Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk

by

Ben Fountain

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk can help.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
As Billy and Mango retake their seats, Albert is on the phone again negotiating how to get Hilary Swank to read the script. When Sykes questions Albert's conversation, Albert slowly explains to him that now that Hilary's interested, they can tweak the script to make it work for her. He assures Sykes and Dime that the story will be easy. Getting Swank to read it is the hard part, as she won't read without an offer from a studio. Crack asks if they have a studio, and Albert says they don't. He confirms that this is a paradox and explains that he'll make it happen by scaring people into committing.
This paradox is a nod to the novel Catch-22, a defining work of satire about World War II and a common comparison to Billy Lynn. By including this reference, Fountain situates the novel as a similarly satirical critique of war and the film industry. Once again, Albert is more interested in making money off of the Bravos than telling their story accurately and depicting the reality of war.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Billy notices that Albert is sitting next to Dime and seems endlessly fascinated by the sergeant. Once, Holliday muttered that Dime is "property," and the rest of the Bravos are "product." Billy wonders what Shroom and Lake are in this system. He is also annoyed by the rest of the platoon's interest in the money they might get from the film. He knows that money won't guarantee a safe return, and he believes that the day he receives money will be the day he dies. Because of this, Billy is conflicted about the whole business of the movie.
Holliday shows that all of Bravo are well aware that they're being used to sell the war to Americans, and that they're just a product that represents the heroism and righteousness of the war. A film would make this even more pronounced, as moviegoers would be paying to see a fictionalized version of Bravo and the war. Once again, the novel implies that it is absurdity that people will pay for entertainment but will not pay their soldiers more.
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
A man seated behind Albert engages him in conversation about a script he wants to write, and Billy watches a dozen Cowboys take the field to warm up. He soon becomes entranced by how the punter kicks balls to ridiculous heights. Billy finds watching the kicks almost meditative, and he imagines that the uppermost arc of the ball is where Shroom lives now. He thinks it's silly, but reasons that "the long arm of marketing" can't touch Shroom up there.
Though Billy's reasoning is comforting to him, it's not exactly correct—a film would absolutely politicize and dramatize Shroom's death. While Shroom himself won't have to deal with those consequences, Billy will have to deal with the emotional turmoil of watching his mentor's death turned into something strange, unrecognizable, and profitable.
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
Billy's reverie is interrupted by the fans around him, suddenly drawing his attention to the Jumbotron, which is fixed on the Bravos. Sykes starts flashing gang signs as the video cuts out to flash the names of Bravo Squad on the screen. The crowd cheers loudly and mobs the Bravos to thank them for their service. Billy adopts a reserved and polite expression to weather the onslaught. He marvels that nobody calls him names or is rude, but he still finds the encounters frightening. He notices that the civilians all need something from him, because he's the "war made flesh." The civilians all believe that the solution to the war is obvious: send in more troops and drop more bombs.
The Jumbotron is a very literal symbol of the mediating effects of the Fantasy Industrial Complex, as it flashes advertisements and game playback, encouraging people to watch a representation of the game that's been cut and edited instead of watching the actual spectacle down below. When the Jumbotron shows Bravo, it similarly separates Bravo from reality by encouraging game-goers to view Bravo just as soldiers and heroes, not as men who might anxious or uncomfortable, like Billy is.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Get the entire Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk LitChart as a printable PDF.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk PDF
Billy senses the citizens’ passion when they touch him and speak to him. He understands that they know that thanking him is a good deed. One man touches Billy's Silver Star, which feels lewd and invasive. One newsperson several days ago asked what it was like to kill people and watch fellow soldiers die. Billy rambled nonsense, but he couldn't say that it was raw, messed up, and horrendous beyond all belief.
