In the novel, the soldiers carry guns of many different sizes—the biggest of these, the “big rifle,” is a large, powerful firearm, usually entrusted to one of the most experienced soldiers. For much of the novel, Harold Murphy carries this weapon, while at other times, Oscar Johnson does. By the end of the novel, however, Paul Berlin is the one who must use the rifle to kill Cacciato, whom he’s tracked down to a hotel in Paris. The fact that Berlin now carries the big rifle suggests that he’s matured as a man and a soldier, but the fact that Berlin is unable to use the rifle successfully (he fires blindly, and it’s not clear if he hits anything), suggests that Berlin is still young, and in many ways inexperienced.
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The timeline below shows where the symbol The Big Rifle appears in Going After Cacciato. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...nearing the neighboring country of Laos—a dangerous area. Harold Murphy, who carries the squad’s “ big rifle ,” mutters that the soldiers should let Cacciato go, rather than risk their own lives.... (full context)
...The next morning, the soldiers discover that Harold Murphy has left, and left behind his big rifle . Oscar Johnson picks up the rifle, and the soldiers continue west into Laos without... (full context)
...over,” and hands Berlin a canteen of Kool-Aid. Berlin remembers that he was holding the big rifle earlier in the night. He apologizes and says, “I didn’t mean to.” Doc smiles, but... (full context)