Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

by

Ben Fountain

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Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Billy knows halftime isn't going to going to go well when Lodis begins slurring his words and has no idea where he is. Billy tries to explain that they're down on the field getting ready to run a drill. He thinks he needs to tell Dime that they can't do this, but Dime is on the other side of the formation with a marching band in between them for symmetry's sake. Billy feels as though they're preparing to march into battle. Billy watches the high school marching bands get into formation and thinks that their innocent baby faces make him feel old.
The mention that Bravo is split in half for the sake of symmetry makes it clear that halftime is about spectacle only, not what will best honor Bravo. The difference in the way that Billy thinks about halftime and the way that the organizer intends halftime to be seen illustrates the great divide between soldiers and the home front: for those at home, the war is a fantastic spectacle.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Billy takes in the drum major, the Army Drill Team, and a corps of ROTCs. The drum major counts the marching band in, and as the band starts, Billy notices Destiny's Child slip in front of the formation. Billy feels like he's floating outside of himself as Destiny's Child begins to sing. When the drums start back up, the entire formation begins to march across the field. Billy watches flag girls, drill teams, the ROTCs, and marching bands weave in and off the field, filling it with noise. Later, he'll agree that it looked like a Broadway musical, but during the show, he feels like he just needs to hang on. He thinks the high school dance troupes look like strippers, and Destiny's Child walk in a way that seems to defy biomechanics.
It's worth noting that now that Bravo is finally in Destiny's Child's vicinity, they're entirely unable to coherently speak or engage with the group. This creates a sense of disillusionment. Also pay attention to how Billy describes his mental state: he's experiencing symptoms of PTSD and possibly a panic attack, reinforcing that this show was designed without the needs of soldiers in mind.
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
Strobe lights start flashing as troupes of dancers take the makeshift stage on the other side of the field. Lodis is already flinching and begins to howl when fireworks start going off. Billy tries to calm Lodis, but he sees that even Crack looks clammy. Billy thinks that this is the perfect PTSD trigger, but Bravo has no choice but to get through it. As he marches, Billy realizes that this show is supposed to be deadly serious, even though it's ridiculous. He looks for the mark that will tell him to turn back around, while Destiny's Child will go on to take the stage. The announcer introduces Destiny's Child, and Billy feels as though the world is falling apart.
Although Lodis is likely more susceptible to PTSD symptoms because he's so drunk, the fact that all three Bravos are affected by the noise and the spectacle highlight their humanity: they're experiencing a negative reaction to what they've experienced at war for the sake of creating a spectacle at home. This also indicates that the media is willing to sell anything they can, regardless of the human consequences.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
As he watches Destiny’s Child, Billy remembers being told to assume he's going to die when he deployed. He wonders how he can possibly go back after seeing Destiny's Child up close, but reasons that it's not supposed to make sense. When Bravo reaches their mark, they flounder a bit. Day starts counting off steps and Billy finds his stride. He watches the ROTC boys in front, thinking they're probably older than he is, but they look much younger. Now, Bravo stands for a minute, and Billy watches the field fill with dancers. The backup dancers dance like "the nastiest video on MTV." Out of the corner of his eye, Billy watches the Drill Team's rifles going around and around.
 The drill team's rifles, with fixed bayonets, are likely creating an even more pronounced effect in Billy and making his PTSD even worse, echoing the way that Billy was deeply affected by Mr. Jones’ gun. When he notes that the ROTCs look younger than he is, it shows that Billy connects their youthfulness to the fact that they haven't experienced the war, and therefore apparently don't have problems with the halftime show. This is performance is normal for them in a way that it can never be for Billy.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
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The strobe lights make Billy's headache worse, so he narrows his eyes. He thinks of the spectacle before him as a stew of sex and toy soldiers, and he is perplexed that everyone seems fine with the sexiness on display. Behind the stage, fans hold up cards that form an American flag. Billy struggles to make sense of what he's seeing, and the ground seems to tilt. He begins to wonder if this experience is the most real that life will ever get, and he wonders if this surge of terrifying chemicals and hormones is what God truly is.
Again, using the language of youth by mentioning toy soldiers connects this spectacle to the innocence of those who haven’t had to serve on the front lines in Iraq. Further, the absurdity of combining "sex and toy soldiers" reinforces that the people who designed the show have a warped sense of the reality of war and how to appropriately portray it.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Day instructs his half of Bravo to march, and they end up marching to handlers who hustle them backstage. A woman instructs them to march out onto the middle level of the stage, find their Xs, and stand at attention. She teases the tense-looking Bravos, and Billy notices that even Day looks unwell. As fireworks that sounds like bombs continue to go off, Billy thinks that the show feels just like an ambush without the murder.
When the woman teases the Bravos to loosen them up, she shows that she has absolutely no idea how difficult this performance is for them. For her, both the halftime show and the war are spectacles. For Bravo, the war is the reason they might die, and the halftime show is a painful reminder of the horrors that they’ve witnessed.
Themes
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
The Bravos move behind the stage backdrop, and suddenly, Beyoncé steps through. She's gorgeous and close enough to touch. Billy watches handlers offer her water and help her change, and he thinks that she's one of the most powerful people on the planet to perform in front of so many people. Billy meets her eyes, hoping for acknowledgement or a look of compassion, but she grabs her microphone and disappears back onto the stage.
Notice how well the handlers care for Beyoncé, offering her refreshment and helping her with this quick change. Bravo, on the other hand, has been offered no such thing, making it clear that Destiny's Child are the true stars of the halftime show, even if Bravo are the "honored guests."
Themes
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Someone pushes Billy out, and as he looks out at the crowd, he wishes he were at war. There, he knows what he's doing and doesn't have the entire country watching. Someone shoves him onto the stage as the music slows and grinds, and he's barely breathing when he finds his mark. His head rushes, and he watches the Drill Team tossing their rifles with fixed bayonets, and he thinks that they could kill themselves. Beyoncé sings about needing a "soldjah," and backup dancers dance around Bravo like pole dancers. Billy thinks this is wrong and hates that his mother and sisters are watching.
Even Beyoncé's music, rendered phonetically, turns the soldiers and the war into something used for spectacle and profit. Further, though she sings about needing a soldier, she still doesn't meet or acknowledge the very real soldiers who are helping her put on this show—a clear indicator that this is a performance for her, first and foremost.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
Billy notices Sykes weeping, and Billy hopes that they'll make it through. He focuses on the cheerleaders and picks out Faison through the smoky fireworks haze. Billy looks to the sky and doesn't blink as the sleet falls in his face. He feels as though he's rushing towards the future and only returns to the real world when Day taps him on the shoulder.
Again, Billy's feelings as he looks towards the sky are symptoms of the PTSD and anxiety he's experiencing. Here, Billy attempts to protect his mind and body from further trauma by mentally checking out and staring at the sky instead of the painful spectacle surrounding him.
Themes
Family and Brotherhood Theme Icon