Going After Cacciato

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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


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 10 Quotes

Then they were falling. Paul Berlin felt it in his stomach. A tumbling sensation. There was time to snatch for Sarkin Aung Wan's hand, squeeze tight, and then they were falling. The road was gone and they were simply falling, all of them, Oscar and Eddie and Doc, the old lieutenant, the buffalo and the cart and the old women, everything, tumbling down a hole in the road to Paris.

Related Characters: Paul Berlin , Lieutenant Corson , Sarkin Aung Wan , Oscar Johnson , Eddie Lazzutti
Related Symbols: Paris, Tunnels
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul Berlin and his fellow soldiers have stumbled upon a secret Vietcong lair, which may or may not be booby-trapped. Berlin and his fellow soldiers fall underneath the ground, though O'Brien never describes exactly how. It's left up to us to decide whether the episode is real or imagined: certainly, American soldiers encountered more surreal spectacles during their service in the war (and the Vietcong did have a complex system of tunnels during the war), and yet O'Brien depicts the soldiers' fall underground in fantastical terms that echo Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, making us wonder if the entire scene is a dream or hallucination of some kind.

The soldiers' fall is deliberately paralleled with Cacciato's flight: Cacciato is slowly freeing himself from his duty to the military, while his fellow soldiers find themselves mired in the horrors of war. Once again, the soldiers associate Paris with peace, escape, and tranquility--and the hole into which they have fallen delays their journey to Paris. (Of course, it's worth noting that the peace and prosperity of Paris comes in part from the exploitation of poorer countries and its former colonies like Vietnam--surely a deliberate choice of symbol on O'Brien's part.)

Chapter 11 Quotes

They spent the night along the Song Tra Bong. They bathed in the river and made camp and ate supper. When it was night they began talking about Jim Pederson. It was always better to talk about it.

Related Characters: Jim Pederson
Page Number: 79
Explanation and Analysis:

As the novel unfolds, it becomes clear that Berlin and his fellow soldiers are hiding something. Having fought in one of the bloodiest wars in American history, they've seen tremendous death and destruction; they've also committed acts of violence against innocent civilians, as well as against their own peers. In other words, every soldier in the army is living in a state of constant guilt and fear.

O'Brien, who served in Vietnam himself, is very perceptive about how soldiers deal with their pain. The best therapy is talking: by keeping their feelings bottled up, the soldiers run the risk of cracking under the pressure of keeping their own tragic secrets. Through conversation and gallows humor, the soldiers find an outlet for their feelings, which allows them to regain a sense of solidarity and community, and remember that they're not the only ones feeling guilty and anxious.

Chapter 13 Quotes

"The soldier is but the representative of the land. The land is your true enemy." He paused. "There is an ancient ideograph—the word Xa. It means—" He looked to Sarkin Aung Wan for help.
"Community," she said. "It means community, and soil, and home."
"Yes," nodded Li Van Hgoc. "Yes, but it also has other meanings: earth and sky and even sacredness. Xa, it has many implications. But at heart it means that a man's spirit is in the land, where his ancestors rest and where the rice grows. The land is your enemy."

Related Characters: Sarkin Aung Wan (speaker), Li Van Hgoc / Van (speaker)
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul Berlin and his fellow troops--along with a Vietnamese woman named Sarkin, whom the soldiers have encountered during their mission--fall into a tunnel and stumble upon a Vietcong soldier named Li Van Hgoc. Because he tried to escape the Vietcong, we slowly realize, Hgoc has been forced to live in the tunnel, never to see the light of day.

Here, Hgoc makes the strange claim that a soldier is just a representative of his "land." In other words, soldiers on opposite sides of a war might not bear one another any hatred at all--they've merely been ordered to fight on behalf of their community, country, or city. Although Hgoc is trying to argue that soldiers are fighting against a country, not individual people, his argument has an ironic double-meaning. In a very practical sense, the American soldiers' own land is their enemy: powerful government officials have ordered them to fight against their will, risking their lives and mental health in the process. And on another level, Hgoc's claim speaks to the sense of futility behind the entire Vietnam War effort--there is no concrete enemy that can be defeated, but an entire "land" that works against the American soldiers on multiple levels.

