Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

by

Ben Fountain

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

Summary
Analysis
Billy muses that it seems silly to make a movie when the original Fox News footage is available online for anyone to see. The footage is so real it looks fake, and when Billy saw it, he was confused to find that it doesn't look like any battle he remembers. Everyone else says it looks like a movie, including the young couples who sit down in the row in front of Bravo. They're not sure how to handle how young Billy looks, and he can barely follow their words as they thank him for his service and talk about the war.
Here, Billy finally realizes that even a direct representation of reality (in the form of the Fox News footage) doesn't even accurately capture his own lived experience. The way that others conceptualize it, however, shows how the public relies on fictionalized representations of "truth" to understand what reality looks like. They have no conception of what's real or not, which is testament to the power of the Complex.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
When Billy takes his seat again, he, Mango, A-bort, and Lodis discuss how rude Norm's attempted deal was. Josh passes out packets to each Bravo filled with Cowboys merchandise and autographed photos of them with Norm and the cheerleaders. Nobody seems impressed. Billy gets a text from Faison asking about meeting after the game, and after he texts her back, he daydreams about escaping to the ranch with her. A phone call from Albert interrupts his reverie. Albert wants to know why Dime won't pick up and explains that General Ruthven won't make them accept the deal. He says that Norm is upset, though he muses that Norm not getting his way is probably good for him.
Filled with items emblazoned with the Cowboys logo, the gift bags are just another way of marketing the Cowboys brand—and for a relatively low cost on Norm's part. The lack of enthusiasm for the bags suggests that the Bravos are aware of this and shows that their status as powerless grunts is wearing on them. This indicates that being at the bottom of the hierarchy is exhausting and provides more reasoning as to why it's so hard to rise.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Billy asks Albert how he felt about getting deferment from Vietnam and how he feels about it now. Albert explains that he's not proud or ashamed of it, and everyone struggled then. When Billy asks if it was worse then than it is now, Albert thinks for a moment before deciding that it's probably still just as messed up. After Albert hangs up, Billy takes more Advil and passes the bottle down the line of Bravos.
Finally, Billy and Albert are able to engage with each other as equals by acknowledging how absurd the United States is when it comes to wars. Albert's privilege is what allowed him to escape Vietnam, and Billy's lack thereof is what sent him to Iraq, which suggests that little has changed since Vietnam.
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
Several male friends of the couples in front of Bravo pile into the row in front, loudly teasing the Bravos about their injuries and waving around bottles of alcohol. Though the couples try to deter them, one man, Travis, loudly asks Crack how he feels about Don't Ask Don't Tell and gays in the military. Crack says mildly that he thinks more highly of gay people who join up than those who don't, but Travis persists. He suggests that gay sex between soldiers is why the United States is losing the war, and Crack calmly suggests that Travis join up. Billy wants Crack to hit Travis and be done with him. He imagines being at the ranch with Faison but adds to the fantasy the grief he'd feel if he abandoned the Bravos.
Travis's assertion that the US war effort is going poorly because of what its service members may or may not be doing in their spare time is undeniably absurd: the rest of the novel has made it very clear that the war itself is misguided and doomed, and nobody even knows exactly what they're fighting for. Further, the fact that Travis keeps pushing the issue shows that he's uninterested in actually hearing what Crack has to say about the matter, an indicator that he doesn't care about Crack's firsthand experiences.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Family and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
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Dime comes over to Billy and asks about Albert. Billy says that Albert is cool, and Dime insists that even if Norm does make a better offer they won't take it. He says that if they make the movie, he thinks that Norm will keep using them until the Bravos are dead. A man in the row ahead drops a bottle, and Billy gets a text from Kathryn saying that "they" are waiting for Billy. He wonders what Shroom would do but is too distracted by the Jumbotron and the men in front cheering rudely to properly think.
Now that Dime and Billy are willing to vocalize that Norm spent much of the day dehumanizing them, they're able to gain a degree of control over their situation and their future. In this way, by asserting their humanity and their free will, they actively reject Norm's attempts to treat them as "heroes," which would surely continue if he were to make the movie.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Travis turns around again and declares that he doesn't care whom the Bravos have sex with; they're true American heroes. Crack declines to give Travis a high five, and when Travis sits back down, Crack leans forward and locks him in a chokehold. The hold is one that cuts off blood flow to the brain, and Travis goes limp. Other Bravos tell Crack to leave the man alone, and Billy feels sick. Finally, Crack lets Travis go, and Travis' friends help him out of the seats and away from the Bravos. Dime questions Crack but seems uninterested in reprimanding him.
