (full context)
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...the enemy.” Late that night—around 4 AM—the soldiers, unable to sleep, sit around talking about Cacciato. Paul Berlin tells Doc Peret that he hopes Cacciato keeps moving and escapes from the... (full context)
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The night proceeds, and Paul Berlin finds himself thinking about Cacciato. He imagines Cacciato being murdered: his skull exploding, throwing blood everywhere. Then, he imagines “a... (full context)
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...as a soldier. As he walks, he wonders if it might not be possible that Cacciato could make it to Paris—perhaps there’s a one in a million chance. The squad loses... (full context)
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After six days of pursuit, the squad sees Cacciato walking ahead in the distance. Cacciato looks surprisingly calm and casual—in fact, he looks like... (full context)
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The soldiers march toward Cacciato. Suddenly, Stink Harris looks down: he’s “tripped” a wire. Quickly, the soldiers jump to the... (full context)
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...is returning to the squad, carrying a white flag. Johnson has gone to meet with Cacciato, in order to negotiate the terms of Cacciato’s surrender. Johnson has told Cacciato the truth:... (full context)
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That night, Paul Berlin dreams about Cacciato walking through the country. He still wants to believe that Cacciato could succeed in his... (full context)
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...morning, the rain has subsided. Berlin wakes up and sees a small fire in the distance—Cacciato is cooking himself breakfast. Lieutenant Corson wakes up and announces, “let’s do it.” Eddie, Oscar,... (full context)
Chapter 2
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...after the events of the previous chapter, Paul Berlin lies on the ground, thinking about Cacciato. He is sitting in a large tower that overlooks the South China Sea, and it’s... (full context)
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Berlin thinks back on his squad’s pursuit of Cacciato, and tries to understand what has become of Cacciato. Only a short time ago, he... (full context)
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...crash on the beach below the tower, and tries to understand what has happened to Cacciato. He wonders where Cacciato has gone, and how he’s managed to elude capture for so... (full context)
Chapter 3
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...of the previous chapter, the squad is walking through the jungle, again trying to capture Cacciato. They’ve been moving slowly, in single file, looking for any hints of Cacciato’s presence. As... (full context)
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...area. Harold Murphy, who carries the squad’s “big rifle,” mutters that the soldiers should let Cacciato go, rather than risk their own lives. Lieutenant Corson ignores Murphy and motions for his... (full context)
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...desertion themselves—after all, they’ve marched into a foreign country, seemingly along the same path that Cacciato took when he went AWOL. (full context)
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...writing down their decisions on pieces of paper. Paul Berlin votes to continue searching for Cacciato, winning the vote for the “go-aheads.” The next morning, the soldiers discover that Harold Murphy... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...medals.” Next, he fantasizes about visiting Europe, where he’ll learn French and explore Paris “in Cacciato’s honor.” He maintains that it’s possible for a soldier to walk to Paris. (full context)
Chapter 6
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...unhealthy Lieutenant Corson. Along the way, they find other small objects that seem to signal Cacciato’s presence nearby. After many miles, they come to the end of the jungles of Laos:... (full context)
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...walk along the road that stretches through the savannah, the soldiers find further clues of Cacciato’s presence, such as a Black Jack wrapper. Suddenly, the soldiers see a pair of buffalo... (full context)
Chapter 7
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Shortly after Corson and Berlin’s conversation, the narrator explains, the soldiers “capture Cacciato.” It remains to be seen how this happens. (full context)
Chapter 10
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...of Chapter Seven. Doc is tending to Stink Harris’s injury: Stink has tried to capture Cacciato, and failed. Stink explains that he came “this close” to capturing Cacciato, but Cacciato injured... (full context)
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The next day, the soldiers find a pile of Cacciato’s old maps. On one of the maps, they find a message: “Look out, there’s a... (full context)
Chapter 11
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...body away while the soldiers watch. The soldiers are near a village called Hoi An. Cacciato—still a soldier at this time—works with Harold Murphy, Oscar, and Vaught to prepare marching on. (full context)
Chapter 16
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...Sidney Martin tells his troops that they’ll have to begin searching more tunnels and bunkers. Cacciato enjoys playing basketball, and seems strangely unconcerned by the uncertainty of the soldiers’ situation. Oscar... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...insists that they will, soon enough. Sarkin asks Berlin if it’s necessary to chase after Cacciato, and Berlin shrugs—“it’s the mission,” he says. Later in the evening, the narrator notes, “they... (full context)