Chapter 15 Quotes

Sarkin Aung Wan uncurled her legs and stood up.
"There is a way," she said.
The lieutenant kept studying his hands. The fingers trembled.
"The way in is the way out."
Li Van Hgoc laughed but the girl ignored it.
"The way in," she repeated, "is the way out. To flee Xa one must join it. To go home one must become a refugee."
"Riddles!" Li Van Hgoc spat. "Insane!"
Sarkin Aung Wan took Paul Berlin's hand. "Do you see?" she said. "You do need me."

Related Characters: Sarkin Aung Wan (speaker), Li Van Hgoc / Van (speaker), Paul Berlin , Lieutenant Corson
Related Symbols: Tunnels
Page Number: 97
Explanation and Analysis:

Sarkin, who is still trapped underground with Paul Berlin and the other soldiers, offers some ambiguous wisdom in this passage: "the way in is the way out." Sarkin thinks that she has a way of escaping the tunnels--even though Hgoc, who's been around for far longer, denies any possibility of escape.

It's hard to take Sarkin's words literally (by this point in the novel, we're so confused about the tunnels that we don't know what to believe). But on a symbolic level, Sarkin's pronouncement has a lot to say about the soldiers' state of mind. Traumatized by war, Berlin and his friends are trying to return "home"--both in the sense that they're trying to make it back to the U.S. in one piece, and in the sense that they're trying to preserve their sanity. Just as Sarkin implies, in order to savor one's home, one must first become an outsider. We see this through Paul Berlin's behavior: not too long ago, he was a frustrated young man, eager to leave his home and fight in the army--now, however, he's desperate to return to the homeland and state of innocence he left behind. In short, Sarkin's ideas reflect the soldiers' broken-down, yet strangely optimistic, worldview.

Chapter 16 Quotes

So in the hottest part of the afternoon, in a tiny hamlet called Thap Ro, they chose up teams according to squads. Eddie Lazzutti ripped the bottom out of a woman's wicker grain basket, shinnied up a tree, attached it with wire and slid down. No backboard, he said, but what the hell—it was still a war, wasn't it?

Related Characters: Eddie Lazzutti (speaker)
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, O'Brien portrays the complexities of war, which include times of drudgery and even play. The American troops in Vietnam are bored; they're not sure if they'll ever see real combat. A soldier named Eddie--a friend of Paul Berlin's--builds a makeshift basketball court, using a woman's basket. The image of a "ripped" wicker basket foreshadows the barbaric crimes that Eddie and his peers will commit in the near future: although Eddie is relaxed and even bored here, O'Brien foreshadows that there's violence in his future.

The passage also shows soldiers again trying to survive, not in the sense of fighting, but in the sense of preserving their sanity. In no small part, the challenge of Vietnam is to remain sane in spite of all the traumatic events the soldiers witness. Basketball games are just one of the ways that the soldiers try to mitigate their fear and anxiety.

Then they were out of the water, regrouping, moving up the clay path into Trinh Son 2. Paul Berlin's head roared with quiet. Splitting—but he moved into the dark village. When Rudy Chassler hit the mine, the noise was muffled, almost fragile, but it was a relief for all of them.

Related Characters: Paul Berlin , Rudy Chassler
Page Number: 110
Explanation and Analysis:

Early in their time in Vietnam, Paul and the other soldiers are bored and restless. Secretly, they want something to happen. One day, the soldier Rudy Chassler steps on a land mine, killing himself--and the other soldiers are secretly relieved. In some way, the tension of waiting and being afraid is worse than actual violence and danger.

Disturbing as the passage is, it points to the anxieties of being a soldier in the Vietnam War. Many of the men and women who saw active duty in the conflict suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition which left them unable to cope with normal life after the war. Some of the soldiers who suffered from PTSD reported wanting to return to war, since Vietnam represented the last time when they felt they had some control over their lives. Berlin and his fellow soldiers define themselves in terms of war--an event like Rudy Chassler's death, as tragic as it might be, marks their only way of finding a kind of meaning and "resolution."

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 24 Quotes

"Crazy," Oscar said. He kept wagging his head. "Over an' out."
It made Paul Berlin feel good. Like buddies. Genuine war buddies, he felt close to all of them. When they laughed, he laughed.

Related Characters: Oscar Johnson (speaker), Paul Berlin
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, O'Brien shows how a young, inexperienced soldier bonds with his fellow troops. Paul Berlin and Oscar (a fellow soldier) have gone to take phone calls from their families back in the U.S. Berlin waits for Oscar, and when Oscar comes out of the phone room, he's looking very serious. Berlin then feels strangely close to Oscar--tragedy brings them together in sympathy and mutual respect.

O'Brien suggests that tragedy and trauma bring soldiers together, more than anything else. Paul and his fellow troops witness unspeakable tragedies. They're bound together for life by their experiences--they have nobody else to talk to about the things they've seen and done. Berlin has yet to fight in battle at this point, but he's already learning about how military bonding works--sadness is the "glue" that holds everyone together.

Chapter 29 Quotes

"There it is. The old man's suffering from an advanced case. Nostalgia, it comes from the Greek. I researched it: straight from the Greek. Algos means pain. Nostos means to return home. Nostalgia: the pain of returning home. And the ache that comes from thinking about it. See my drift? The old man's basic disease is homesickness. Nostalgia for the goddamned war, the army, the lifer's life. And the dysentery, the fever, it's just a symptom of the real sickness."
"So what do we do?"
"Time," Doc said. He put his glasses on. "It's the only antidote for nostalgia. Just give the man time."

Related Characters: Paul Berlin (speaker), Doc Peret (speaker), Lieutenant Corson
Page Number: 183-184
Explanation and Analysis:

The soldiers arrive in the city of Tehran, but their supposed leader, Lieutenant Corson, is almost incapable of leading anyone: he's an older, weak man, and he's pining for a woman named Jolly, whom he met in India. Doc make a slightly different, and rather contradictory claim: that Corson is suffering from nostalgia, the fear of leaving the army behind altogether and the fear of returning home. So it's not clear what Corson's problem really is: if he's sad about leaving something behind, or if he's afraid of returning, or both.

The passage represents one of the closest links between O'Brien's novel and Homer's Odyssey, the Greek epic poem that's often cited as a major influence on this novel. O'Brien writes about a group of old veterans trying to reach home once again; in the same way, Homer wrote about Odysseus and his group of veterans trying to return to their island of Ithaca. Doc's explanation that Corson needs "time" might also suggest that there's no true cure for a soldier's PTSD--Doc can only hope that the soldiers learn to readjust to civilian life.

"Yes," the captain said, "running is also what the soldier thinks of, yes? He thinks of it often. He imagines himself running from battle. Dropping his weapon and turning and running and running and running, and never looking back, just running and running. Soldiers think of this. I know it. Yes? It is the soldier's thought above other thoughts."
The man touched his moustache and smiled. "And purpose is what keeps him from running. Without purpose men will run. They will act out their dreams, and they will run and run, like animals in stampede. It is purpose that keeps men at their posts to fight. Only purpose."

Related Characters: Doc Peret (speaker), Captain Fahyi Rhallon (speaker)
Page Number: 199
Explanation and Analysis:

The soldiers, still in Tehran, cross paths with a suspicious young Iranian military officer, Captan Fahyi Rhallon. The Captain asks the soldiers how it's possible for them to be traveling through Tehran without passports. Doc claims that he and his friends are allowed to travel to track down Cacciato, due to some obscure stipulations of the Geneva Codes. It's not entirely clear if Rhallon buys Doc's explanation or not--i.e., if he's being serious or if he's toying with the troops.

Whether or not Rhallon is being sincere with the soldiers, his speech about running and "purpose" echoes the paradox of the soldiers' mission to track down Cacciato. As we know by now, the soldiers are certainly running from their active duty in Vietnam--going to Paris sounds much better than fighting and dying for no discernible cause, after all--and yet they're also on a mission on behalf of the U.S. military. In short, the soldiers are both loyal and disobedient to their commanders. Rhallon emphasizes purpose at the expense of freedom, yet the soldiers have found freedom from Vietnam because of the purpose their commanding officer has given them.

Chapter 33 Quotes

There was great quiet. A very noisy quiet, Paul Berlin thought. He felt Oscar staring at him from across the room—a long, hard stare—as if to accuse. As if to say, Your fuckin dream, man. Now do something.
After a moment Doc Peret sighed. "Well," he said, "I guess it's time for some diplomatic pressure. By Uncle Sam, I mean. Time for Sammy to step in on our behalf."
The captain shook his head. "Sadly," he said, "that will not be possible. Certainly not productive. As I say, your government does not know you. Or chooses not to. In either case, I fear the outcome is the same."

