The Impact of Change
Tim O’Brien is an American author who writes stories based on his experiences in the Vietnam War. O’Brien, throughout the story ‘The Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong’, describes the changes that Mary Anne goes through during her time in Vietnam. Mary Anne’s physical and mental changes that she goes through during her time in Vietnam also press and signify the changes that the soldiers, and possibly the civilians, go through in a time of war. O’Brien also chooses to have Rat tell this story even though O’Brien informs us that Rat has a reputation for exaggeration and overstatement of facts, which makes the story difficult to believe. The physical changes that Mary Anne goes through in this chapter are obvious to both the soldiers and the audience. It clearly describes the transition she goes through from when she first arrives to when she walks into the mountains and never returns. When Mary Anne first arrives in Vietnam she is described by many of the soldiers as having terrific legs, a bubbly personality, happy smile, young looking, she wore make-up and jewelry, she looked like a cheerleader, but she was too wide at the shoulders. Rat described her as being “A tall, big boned blonde. At best she was seventeen years old, fresh out of Cleveland Heights Senior High. She had long white legs and blue eyes and a complexion like strawberry ice cream.” The description that the soldiers and Rat give of Mary Anne is typical to that of an American teenager and therefore allows the soldiers and the audience to easily picture what Mary Anne looks like. However after two weeks of being in Vietnam the soldiers start to describe the physical changes that they have noticed from her. They start to notice that she does not wear any cosmetics anymore, she does not file her fingernails, she has stopped wearing jewelry, she cut her hair short and wears it in a dark green bandana, her hygiene became a matter of small consequence, her blue eyes became opaque and according to a few of the soldiers she had ‘joined the zoo.’ These clearly express the effect that Vietnam had on Mary Anne in a matter of just two weeks. This can then be interpreted to the effects that Vietnam had on the soldiers themselves who have been there for many more months or years than Mary Anne. If such significant physical changes occurred to Mary Anne in the first few weeks then this suggests that significant changes also occurred to the soldiers themselves. It requires them to adapt to their new environment just like Mary Anne had to adjust to her moving to Vietnam. Mary Anne also goes through mental changes due to the impact Vietnam has had on her. These mental changes are also clearly described in the chapter, just like her physical changes. When she first arrived it states that she had a bubbly personality, that she sometimes gave off a ‘come get me’ energy, coy and flirtatious, that she was curious about things and was not timid, she asked a lot of questions, she had a good quick mind, she paid attention and was eager to learn. The war intrigued her, so did the land and the mystery, the hostile atmosphere did not seem to affect her and she couldn’t get enough of the new surroundings. It also describes the relationship that she had with Mark Fossie. They planned to get married one day, live in a fine gingerbread house on Lake Erie, have 3 healthy yellow haired children and grow old together. They would die in each other’s arms and be buried in the same walnut casket. They had developed a loving, stable and solid relationship in America, which did not continue once they were both in Vietnam as people continually change throughout their life time based on their experiences and their living environments. Vietnam required Mary Anne to change in a way that Fossie could not therefore their relationship suffered and could not last. After just two weeks in Vietnam, as well as the physical changes, the soldiers noticed a change in her mental state. At...
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