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The next morning, the soldiers leave their hotel and begin searching Mandalay for Cacciato. Berlin searches with Sarkin to help him, and he navigates through markets, churches, etc. Berlin... (full context)
Chapter 18
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...to be searching for? Oscar Johnson replies that the soldiers will have to think like Cacciato, so they’ll have to search the brothels and bars. Eddie protest that these places “don’t... (full context)
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...sleep. Paul Berlin is particularly confused by the new routine, and he can’t imagine where Cacciato could be. He walks with Sarkin through restaurants and teashops, never seeing a sign of... (full context)
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One day, Berlin and Sarkin are walking through Mandalay when Berlin—much to his amazement—sees Cacciato walking less than six feet in front of him. Cacciato is dressed as a monk,... (full context)
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Berlin approaches Cacciato, now standing at the center of the crowd. The air smells of incense, and everyone... (full context)
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...over him. Sarkin explains that he’s been passed out for hours. Berlin asks which way Cacciato went, and Sarkin, smiling slightly, points toward the railroad station—“The way to Paris.” (full context)
Chapter 19
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...time is unspecified). Paul Berlin imagines telling his friends and family the story of how Cacciato walked to Paris. He imagines the objections his friends will have—don’t you need passports to... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...soldiers are preparing to search their train. Stink will stand in the aisle, waiting for Cacciato to run away, while the other soldiers search the cars. Berlin proceeds through the train,... (full context)
Chapter 22
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...with their nicknames and never lose them. Other men go by their surnames and nothing else—Cacciato, for example. Still others, such as Sidney Martin, go by their rank alone—lieutenant. (full context)
Chapter 26
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...begins shortly after the events of Chapter 23. The soldiers are still in Delhi, and Cacciato is nowhere in sight. Paul Berlin spends nearly all of his time with Sarkin. They... (full context)
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...Corson shows Berlin a copy of the local newspaper. Amazingly, there is a photograph of Cacciato on the front page. In the photograph, Cacciato is sitting in a train car near... (full context)
Chapter 29
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...about his soldiers’ mission, and Doc explains that they’re traveling to Paris to hunt down Cacciato. Rhallon nods—if Cacciato is indeed a deserter, he says, then he must be punished severely,... (full context)
Chapter 30
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...cycles. For a long time, Berlin has been trapped in a cycle of searching for Cacciato. In order to break out of a cycle, one must be strong and focused. He... (full context)
Chapter 31
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...take it personally.” As he marches through the forest, Berlin strikes up a conversation with Cacciato, who is chewing his favorite gum. Cacciato has been a soldier for longer than Berlin,... (full context)
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...death ends, the soldiers resume their business. Eddie sings humorous songs about Billy Boy, and Cacciato offers Berlin a stick of his prized Black Jack gum. He tells Berlin, “You’ll do... (full context)
Chapter 33
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...situation to Captain Rhallon: they are American infantry, assigned to capture a runaway soldier named Cacciato. Rhallon asks for Cacciato’s first name, but—as the narrator has already established—nobody knows it. Rhallon... (full context)
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...say, “We ran.” The officer also orders them to admit that their “mission” to recover Cacciato was a lie. The soldiers “confess” this as well. Finally, the officer tells the soldiers... (full context)
Chapter 34
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...book. Martin asks each soldier to go down into the tunnel, and each one refuses. Cacciato, meanwhile, is fishing for food in the nearby river, and isn’t present. Martin goes to... (full context)
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...tunnel, they discuss what has just happened. Martin has written everyone’s name down (except for Cacciato), marking them as traitors. Oscar produces a grenade from his belt and tells the soldiers... (full context)
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...about his childhood in Wisconsin. When every soldier has touched the grenade, Oscar asks where Cacciato is. Vaught reports that he’s still fishing. Oscar wants Berlin to summon Cacciato as soon... (full context)
Chapter 35
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Paul Berlin and Cacciato are fishing together, shortly after the events of the last chapter. Cacciato complains that there... (full context)
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Suddenly, Berlin produces a grenade and tells Cacciato that the soldiers want Cacciato to touch it. Cacciato seems to understand what Berlin is... (full context)
Chapter 36
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In his dreams, Berlin imagines Cacciato’s round face. Suddenly, he feels Sarkin shaking him awake. Sarkin tells him that he needs... (full context)