Here, Crack demonstrates clearly that he does have power as a "grunt" in the Army. He has skills and knowledge that Travis evidently does not, and by threatening Travis like this, Crack forces Travis to confront his own mortality—just as Crack has to do every day in Iraq. Further, by shattering the illusion of the "good old boy" soldier persona, Crack also humanizes himself.
Themes
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
With two minutes of the game left, Dime declares that it's time to leave. Josh leads them out of the stadium, and Billy texts Faison to meet him outside. Nobody stops the Bravos to thank them or get autographs. Josh stops them all just outside to wait for someone to meet them. Faison texts that she's coming, and Albert and Mr. Jones appear out of the stadium. Albert assures the Bravos that he'll continue working on the deal for the next two years, but Billy feels as though this is the end. Albert and Mr. Jones walk Bravo to their limo, and Albert asks Billy if they can keep in touch. Billy agrees to be Bravo's point person, but Billy is distracted by thoughts of spilling his heart at Faison's feet.
It's worth noting the connection here between the fact that the Cowboys are losing and the lack of enthusiasm for Bravo. Nobody wants to recognize the Bravos when the Cowboys, as a symbol for America, aren't doing well. This mirrors the overall assertion that nobody is actually recognizing the troops in meaningful ways since the war is going poorly.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Billy looks around for Faison and notices that the crowd is rippling. He shouts as the roadies burst out of the crowd. Next thing he knows, he's on the ground with something pummeling his back. Billy watches Mr. Jones pull out his gun and something ram into Mr. Jones from behind. The gun flies across the ground straight to Major Mac. Major Mac picks it up and fires the gun straight up. Later, the media coverage of the game says nothing about the gunfire.
The roadies' attack mirrors what happened on the Al-Ansakar Canal, illustrating that the unpredictability and the absurdity of the war translates to the home front. America is just as dangerous and nonsensical as Iraq, demonstrating that the supposed heroism of Bravo Squad isn't enough to protect them amongst their own people.
Themes
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
After Major Mac shoots, he sets the gun's safety, puts it on the ground, and stands with his arms straight out. The cops arrive and finally shuttle Bravo into their limo. One asks the Bravos if they need to go to the hospital and seems to barely believe them when they say no—everyone is bleeding from the roadies' wrenches, pipes, and crowbars. Lodis asks if Major Mac will go to jail, but Dime assures them that Major Mac will be fine.
While for Mr. Jones, the gun was a prop and meant to stand in for power, for Major Mac, who is actually trained to use a gun, it is actual power, as it helps stop the fight.
Themes
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Billy gets a text from Faison and leaps out of the limo. The cops try to stop him, but he ignores them and steps forward to meet her. Faison is distraught to see Billy's injured face, but they kiss long and hard. She opens her coat and wraps it around Billy as they kiss. When Billy says he'll be home in the spring, she invites him to stay with her. She says that she's never felt this way about someone, and Billy agrees. He says he'd run away with her, and the look in her eyes tells Billy that their relationship won't last. She says they don't need to go anywhere, and Billy finally feels sure about returning to Iraq.
When Faison insists that they don't need to go anywhere, it tells Billy that she doesn't see the world like he does. She is entrenched in the Fantasy Industrial Complex and can’t see that running away is the only way for Billy to escape and make his life better.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
Class, Power, and Money Theme Icon
Family and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Billy hears Dime bellowing for him. Billy and Faison kiss one more time, and she promises to pray for him as Billy turns towards the limo. A group of people mob Billy and ask him for autographs, and Billy realizes that these people are the ones who control his reality. They control the trajectory of the war, and they know nothing of it. He understands, however, that their version of reality can't save them, and he wonders how many soldiers will die before they realize that it has to stop. Albert and Josh cheerfully usher Billy into the limo and the limo departs. Dime quietly teases Billy about his erection, and Billy knows he'll never see Faison again. He closes his eyes and tries to think of nothing.
Faison's promise to pray for Billy reinforces Billy's assessment of where she stands in the world. In her mind, prayers are enough to "support the troops." When Billy accepts that the uninformed citizens control his fate, it's a reminder that in America, reality is mediated through advertising and absurdity, making it hard to be truly informed. Wondering how many soldiers need to die suggests that one soldier is too many and leaves the reader with yet another chilling reminder that the costs of war are real and human.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Related Quotes