Going After Cacciato


Tim O’Brien

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Going After Cacciato Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Tim O’Brien's Going After Cacciato. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Tim O’Brien

Tim O’Brien was born in 1946 in Austin, Minnesota, but he spent most of his childhood in the neighboring city of Worthington, Minnesota. Growing up, he showed great interest in nature and travel, two themes that echo throughout his novels and short stories. O’Brien studied political science in college. In 1968, shortly after graduating, he was drafted into the army and deployed to Vietnam, where he served for nearly two years. O’Brien was a member of the division that was involved in the infamous My Lai Massacre (see below), although O’Brien himself arrived in Vietnam almost a year after this incident occurred. Following his military service, he studied writing at Harvard University, In 1973, he began his career as a writer by publishing the memoir If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home. The book received a small but impressive amount of critical acclaim, and has been called the best book ever written about Vietnam. O’Brien continued to write novels and short stories throughout the 70s and 80s, most of which either revolved around or alluded to the Vietnam War. His 1978 novel Going After Cacciato was critically acclaimed, and won the National Book Award, one of the highest honors available to an American writer. In the 80s, O’Brien was an energetic activist for better treatment of military veterans, and criticized the American government’s lopsided take on its military action overseas. In 1990, O’Brien published the book for which he’s best known, The Things They Carried. A collection of short stories about Vietnam, many of which O’Brien had written and published in the previous decade, the book received great acclaim, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. Since 1990, O’Brien has published three novels: In the Lake of the Woods, Tomcat in Love, and July, July, the latter two of which are much lighter in tone than his previous works.
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Historical Context of Going After Cacciato

The central historical event of Going After Cacciato is the U.S. war in Vietnam. In the Cold War between the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union, the United States increased its military force to prevent communism from spreading to the developing countries of the world, such as Chile, Cuba, Indonesia, Iran, and Vietnam. To achieve this goal, the U.S. sent tens of thousands of its own citizens to fight in South Vietnam in the mid-1960s, with the object of preventing the region from falling under the control of Communist forces. The Communist fighters were the Vietcong, who were based out of North Vietnam and led by the charismatic Ho Chi Minh. Involvement in Vietnam was highly unpopular in the U.S., not least because the government reinstituted the military draft, requiring all able-bodied men to register for service. In the late 60s and early 70s, tens of thousands of young men fled the country rather than register to serve in Vietnam—some because of moral and political convictions, some because they were afraid, and some for both reasons. In Vietnam, American soldiers encountered, and in some cases participated in, extraordinary brutality. In the infamous My Lai Massacre of 1968, American soldiers voluntarily beat, shot, and raped Vietnamese women and children. To this day, the Vietnam War is remembered as one of the worst foreign policy decisions in American history, one of the most traumatic wars for American troops, and one of the most shameful marks on America’s record as a “moral” leader in the international community.

Other Books Related to Going After Cacciato

Going After Cacciato was one of the earliest American novels about the war in Vietnam to win critical and popular acclaim. As such, it inspired a wave of Vietnam novels, many of which were written in a similarly spare, fragmented style. One of the most notable Vietnam books written in the same period as Going After Cacciato was Michael Herr’s Dispatches (1977). In this book—like most of O’Brien’s oeuvre, somewhere between a novel and a collection of short fragments—Herr describes his own experiences as a reporter in Vietnam in the late sixties and early seventies. Herr’s novel provided the inspiration for two of the most famous films about Vietnam, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now and Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket. Another key work of literature worth discussing alongside Going After Cacciato is Homer’s Odyssey. In this Ancient Greek epic poem, the wise hero Odysseus tries to travel back to his home country of Ithaca after the end of the long, brutal Trojan War. O’Brien’s novel is an “odyssey” not unlike Homer’s, except O’Brien gives Homer an ironic twist. In Homer’s epic poem the protagonists are heroes trying to make their way home from war, while in O’Brien’s novel the protagonists aren’t remotely heroic, even if their “mission” is essentially the same. One final work of literature worth bringing up is The Things They Carried, the half-novel, half-short story collection O’Brien published in 1990. Paul Berlin, the protagonist of Going After Cacciato, makes several cameo appearances in The Things They Carried, as do a few other characters from Going After Cacciato.
Key Facts about Going After Cacciato
  • Full Title:Going After Cacciato
  • Where Written:Minnesota
  • When Published:January 1978
  • Literary Period:The fragmentary Vietnam War fictions of the late 70s and early 80s
  • Genre: War novel
  • Setting:Vietnam, Laos, India, Afghanistan, Iran, Luxembourg, France
  • Climax:Paul Berlin goes to Cacciato’s hotel, armed with the big rifle
  • Antagonist:None. The novel is dark and sinister, but doesn’t have definite antagonists—the sense of evil is more general and pervasive.
  • Point of View:Third person limited

Extra Credit for Going After Cacciato

Cute kids: Tim O’Brien has a wife, Meredith Baker, and two children: Tad and Timmy O’Brien.

War wounds: While he was serving as a soldier in Vietnam, O’Brien sustained a serious shoulder wound. As a result, he was awarded the Purple Heart, the military medal that honors deceased or injured soldiers. O’Brien has also been an outspoken advocate for expanding the scope of the Purple Heart to honor soldiers who suffer from mental problems, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, following their service in war.