Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

by

Ben Fountain

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Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: Chapter 1 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The narrator insists that the men of Bravo aren't cold despite the inclement weather, thanks to the five Jack and Cokes that each of them drank in the last forty minutes. Now that he’s in the limo, Billy feels like he needs to drink to recover from the onslaught of grateful citizens thanking him for his service. Billy lets the people's words swirl around his brain and can't make them mean anything. Since he will sit in the aisle seat at the Texas Stadium later, Billy will have to endure more grateful citizens throughout the day.
The fact that the grateful citizens are exhausting suggests that Billy has a different understanding of war than they do, and that the citizens don't understand that Billy is struggling to deal with their praise. Their constant praise also shows that they don't necessarily view him as a full person who might need some time to himself. Instead, they view Billy as a hero who belongs to the people.
Themes
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Sergeant Dime, Billy's commanding officer, accuses Billy of checking out. When Billy offers a satisfactory reply, Dime says offhandedly that Major Mac is gay. Another soldier, Holliday, takes offense, but Major Mac says nothing. Dime laughs and repeats his statement, loudly and slowly—Major Mac is almost fully deaf. In the limo, Major Mac and a movie producer, Albert Ratner, accompany the eight remaining members of Bravo Squad. Counting Shroom, who is dead, and Lake, who is seriously wounded, Bravo has two Silver Stars and eight Bronze Stars among the ten members.
These initial moments with Bravo reveal that this is a group of very young men who are fairly immature—despite the fact that they're also highly decorated war heroes. Further, the mention of dead Shroom and injured Lake indicate that this isn't a feel-good war story, which reinforces Fountain's assertion in the preface that war isn't something that should be idealized.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Family and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Billy remembers a TV reporter asking him what he was thinking during the battle, and Billy was only able to say that he wasn't thinking. Billy was only afraid of messing up in battle, and it wasn't until days later that he felt as though he didn't screw up too badly. By that point, however, the footage from the battle was circulating at home, and within days, Bravo was flown home for their two-week Victory Tour. Shroom flew with the rest of Bravo in a flag-draped coffin. The narrator notes that Bravo Squad is just the name that Fox News gave the platoon, but the incorrect name stuck.
The fact that Billy is  unable to answer the reporter's question suggests that there's a major disconnect between the way that civilians like the reporter think about the war and the way that soldiers like Billy do. While the reporter thinks about war as though it's something logical, Billy will say several times throughout the novel that he just followed his training, which indicates that the Army turns soldiers' responses into reflexes, not logical thoughts.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Billy thinks about the civilians who flew with Bravo on the first leg of their flight. They were from all over the world and generously shared their cigarettes and alcohol. One man had shown Billy a case full of gold chains, and Billy realized that he had no idea the war had anything to do with riches. Returning his attention to the car, Billy listens to Albert talk into his cellphone and Crack read the sports pages of the newspaper so that Holliday and A-bort can bet on the results of the game. Albert suddenly interrupts to say that the actress Hilary Swank is interested.
The war that Billy experienced seems to be an entirely different war than the one that gave the man on the plane such riches, illustrating the discrepancies in how soldiers experience war versus civilians. Additionally, the solid gold chains indicate that there's wealth to be made from war, which points to the fact that for some, war is profitable and is therefore perceived as a good thing.
Themes
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
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Bravo erupts in cheers as Albert explains that Hilary is interested in playing Billy and Dime as one character. Billy is confused, but Albert insists that it can be done. Albert has also been on the phone with Mark Wahlberg and George Clooney trying to sell the Bravos' story. Films about Iraq have underperformed at the box office, but Albert insists that the Bravos' story will be easy to sell given that it's a triumphant rescue story. Albert gets back on the phone, and Bravo listens to his foul banter. Crack returns to the sports pages, and Sykes impersonates Beyoncé, wondering aloud if she'd go to bed with him.
Albert introduces the world of Hollywood as a third world for consideration in the novel, alongside the warzone and America's home front. Hilary Swank wanting to merge two characters into one suggests that in Hollywood, the actual truth of a situation matters very little. Instead, creating a compelling story and getting big names involved are of the utmost importance, as that's what will sell.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Dime silences Sykes, and the other Bravos join in and yell at Sykes to be quiet. Suddenly, the Bravos notice that an SUV is driving right next to them in the slow-moving traffic. College girls hang out of the SUV’s open windows and yell at the Bravos to roll down their windows. After Sykes and A-bort yell at the driver to disengage the child locks, they finally roll down the windows. However, when they see the “jarheads,” the girls immediately deflate and become merely polite. Sykes yells that he'll love the girls even though he's married, but the girls look up and down the freeway for more appealing prospects.
The girls' unsavory reaction toward the soldiers foreshadows the entire rest of the novel and introduces the idea that soldiers aren't afforded the respect and reverence they deserve. While calling the soldiers heroes turns them into superhuman figures, when it comes to their very human desires for love and connection, soldiers are dehumanized, stereotyped, and ultimately rejected.
Themes
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Billy pulls out his phone. He has a text from his sister, Kathryn; one from his other sister's husband; and a Bible verse from Pastor Rick. Billy wonders if he actually knows anybody and if his fame means anything. He wonders what the football game will hold, given that Bravo is supposed to appear on national television as part of the halftime show. Bravo has been hoping that they'll get to meet Destiny's Child, but they figure that they'll probably have to do something dumb like they've had to do on most of their local television appearances. The tour has been humiliating for this reason.
Billy is dissatisfied with the texts he’s received, indicating that he expects different treatment now that he's famous. The description of the local television appearances suggests that Bravo is a commodity more than anything else—instead of honoring the soldiers for their service in a meaningful way, the TV stations dehumanize the soldiers just like the girls in the SUV did.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Billy feels too young and like he doesn't know enough—he's never even been to a professional sporting event. He's never seen the Texas Stadium despite having grown up eighty miles away from it. Now, as the stadium comes into view, Billy realizes that seeing it on TV has somehow masked the fact that the stadium looks homely and slumping in real life. Billy feels a kind of sadness and a sense of loss as he looks at the stadium, thinking that it's the same feeling he gets when he thinks about family. He thinks that every new thing, from babies to buildings, eventually disappears or gets destroyed. He wonders why this fatalist view isn't more widely held, given that it seems so obvious. He reasons that America is stuck on "teenage drama."
This passage offers several clues that suggest that Billy's family life is challenging. The fact that he's never been to the stadium suggests that his family may be poor. Similarly, his fatalist view about family implies that his own family has already be destroyed. Thus far in life, Billy's experiences have shown him that everyone is susceptible to this kind of loss.
Themes
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
Family and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The men in the limo silently gaze at the stadium until they pass a homemade sign that reads, "stop anal rape in Iraq," followed by an annotation of "heavens to Betsey." Bravo Squad howls with laughter.
The sign serves as a reminder to the reader and to Bravo of the absurdity of the war. The sign's content also suggests that civilians have very different thoughts and priorities about the war than the soldiers do.
Themes
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon