Going After Cacciato

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Paris Symbol Icon

For most of the novel, Paul Berlin and his fellow soldiers are trying to travel to Paris. Paris is significant in the history of Vietnam, both because France once occupied Vietnam as a colonial power (affecting all its political turmoil since) and because it’s the city in which Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho negotiated peace in Vietnam in 1973. (Paris has also hosted many peace negotiations—the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I, for example). While the purpose of the soldiers’ mission to Paris is supposedly to track down Cacciato, a soldier who’s gone AWOL, it’s clear from very early on that the soldiers also want to go to Paris—a beautiful, peaceful city without any of the dangers they’ve become accustomed to in Vietnam. Paris symbolizes a physical place of security and ease, and also a state of mind in which the soldiers are untroubled by their trauma and guilt. It doesn’t take long for the soldiers to discover that Paris simply isn’t this place, however: there’s no way to run from one’s own psychological problems.

Paris Quotes in Going After Cacciato

The Going After Cacciato quotes below all refer to the symbol of Paris. 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 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.

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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 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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Paris Symbol Timeline in Going After Cacciato

The timeline below shows where the symbol Paris 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
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...soldiers, has departed. A soldier named Doc Peret tells Corson that Cacciato has gone to Paris. Corson seems to understand what Doc is saying, since he repeats the word “Paris,” pronouncing... (full context)
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...to discuss Cacciato’s disappearance. Corson asks Berlin if it’s true that Cacciato has gone to Paris, and Berlin replies that it is. Cacciato, he adds, is a fool—a simple-minded idiot who... (full context)
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
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...he watches, Berlin recalls Cacciato looking through an old atlas, plotting out his walk to Paris. (full context)
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...his skull exploding, throwing blood everywhere. Then, he imagines “a miracle”—Cacciato succeeding in walking to Paris. Berlin turns to Doc, and mentions that Cacciato “did some pretty brave things.” Doc nods,... (full context)
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
...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 sight of Cacciato, and they... (full context)
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Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...He still wants to believe that Cacciato could succeed in his plan to walk to Paris. “Yes, it could be done,” he tells himself. Suddenly, it begins to rain. (full context)
Chapter 5
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...“won some 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 7
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...One day, while she’s walking with Paul Berlin, she asks him if they’re traveling to Paris. Berlin replies that they might be—anything is possible. Sarkin is overjoyed by Berlin’s response, and... (full context)
Chapter 8
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Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
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...of calm and peace during the war. He thinks about the soldiers’ attempt to reach Paris, and wonders how “they might have found a way.” (full context)
Chapter 10
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...a way to keep her in the group, and reminds him that they could see Paris together one day. She weeps, knowing that Berlin will never be able to change Corson’s... (full context)
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Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
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...up Berlin and his fellow soldiers, taking them “down a hole in the road to Paris.” (full context)
Chapter 17
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
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...Sarkin asks Berlin—whom she’s begun to call “Spec Four”—if they’ll walk through the streets of Paris together, and Berlin insists that they will, soon enough. Sarkin asks Berlin if it’s necessary... (full context)
Chapter 18
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
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...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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...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 enter a foreign... (full context)
Chapter 26
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...life in the city of Cholon, where her family is from. They still talk about Paris, and Sarkin continues to fantasize about walking though Paris with Berlin. Without telling his friends,... (full context)
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Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
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...but nothing he says seems to work. Corson mutters, “send me a card from Paree” (Paris). (full context)
Chapter 29
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Rhallon asks Doc 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... (full context)
Chapter 33
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
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...tells the soldiers to admit that it is impossible to walk all the way to Paris. The soldiers do so. (full context)
Chapter 37
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
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...village overlooks the sea, which makes Berlin think of the future, of escape, and of Paris. (full context)
Chapter 40
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...pass by the Danube. “It was easy,” the narrator maintains. Berlin is excited to reach Paris. He imagines clean, neat rooms and beautiful buildings. He considers that the war in Vietnam... (full context)
Chapter 43
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It is April, 1969, and the soldiers are in Luxembourg, boarding a train for Paris. The train ride is only four hours—a fact that baffles Paul Berlin, who’s been thinking... (full context)
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Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...to a close, and Berlin looks through his window to see the outer city of Paris. There are farms and old buildings, many of which have been destroyed in the chaos... (full context)
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Berlin, Sarkin, and the other soldiers leave their train and begin their stay in Paris. Berlin notes that the city looks strangely blurry—as though he’s in a dream. But Berlin... (full context)
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Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
One day, Sarkin suggests that she and Paul Berlin move into an apartment in Paris. Berlin is interested in this idea, but he insists that he has to capture Cacciato... (full context)
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In the coming days, Berlin and Sarkin look for apartments in Paris. Some are “impossible,” while others are both charming and affordably priced. They eventually find an... (full context)
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...fellow soldiers. Berlin is planning to tell them that he and Sarkin are moving to Paris permanently and abandoning the search for Cacciato. But before he can explain himself, Eddie tells... (full context)
Chapter 44
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The chapter begins with the soldiers and Sarkin walking through the streets of Paris, away from their hotel. Berlin asks the soldiers why they need to leave Paris. Doc... (full context)
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The next morning, the soldiers begin their search. They take maps and divide Paris into sections. Corson refuses to search the city—in part because of his health, and in... (full context)
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...“The next morning he found Cacciato.” Berlin is walking through Les Halles (a neighborhood of Paris) when he sees Cacciato walking through the streets, looking healthy and happy. Berlin follows him... (full context)
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...she and the soldiers have traveled for six months and about 8,600 miles to reach Paris—by coincidence, this is the same number of American lives that have been lost in Vietnam... (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 that he and his fellow soldiers chased Cacciato into the mountains,... (full context)
Chapter 46
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
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...it becomes clear that Doc is talking about Lieutenant Corson. He and Sarkin have left Paris, taking with them everything in the apartment were Berlin and Sarkin were planning to live.... (full context)
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Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...they discuss Cacciato’s desertion, and the possibility that Cacciato would have succeeded in walking to Paris. The odds of such a thing are “miserable.” Nevertheless, it’s possible that Cacciato could make... (full context)