Going After Cacciato

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Tunnels Symbol Icon

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.

Tunnels Quotes in Going After Cacciato

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

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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.

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Tunnels Symbol Timeline in Going After Cacciato

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.
Chapter 4
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...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)
Chapter 9
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
...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)
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...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)
Chapter 12
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...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)
Chapter 13
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Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
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)
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...Berlin’s mind then jumps to Bernie Lynn, who won the Silver Star for exploring a tunnel and dying. As Berlin thinks about Lynn, he senses that his fear is disappearing rapidly. (full context)
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...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)
Chapter 14
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
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)
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
Martin had ordered Frenchie Tucker to climb into the tunnel. At first, Tucker refused to endanger his life. Many of the other soldiers murmured their... (full context)
Chapter 15
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Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
Van continues escorting the soldiers through the tunnels. He shows them a beautiful lounge area, and a large kitchen full of delicious-smelling food.... (full context)
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
After the soldiers destroy the tunnels, they return to ask Van for “his story.” Van is a young man, though he... (full context)
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
...the soldiers gather around Van, they try to think of a way out of the tunnels, as clearly, Van can’t help them. Sarkin speaks up and says that there is a... (full context)
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Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Sarkin leads the soldiers through the tunnels. Time stretches on, and Berlin isn’t sure if the soldiers are spending hours or days... (full context)
Chapter 16
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...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)
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...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)
Chapter 17
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Following the events of chapter 15, Sarkin Aung Wan leads the soldiers out of the tunnels, through sewage, until they come to a ladder that leads to the streets of Mandalay.... (full context)
Chapter 22
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
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...doesn’t place too much emphasis on routine. Whereas Martin orders single men to explore the tunnels before blowing them up, Corson orders the tunnels blown up straight away. (full context)
Chapter 27
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
...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)
Chapter 34
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
...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)
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As the soldiers wait for Martin to emerge—or not emerge—from the tunnel, they discuss what has just happened. Martin has written everyone’s name down (except for Cacciato),... (full context)
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
While Lieutenant Sidney Martin is in the tunnel, Oscar raises his grenade. He tells everyone present to touch the grenade as a sign... (full context)