Going After Cacciato

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Stink Harris Character Analysis

An American soldier in the Vietnam War, and assigned to the same battalion as Paul Berlin, Stink Harris is an idiosyncratic Southerner who becomes violent and almost sociopathic as a soldier. He seems to enjoy firing his gun whenever possible, and makes gruesome jokes about killing women and children. He vanishes from the novel after jumping into the sea, convinced that the police are coming to arrest him.

Stink Harris Quotes in Going After Cacciato

The Going After Cacciato quotes below are all either spoken by Stink Harris or refer to Stink Harris . 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 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.

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Chapter 39 Quotes

Not knowing the language, they did not know the people. They did not know what the people loved or respected or feared or hated. They did not recognize hostility unless it was patent, unless it came in a form other than language; the complexities of tone and tongue were beyond them. Dinkese, Stink Harris called it: monkey chatter, bird talk. Not knowing the language, the men did not know whom to trust. Trust was lethal. They did not know false smiles from true smiles, or if in Quang Ngai a smile had the same meaning it had in the States.

Related Characters: Stink Harris
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Paul and the troops begin their active duty in Vietnam. Right away, they're sent into Quang Ngai, a town that's rumored to be housing Vietcong soldiers. As the soldiers quickly realize, the people of the town can't be trusted easily. O'Brien never reveals if, in fact, the townspeople are friendly to the U.S. soldiers or not--the scene is narrated from the perspective of the troops, who have been trained to fear the people of Vietnam, and partly for good reason.

O'Brien doesn't excuse the evident racism of the soldiers--here, for instance, Stink treats the Vietnamese civilians like animals, who don't even have a proper language. So whether or not Stink is right to fear the Vietnamese (and it's certainly possible that they're working with the Vietcong, as some civilians were during the Vietnam War), we should recognize that he's not making an effort to know the civilians--he assumes they're animals and treats them as such. (It's worth remembering that the only Vietnamese civilians in the novel are portrayed as helpful, loving people.)

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Stink Harris Character Timeline in Going After Cacciato

The timeline below shows where the character Stink Harris appears in Going After Cacciato. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...“absent without leave”). Corson asks Berlin about Cacciato’s squad—which consists of Berlin, Doc, Eddie Lazzutti, Stink, Oscar, and Harold Murphy. Corson tells Berlin that this squad, squad three, is going after... (full context)
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
...alerted his pursuers to his location, making it easier for them to track him down. Stink Harris mutters that Cacciato is “a rockhead.” As the search proceeds, the soldiers approach enemy... (full context)
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...Cacciato looks surprisingly calm and casual—in fact, he looks like a civilian. Lieutenant Corson orders Stink to a fire a shot in Cacciato’s general direction—the goal being to scare Cacciato, not... (full context)
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
The soldiers march toward Cacciato. Suddenly, Stink Harris looks down: he’s “tripped” a wire. Quickly, the soldiers jump to the ground, knowing... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
...the two buffalo. Even after the other soldiers realize their mistake and cease their fire, Stink continues shooting at one of the animals. He doesn’t stop until his gun is empty.... (full context)
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Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...three women—all of whom are weeping hysterically—stand up with their hands high in the air. Stink laughs and admires his own handiwork, calling himself “Fastest hands in the West.” (full context)
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
The night after Stink kills the buffalo, the soldiers spend the night at the edge of the savannah. Eddie... (full context)
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Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...the soldiers bury Nguyen and proceed to leave, accompanied by the three women. Eddie and Stink hitch the surviving buffalo up to the cart, and Paul Berlin decides to sit in... (full context)
Chapter 9
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
...of a battle scene. Lieutenant Sidney Martin has just commanded his soldiers—who include Doc, Rudy, Stink, Bernie Lynn, and Frenchie Tucker—to clear out a tunnel, and Frenchie has been seriously injured... (full context)
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...his throat down to his chest. Seeing that Bernie will never survive, Doc whispers to Stink Harris to inject painkillers into Bernie Lynn’s body immediately. Stink refuses and tells Doc that... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
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Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
The chapter opens shortly after the events of Chapter Seven. Doc is tending to Stink Harris’s injury: Stink has tried to capture Cacciato, and failed. Stink explains that he came... (full context)
Chapter 15
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...that he and his troops have Van outmanned—a fact that Van readily admits. Corson orders Stink Harris to tie Van to a chair. The troops then rush out through the tunnels... (full context)
Chapter 16
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
July turns into August, and the soldiers begin fighting with one another. Stink and Bernie Lynn have an argument about basketball, and after a few moments of shouting... (full context)
Chapter 21
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Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
The next morning, the soldiers are preparing to search their train. Stink will stand in the aisle, waiting for Cacciato to run away, while the other soldiers... (full context)
Chapter 22
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Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
Stink Harris comes from a big family. He takes great care of his rifle, and often... (full context)
Chapter 23
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Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...Jolly Chand is cheerful. She asks Doc about medicine in the United States, and asks Stink about his family. Jolly is especially nice to Corson, who quickly becomes very drunk. Corson... (full context)
Chapter 29
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Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
After the beheading, the soldiers go to get drunk at a local bar. Stink, in contrast to the other soldiers, seems amused by the beheading, and seems certain that... (full context)
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Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
The soldiers blame their arrest, the narrator explains, on each other: Eddie blames Stink, Oscar blames Eddie, etc. Eddie makes the mistake of asking a local man if he... (full context)
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
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...survival—if he doesn’t understand why his country is at war. As they talk, Eddie and Stink dance in the bar. (full context)
Chapter 33
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...friends. After this time, Berlin is handcuffed and brought into a large room, along with Stink, Eddie, Doc, Oscar, and Corson. Sarkin is thrown into this room as well. She kisses... (full context)
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...to the floor. Paul Berlin can’t stop smiling and giggling—something which annoys the officer considerably. Stink mutters that the officer is a Nazi. The officer hits Stink and tells the soldiers... (full context)
Chapter 38
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Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...trying to match faces to photographs. Oscar concludes that the officers are looking for them. Stink swears, and Doc mutters, “We came so close.” Stink begs Oscar to think of something,... (full context)
Chapter 39
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Earlier in 1968, when Berlin, Stink, and the other soldiers were busy patrolling the village of Quang Ngai, Stink garnered a... (full context)
Chapter 40
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...places. Again, they find no evidence of Cacciato’s presence. They also find no evidence of Stink, and it’s not clear what happened to him after he jumped off the ship. After... (full context)
Chapter 46
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...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 Berlin to relax—Berlin is suffering from... (full context)