Going After Cacciato


Tim O’Brien

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Themes and Colors
Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling Theme Icon
Vietnam and the Chaos of War Theme Icon
Obligation vs. Escape Theme Icon
Discontinuity and Trauma Theme Icon
Survival and Self-Preservation Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Going After Cacciato, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Fantasy, Magical Realism, and Storytelling

When Going After Cacciato was published in the late 1970s, critics weren’t sure how to classify its peculiar combination of gritty war realism and fantasy. There are scenes in the novel that seem extremely realistic, scenes that require the suspension of disbelief, and some scenes that are nothing short of impossible—indeed, the plot of the book itself (a group of US soldiers travels all the way from Vietnam to Paris in search of a soldier…

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Vietnam and the Chaos of War

Going After Cacciato takes place during the height of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. While there’s relatively little information about Vietnam in the novel—in fact, it takes more than a hundred pages before the word “Vietnam” is mentioned—it’s important to understand the background of this war, and Tim O’Brien’s experiences in it.

Between the late 1950s and the mid-1970s, the United States gave military and financial aid to its allies in South Vietnam, trying…

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Obligation vs. Escape

Toward the end of the novel, Paul Berlin, a young, inexperienced soldier in the Vietnam War, meets with his on-off girlfriend, a half-Vietnamese, half-Chinese woman named Sarkin Aung Wan, and has a long, formal argument with her. Sarkin and Berlin are living together in Paris, but Berlin has to make a choice between his duty to his military commanders and his desire to spend all of his time with Sarkin. Sarkin argues…

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Discontinuity and Trauma

Going After Cacciato’s plot and style are occasionally fantastic and far-fetched, but what’s arguably more jarring about the novel is what O’Brien leaves out of the story. At least half a dozen times, O’Brien ends a chapter on a “cliffhanger”—a suspenseful, seemingly unresolvable climax—and then, in the next chapter, flashes forward to a time when the cliffhanger has been inexplicably resolved. Thus, it’s not described how the soldiers find their way out of the…

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Survival and Self-Preservation

Arguably the most basic and important theme of Going After Cacciato—the theme on which all others are predicated—is that of survival and self-preservation. While survival seems to be perfectly straightforward—as Doc says, “Don’t get shot”—the novel demonstrates that survival can be a complicated process in which there’s not always a clear, or even a correct, choice.

Survival dictates the most important choices that the novel’s characters make, and yet these choices must themselves be…

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