During the Vietnam War, the Vietcong dug enormous, complicated networks of tunnels underground. About a third of the way through Going After Cacciato, the soldiers stumble into one of these tunnels, and find themselves unable to escape. The tunnels have many complex symbolic meanings. They suggest, in an almost Freudian sense, the pain and evil that the soldiers have experienced in Vietnam, and are trying—without much success—to “bury.” Another possible interpretation of the tunnels hinges upon a common motif in epic stories about heroes and adventures. In many such works (the Odyssey, The Hobbit, The Empire Strikes Back, etc.), the protagonist must literally travel underground in order to confront his own weaknesses and limitations, and be reborn a stronger, more heroic figure. This, O’Brien makes clear, is precisely what doesn’t happen when Berlin and his fellow soldiers travel through the tunnels: the experience doesn’t make them any stronger or wiser. In telling his own dark “odyssey” through Eurasia, O’Brien uses tunnels to cleverly twist the motif of the epic to suggest that in Vietnam, the old notions of good and evil, heroes and villains, simply don’t apply.
Going After Cacciato
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The timeline below shows where the symbol Tunnels appears in Going After Cacciato. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...Sidney Martin. While he is Lieutenant, Martin alienates his soldiers by ordering them to search tunnels thoroughly before blowing them up. Martin’s commitment to this piece of military protocol led to... (full context)
...commanded his soldiers—who include Doc, Rudy, Stink, Bernie Lynn, and Frenchie Tucker—to clear out a tunnel, and Frenchie has been seriously injured while doing so, seemingly by an enemy soldier. Martin... (full context)
...nose.” Doc gives Frenchie special painkillers and whispers that he’s “going home” because of his tunnel wound. Frenchie slowly dies, and Doc turns to Bernie Lynn. Bernie is bleeding profusely, from... (full context)
...learn how to be brave. As a child, Berlin was frightened by everything—noise, the dark, tunnels, etc. He remembers that he once nearly won the Silver Star—a military medal for valor.... (full context)
The soldiers look around, Berlin still giggling. They are standing in a large network of tunnels, lighted with torches. Suspecting that there will be booby traps on the way, the soldiers... (full context)
...words. After the soldiers finish asking Van questions, he shows them the vast network of tunnels the Vietcong have dug. The tunnels are full of weapons, ammunition, and supplies. Van takes... (full context)
The chapter begins with the death of Frenchie Tucker. Tucker has just stepped into the tunnel, and been murdered while trying to secure the area. Sidney Martin calmly says, “Somebody’s got... (full context)
...a deep sense of unease. The village seems calm, but the soldiers continue searching for tunnels and bunkers. They find a few tunnels, though they’re always empty. The soldiers sense that... (full context)
...the village. Lieutenant 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... (full context)
...The enemy forces seemed to have left. Martin and the soldiers discovered a network of tunnels, and as usual, Martin ordered his troops to explore the tunnels before bombing them out. (full context)
...Martin. Martin wants to follow standard operating procedure by sending one soldier to explore the tunnels before blowing them up. Johnson points out that this is suicidal—it guarantees that one soldier... (full context)