Related Characters: Doc Peret (speaker), Captain Fahyi Rhallon (speaker), Paul Berlin , Oscar Johnson
Page Number: 228-229
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, Captain Rhallon--newly suspicious of Berlin and his fellow troops traveling through Iran--has the troops arrested and sentenced to be executed. Rhallon is as calm as ever, but this time there's no ambiguity in the air of menace he gives off: he's going to let his new "friends" be killed. And this time, Doc's bluffs of knowledge and control don't work--Rhallon knows full-well that Doc is lying about traveling through the country via the Geneva Codes.

Even at this dark moment in the text, there's a strong element of fantasy. Oscar stares as Paul Berlin as if to reference Paul's "dream"--a clear reminder of the possibly fictional nature of the entire story (it's later suggested that Paul is dreaming his mission as he sits on the beach). Rhallon's words, for all their menace, have some truth in them: the soldiers' government doesn't care about them. In fact, the U.S. government sent its soldiers into Vietnam to die--the government wanted its men to further its own causes in Vietnam, not escape to Paris.

Chapter 34 Quotes

Oscar lifted the grenade from his belt. It was the new kind, shaped like a baseball, seamless, easy to handle and easy to throw. He held it as if judging its weight. "See my point? It's preservation. That's all it is—it's selffuckin-preservation."

Related Characters: Oscar Johnson (speaker)
Page Number: 234
Explanation and Analysis:

Sidney Martin, the commander of Paul Berlin and the other troops, has ordered his troops to "clear" a bunker--a highly dangerous activity that's already resulted in two lives lost. One by one, the soldiers refuse to put their own lives in danger. Martin writes down everyone's name, promising to report them for insubordination, and then he goes into the hole himself. While he's down there, Oscar and his peers seem to be seriously considering murdering Martin.

On the surface, Oscar's inclination to kill a fellow soldier seems barbaric, and yet he has a legitimate point--that doing so would protect his own life, and the lives of his fellow soldiers. Being a "good" soldier in Vietnam means voluntarily endangering one's own life. We already knew that there's a big difference between pursuing one's own peace and happiness and following orders (going after Cacciato is insubordinate, after all), and yet it's not until this scene that we see the stark conflict between survival and duty that Paul and his fellow troops must face.

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 38 Quotes

Like a daughter caring for an ailing father, she encouraged him to eat and exercise, coddled him, scolded him, gently coaxed him into showing some concern for his own welfare and that of his men. The lieutenant seemed deeply attached to her. It was an unspoken thing. They would sometimes spend whole days together, walking the decks or throwing darts or simply sitting in the sun.
When the lieutenant showed signs of the old withdrawal, Sarkin Aung Wan would remind him of his responsibilities. "A leader must lead," she would say. "Without leadership, a leader is nothing."

Related Characters: Sarkin Aung Wan (speaker), Lieutenant Corson
Page Number: 256
Explanation and Analysis:

As Sarkin, Paul, and the other troops get closer and closer to Paris, their commander, Lieutenant Corson, gets more and more healthy. In war, Corson was sickly and ineffectual, but away from battle he seems to have regained his strength. Corson's improving illustrates the personal toll that war takes on a human life, whether one lives or dies. The Lieutenant has fought in many wars, and over a lifetime of battle, he's accumulated more weakness and sadness than most people could bear.

It's also important, of course, to note that it's Sarkin who cares for Corson. Even though Corson is a symbol of destruction and aggression in Sarkin's native country of Vietnam, Sarkin still treats him with kindness.

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.)

They knew the old myths about Quang Ngai—tales passed down from old-timer to newcomer—but they did not know which stories to believe. Magic, mystery, ghosts and incense, whispers in the dark, strange tongues and strange smells, uncertainties never articulated in war stories, emotion squandered on ignorance. They did not know good from evil.