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...distance. He remembers the vote the soldiers took—everyone touched the grenade. The only exception was Cacciato—while he “touched” the grenade, he gave few signs of understanding what he was being asked... (full context)
Chapter 40
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...the ship again and sail to Athens. There, the soldiers make the usual inquiries about Cacciato, searching taverns and other similar places. Again, they find no evidence of Cacciato’s presence. They... (full context)
Chapter 41
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...battle, which keeps getting larger and more complicated. When the battle finally ends, Paul Berlin, Cacciato, and Eddie Lazzutti patrol the area, searching for bodies. They find the body of a... (full context)
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...battlegrounds, Doc suggests that they look through Buff’s helmet—where he kept his most valuable items. Cacciato goes to rummage through Buff’s helmet. He finds a stick of gum, which he proceeds... (full context)
Chapter 42
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...and sees that it’s 5 AM. The sun is beginning to shine. Berlin wonders where Cacciato will take them—how far could he possibly go? (full context)
Chapter 43
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...Italian embassy. Doc points out that nobody will believe the soldiers’ story of tracking down Cacciato, unless they succeed in capturing Cacciato. Berlin recognizes that Doc is correct, but finds it... (full context)
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The soldiers proceed with their search for Cacciato, but their pace is leisurely. They enjoy sitting in French salons and listening to accordion... (full context)
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...Paris. Berlin is interested in this idea, but he insists that he has to capture Cacciato before he can do anything else. Sarkin tells Berlin that he should forget his friends... (full context)
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...them that he and Sarkin are moving to Paris permanently and abandoning the search for Cacciato. But before he can explain himself, Eddie tells Berlin that Dwight Eisenhower has died—an important... (full context)
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...the war, even if they’ve tried to rationalize their actions as a “mission” to recover Cacciato. Berlin realizes that Corson is right. (full context)
Chapter 44
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...Berlin suggests that the soldiers turn themselves in and explain their mission to hunt down Cacciato. Doc sighs and tells Berlin, “I pity you.” He explains that they would need evidence... (full context)
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...recognize the importance of the soldiers’ mission. Oscar Johnson takes charge of the hunt for Cacciato. Berlin spends long days patrolling the streets of Paris. At night, he goes back to... (full context)
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The narrator writes, “The next morning he found Cacciato.” Berlin is walking through Les Halles (a neighborhood of Paris) when he sees Cacciato walking... (full context)
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The chapter cuts ahead several hours. Berlin is explaining to Doc how he found Cacciato. He shows Doc a slip of paper on which he’s written the address of the... (full context)
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...enduring so much pain and suffering, she argues, Berlin should abandon his duty to find Cacciato, and give in to his “dream” of living in Paris with her. (full context)
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...obligations to his men and to himself: he has voted to continue the hunt for Cacciato, to fight in Vietnam, and to be a loyal soldier. These obligations aren’t just rules... (full context)
Chapter 45
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Berlin remembers Cacciato, who left the other soldiers, saying he would go to Paris. Berlin remembers the day... (full context)
Chapter 46
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...gone, Oscar Johnson becomes the soldiers’ official commanding officer. He orders everyone to stake out Cacciato’s hotel and wait for him to leave the building. The soldiers take their guns and... (full context)
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...to “go home”—he doesn’t think Berlin will be able to handle the “messy stuff” with Cacciato. Berlin insists that he must stay, and Oscar reluctantly agrees, muttering that Berlin has grown... (full context)
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...the hotel. Berlin leads the soldiers up the stairs to the door where he saw Cacciato. Oscar gives Berlin his “big rifle,” and tells him to open the door. (full context)
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...many months, to the night that Berlin and the other soldiers were supposed to arrest Cacciato on the hill in Vietnam. Stink and Harold Murphy are still present, and Doc tells... (full context)
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...soldiers proceed through Vietnam. Lieutenant Corson sends a radio message in which he reports that Cacciato is missing in action. The soldiers talk about the possibility that they’ll be stationed at... (full context)
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...next to him. Corson tells Berlin, “I guess it’s better this way.” Together, they discuss Cacciato’s desertion, and the possibility that Cacciato would have succeeded in walking to Paris. The odds... (full context)