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
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.
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."