Page Number: 270-271
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, O'Brien describes how the American soldiers interact with the people of Quang Ngai. The soldiers have been told that some of the people in Quang Ngai may have worked with Vietcong soldiers to kill American troops--but it's impossible to know which people, if any, did so. In the confused environment of Vietnam, the American soldiers don't know who to trust. They want to protect themselves, and so they think of every Quang Ngai civilian as a potential threat--in other words, they can't distinguish good and evil.

As the passage suggests, the American troops in Vietnam are confronted with a series of moral tests in which their loyalty to one another is pitted against their desire to get along with the Vietnamese civilians. As we've already seen, Paul and his friends are sometimes forced to make decisions with no "good" option--the savagery of the war forces them to do evil without calling it evil. To take this idea even further, O'Brien seems to suggest that in wartime there is no clear divide between good and evil--everything is vague, fantastical, horrifying, and instinctual.

Chapter 40 Quotes

It would not have ended that way: cops and customs agents, defeat, arrested like wetbacks at the wharves of Western Civilization, captured within mindshot of the lighted Propylaea and Parthenon, nothing fulfilled, no answers, the whole expedition throttled just as it approached the promise of a rightful end. It wouldn't have happened that way. And it didn't.

Related Characters: Paul Berlin (speaker)
Page Number: 272
Explanation and Analysis:

Paul and his fellow soldiers are about to get arrested around Greece, and it seems that their long journey has finally come to an end. But just when we've given up all hope, Paul seems to "intervene" in the story, and he decides that "it would not have ended" in Greece--and thus he decides that the story is going to keep going.

The passage exemplifies a "deus ex machina" moment, in which a happy ending arises out of surprising, unexpected circumstances. The fantastical, self-referential quality of the passage reinforces that the entire story is seemingly being imagined by Paul, rather than lived out by real characters in the "history" of the novel. Paul refuses to allow a sad ending in his own fantasy. (At the same time, it's a mark of how miserable Paul's circumstances in Vietnam have become that it's so hard for him to imagine a happy ending for his own daydream.) In general, Paul--perhaps still trapped in Vietnam--seems to crave escape from his situation, and so he imagines an over-the-top story of the ultimate escape.

Shrugging, glancing again into the mirror, the girl opened the door and stepped out. She watched while Oscar dumped out her suitcase and sleeping bag. She never stopped smiling.
Eddie drove, Oscar rode shotgun.
"You know," Doc said wistfully, "sometimes I do feel a little guilt."

Related Characters: Doc Peret (speaker), Oscar Johnson , Eddie Lazzutti
Page Number: 276
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, a young "hippie" woman helps the soldiers travel across the country into Paris. In spite of the woman's kindness, the troops treat her cruelly, taking her car and throwing her things on the ground without any care. Strangely, the woman continues to smile. Perhaps O'Brien intends this character to represent the innocence and foolishness of the youth movement's response to Vietnam. In the 60s and 70s, there were millions of young men and women who opposed the war in Vietnam. Often, these people treated American soldiers as mere pawns (just like the government they were opposing did)--they were more interested in arguing against the sociopolitical reasons for the war itself than they were in empathizing with individual soldiers. By the same token, the woman who drives the troops seems to respect the "idea" of fighting in the war, but also seems to make no effort to understand Paul and his friends individually.

Doc's claim that he feels guilty is meant be taken ironically--he seems to be referring to the young woman whose car he's just taken, when in fact he should be feeling guilty about the crimes he's committed in Vietnam--a morally complex issue that the young woman herself clearly doesn't understand.

Chapter 43 Quotes

Strangers would buy drinks. Policemen would smile and shake their heads. Money was never a problem, passports were never required.

Page Number: 295
Explanation and Analysis:

Once they reach Paris, the soldiers have no problem surviving--they have plenty of money and their passports are never requested. In short, Paris is everything Paul and his friends dreamed it could be: a peaceful city in which they can be happy and carefree forever.

It's notable that Paris doesn't offer the soldiers any of the problems that previous cities did--unlike in Tehran, there are no troublesome officers asking for identification. If we're meant to believe that the soldiers' stay in Paris is a product of Paul's imagination (and by this point in the novel it's hard to imagine any other explanation for so many implausible twists and turns in the plot), then perhaps the absence of danger or obstacles in Paris is meant to signal that Paul has finally succeeded in freeing his mind from the realities of war: he's finally gotten to the point where he can daydream about peace and contentment instead of just more violence.

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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