Billy’s inability to answer the reporter’s questions truthfully shows that he feels pressured to talk about war in a way that confirms civilians’ own understanding of combat. The civilians are essentially using Billy to reinforce their own illusions about the war, and Billy's position as a hero means that he feels a responsibility to tell them what they want to hear.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Related Quotes
After the crowd disperses, Josh, the Bravos' handler, arrives. He and asks where Major Mac is if the Bravos are ready for lunch. The Bravos ask if they can meet the cheerleaders, and Josh speaks into his walkie-talkie. Billy feels as though the Cowboys didn't make any plans for hosting Bravo, given how little Josh seems to know. When Josh is done, Billy asks if he managed to secure some Advil. Josh apologizes profusely and promises to get some. Mango teases Billy about still being hung over, but Billy thinks he feels horrible primarily about the blowjob. When Billy looks back to the field, the punter is gone, and Billy feels as though he's lost sight of Shroom in the sky. 
Billy's quest for Advil is a symbolic quest for recognition as a human being with needs and a headache. Josh, on the other hand, shows Billy that Billy's pain is negligible and not worth his time when he continues to forget this one small thing that could bring Billy some comfort. On a grander scale, this points to how the country as a whole doesn't serve its soldiers—the Cowboys don't even have a clear plan for how to host their heroic guests, just as the war seems similarly cobbled together and nonsensical.
Themes
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Billy thinks back to Shroom's last minutes alive. Shroom foretold his death; right before things started exploding, he took Billy's hand and said, "I'm going down." If Billy meditates on this event for any length of time, a disconcerting hum starts up in his head. Billy thinks back to a reporter asking him about Shroom. Truthfully, Billy thinks about Shroom every few seconds and visualizes Shroom go from living to dead again and again. Billy remembers scrambling after the insurgents as they dragged Shroom into the grass. Continuing to think about Shroom, Billy thinks that he's not sick, but not exactly well right now. Josh interrupts with the announcement that it's time for lunch and leads Bravo up to the concourse.
Though Billy doesn't name it as such, he's likely suffering symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This makes it abundantly clear that his experiences weren’t thrilling or righteous, as citizens seem to want to think. Instead, Billy’s experiences have left him with lasting mental and emotional damage, which continues to humanize Billy for the reader. Again, by keeping Billy's struggles hidden from the citizens he meets, the novel creates a deep disconnect between the citizens and Billy’s understandings of war.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon
Civilians again mob Bravo Squad with thanks, and a wealthy family tells Billy that watching the footage from the embedded crew was like watching a movie. As the woman and her daughter talk about the war, Billy mentally tunes out. He thinks that civilians are like innocent children, and he pities them. When Bravo is able to move again, Crack insists that one woman was grinding on him until he suggested they keep in contact after he returns to Iraq. Billy doesn't doubt it.
By insisting that the footage looked filmic, the family shows that they are at the mercy of the Fantasy Industrial Complex. For them, fantasy and reality look exactly the same, which means that they can think about the brutal reality of war as though it's just a movie, and, therefore, meaningless in the real world.
Themes
Fantasy vs. Reality in the Media Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Billy checks his phone and finds a text from Pastor Rick. He deletes it as Major Mac steps in beside him and insists that he's been there the entire time. Billy feels awkward and wants to ask Major Mac for guidance as to how to deal with grief and death. Billy first tried to ask Pastor Rick for guidance, but he turned out to be unhelpful. Billy considered asking either Dime or Albert, but neither could provide the guidance that he was looking for. Billy desperately wants to know if Major Mac watched any of his friends die, but Billy feels his opportunity slipping away as Josh leads Bravo to an elevator.
Now that Shroom is gone, what Billy needs more than anything is a sense of intimacy and brotherhood with somebody who has experienced similar trauma. This shows first how important brotherhood and friendship are for emotional healing, as Billy is convinced he won't find closure until he talks to someone. Second, Billy’s longing for connection also suggests that one can find community through scary or trying experiences, as Billy senses that he has things in common with Major Mac.
Themes
The Absurdity of War Theme Icon
Family and Brotherhood Theme Icon
Heroism and Humanity Theme Icon